“Leaving Home, Coming Home” Doc: Tribute to Robert Frank

Another find at the Cine-World Film Fest at the Sarasota Film Society’s Burns Court Theater was the rare gem (as far as big screen showings) from 2004 “Leaving Home, Coming Home”. While the doc seemed on the home made side, cinema verite the fancier terminology, the depth of the doc really shone in its second half.

And this makes perfect sense, since like a stereotypical artist, Robert Frank is a bit guarded and quite eccentric demanding a film maker, in this case Gerald Fox, do his time to build trust. In at least two instances in the doc, Frank lectures the vidoegraphers that he is not going to perform and that he must be allowed to be natural. Only for his sweet second wife June, is he cajoled into ‘performing his scream’.

I loved the way Fox played with black and white vs. color. In some of the ‘current’ 2004 scenes, Fox chose black and white, proving that people, in a general sense, do not change with time. On Coney Island, Robert explains his original photographs were done with ordinary people in a natural environment and that the same photos could be taken now. People as a subject matter, remain fascinating, a status quo we have over our burgeoning android competition.

His stories about horrible 1950’s and 60’s racism experienced secondhand (in one case Robert was reprimanded for giving a ride to a black man) and then firsthand in Arkansas, when he was thrown in jail merely because the police found him suspicious, details how mean spirited our former years in the U. S. really were.

In another scene, Robert seems to get upset in modern day Coney Island at first, trying to ask people where the setting of one of his past photos was since the landscape had changed so. A few folks blow him off and you see him start to wilt, until he speaks to a black man in his 40’s who takes interest in Robert’s pursuit and helps his fellow man locate a former train station pictured in the print. As they say goodbye, Robert shakes the black man’s hand and the former, hugs his arm in a beautiful humanizing moment.

Frank’s home in Nova Scotia where the second half of the film takes place, was a refuge away from the busy streets of NYC. Here we discover life facts about his son’s schizophrenia diagnosis in the 70’s and 80’s leading to his ultimate early death and equally tragic, his daughter dying in a plane crash.

The doc is saved from being too sad due to his gorgeous marriage to his wife June, also an eccentric artist (her medium is metal figurines). I’m just guessing, but without this bond, I wonder if Frank could have made it through the death of his children.

My main disappointment was that the doc did not bother to update and put a card at the end explaining that Robert passed away in September 2019. I had to look that information up, not a hardship, but ti would have given the audience pertinent information. And if Robert was somewhat miserable in ‘old age’ already in 2004, I can’t imagine what he was like in 2019. While he seemed ok with aging (is anyone a fan really?), you could tell he was not pleased with the physical setbacks.

A secondary quibble is my preference to front loaded the doc Robert made with Mick Jagger called “Cocksucker Blues” rather than tacking that on at the end. It seemed to be more fitting with the Jack Kerouac parts, celebrity with celebrity as it were.

In the end the doc is a peaceful piece on aging and a message that you need to find solace where you can. For Robert Frank, that home was ultimately in his art.