Today’s “embedded” war correspondents are by no means the first to file from the front lines. Photographer Robert Capa (1913-1954) stood shoulder to shoulder with the rank and file in war after war, capturing on film the deaths, despair and surprising dignity found in trenches and on battlefields. With “Robert Capa: In Love and War” (2003), Anne Makepeace has created a compelling documentary, culling archival materials, Capa’s images and footage and interviews with the likes of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Eva Besnyö, Isabella Rossellini and Cornell Capa, Robert’s younger brother. “Taking pictures,” one of the film’s commentators says of Capa, “was his way of fighting fascism.” And fight he did, shooting a camera instead of a gun.
Born Andre Friedmann in Budapest, the Jewish son of tailors fled Hungary at age 17 after being beaten and threatened by police following a demonstration against Hungary’s dictator. After fleeing Berlin, in turn, for Paris following Hitler’s accession to power, Friedmann met Gerda Taro, a photographer and refugee from Hungary, and together they created “Robert Capa,” an American construct whose photographs were bought up far faster than Friedmann’s had ever been. Having made a name for himself, Capa covered the Spanish Civil War, to which he lost Taro, his first love. He soon left for Hankow, where he covered the 1938 Japanese invasion before arriving in London in time to cover the blitz for Life magazine and then joining U.S. troops in Tunisia. On June 6, 1944, he was the only photographer to join the first soldiers to land during the invasion of Normandy. “Every piece of shrapnel,” he said, “found a man’s body.” Steven Spielberg did everything he could to re-create these images in “Saving Private Ryan.” This was not the first time Capa inspired Hollywood: Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” was inspired by Capa’s love affair with Ingrid Bergman.
Part of Thirteen/WNET’s “American Masters” series, the documentary is the first full-length feature about the photographer and was screened to sold-out audiences at Sundance.
“The war photographer’s most fervent wish,” Capa once said, “is for unemployment.” On May 25, 1954, Capa stepped on a land mine while covering the war in Indochina for Life magazine. He did not survive.
BAM Rose Cinema, 30 Lafayette Ave., Brooklyn; festival April 5-April 12, please call or visit Web site for complete festival listings, “Robert Capa” April 10, 9:45 p.m.; $10, $7 students, $6 seniors. (718-636-4100 or www.brjff.org) The film premieres on PBS on May 28, please check local listings.