Jim Marshall might not be a household name, but you know his work. He’s captured some of rock ‘n’ roll’s most iconic images, including Johnny Cash flipping the bird, Janis Joplin slumped on a couch with a liquor bottle, and Jimi Hendrix with a guitar slung across his body, eyes closed, and fist raised. Marshall’s exquisite technical skills were matched by his talent for catching subjects at their most vulnerable, whether candid or posed.
Director Alfred George Bailey’s Show Me the Picture: The Story of Jim Marshall is a stunning exhibit of Marshall’s work, as well as an exploration of his rocky personal life — the failed marriages, the brushes with the law, the cocaine addiction.
Marshall died in his sleep in 2010 at age 74. He was born in Chicago in 1936, the son of Syrian Catholic immigrants. He grew up in San Francisco, coming of age with the burgeoning Beat movement. He was a full-fledged insider of the Haight-Ashbury hippie scene, getting to know bands like the Grateful Dead before they were famous.
Marshall was small and swarthy, with a prominent nose and a quick temper. He was widely known as a guy on the edge. In the documentary, old friends tell of how the mere suggestion of psychotherapy would send Marshall into a rage. He had a thing for guns, which got him into trouble on multiple occasions; he was arrested in a gun bust in 1983.
In 1984, he met Michelle Margetts, a 20-year-old journalism student who interviewed him for a “where are they now” piece and, for a time, became his girlfriend.
The story Margetts wrote back then, as well as current interviews with her, provide the film’s narrative foundation. The timeline weaves back and forth between Marshall’s development as a photographer, his rise through the world of celebrity, his drug use, and his romantic relationships. Margetts and the historical record Marshall’s photography creates keep the viewer well-anchored in time, and Marshall’s irascible personality and its effect on those around him give the movie its tension.
Talking-head interviews include the actor Michael Douglas, musicians Peter Frampton and Graham Nash, music critic Joel Selvin, and photographer Anton Corbijn. Marshall’s photographs are the movie’s main visual backdrop, interspersed with archival film footage from the same concerts and moments he caught with a still camera.
Bailey strikes a careful, important balance between lionizing Marshall’s talent and demonizing him for what would now be considered unacceptably violent and unhinged behavior. The viewer can appreciate Marshall’s phenomenal creative legacy and understand him as a deeply troubled person who was ultimately responsible for his own behavior. Documentary, not rated, 92 minutes, Altavod, Apple TV, 3.5 chiles