Annie Leibovitz: Life Through a Lens (Arthouse Films) (2006)

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Released 9-Jul-2008

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Documentary Deleted Scenes-Bonus Interviews &Deleted Scenes
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2006
Running Time 83:00
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Barbara Leibovitz

Madman Entertainment
Starring Barbara Leibovitz
Mikhail Baryshnikov
Graydon Carter
Hillary Rodham Clinton
George Clooney
Robert Downey Jr.
Kirsten Dunst
Whoopi Goldberg
Case Custom Packaging
RPI $34.95 Music Gaili Schoen

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

     At a time when an exhibition of the works of Annie Leibovitz has opened at the New South Wales Museum of Contemporary Art it is worthwhile taking a look at this 2006 documentary presented by Madman Entertainment as the first part of their Arthouse Series. Indeed it is a credit to Leibovitz that a photographer who specializes in celebrity and fashion images should be accepted as an artist rather than a servant to fashion and celebrity. In that way she has joined the elite, including her mentor Richard Avedon and Eve Arnold who don't just photograph famous people, they capture something about the person and their fame that lasts forever.

     Unlike Arnold and Avedon the brash New Yorker Leibovitz looked for the startling, different image to carry the picture - putting Mel Gibson in face paint or Whoopi Goldberg in a milk bath. If there are two images amongst the thousands that typify and best represent her it is the photographs of a naked John Lennon embracing a fully clothed Yoko Ono, taken hours before his death, and a nude and very pregnant Demi Moore. Actually, she shot Demi Moore nude twice, on the other occasion painted to look like she was wearing a suit. In a poll of US editors the first two images were named the top two US magazine covers of the past 40 years. Not only did they sell magazines but in the case of Lennon it became an iconic image symbolizing love and in the case of Moore the photos as much as her movies made her a superstar.

     The film Annie Leibovitz: A Life Through the Lens was directed by her sister Barbara, giving the potential for a greater insight into the character of this remarkable photographer. As her sister made the film it means two things - she is able to get closer to this notoriously strong willed and dominant, but very private, snapper and also that her secrets and weaknesses will be given fair treatment. Chief amongst those secrets is the nature of her relationship with feminist and intellectual giant Susan Sontag, who was a companion to Leibovitz for many years and whose death becomes a tragic cloud in the film. But Barbara Leibovitz exercises restraint meaning that the tough years, particularly her recovery, from addiction is dealt with quietly - did she really just pop into re-hab and it was immediately all over? And what about her three very young children?

     The film predated some of the more recent controversy surrounding Leibovitz. In no particular order she has been criticized for allegedly sexually provocative pictures of a teen Miley Cyrus, been ticked off by the Queen for asking her to remove her crown (although the BBC later apologized for naughtily editing the footage to suggest that the Queen stormed out of the photo shoot) and her financial woes which have seen her at the brink of bankruptcy on more than a few occasions. The thrust of the film is directed towards her formative periods - her youth and the influence of her family, her induction into the world of Rock'n'Roll as the chief photographer for Rolling Stone magazine (including a stint with the Rolling Stones themselves at the height of their addiction problems) and the later work for Vogue and Vanity Fair. A large part of the film is following Leibovitz as she does promotional shoots for Marie Antoinette.

     At the end of the piece we are still not really sure what makes this artist tick and the debate about art versus commerce is left to a lone dissenter. The film is light on the controversy but it does at least give us a chance to know a little bit more about the history of this chronicler of the 20th and 21st centuries.

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Transfer Quality


     Annie Leibovitz: A Life Through the Lens was presented cinematically at 1.85:1 aspect ratio. That aspect ratio, or near enough, is preserved for this DVD release. It is 16 x 9 enhanced.

     In fact, the film is comprised of a variety of sources. The recent high definition video footage is suitably crisp and clear and free of noticeable defects. The flesh tones are accurate. Then there is the historical footage which varies according to the era and the quality of the source. Included amongst this footage are home movies showing the little fresh faced Leibovitz. Perhaps more startling is the wealth of footage from her formative years at college and at Rolling Stone. Heaven knows which deep vault had to be raided to find all these moments of rock-loving slackers around a boardroom table discussing the magazine. Additionally, there is some footage of Hunter S. Thompson at his peak. The quality is atrocious but glorious in its own way.

     There are no compression issues.

     There are no subtitles except in some of the really old footage at the Rolling Stone offices.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


     Annie Leibovitz: A Life Through the Lens is presented in an English Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack running at 224Kb/s. This is perfectly adequate for the documentary which consists largely of interview footage. Despite the absence of sub-titles the dialogue is clear and easy to understand. The dialogue is in audio sync. There are no technical problems with the soundtrack.

     The music by James Newton Howard is a suitable accompaniment to the film.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


     There is a good deal of extra interview material on this DVD. It is all bundled under a single heading as below:

Bonus Interviews

     The long extended interviews section is a collection of unconnected stories from a host of Leibovitz subjects - Patti Smith, Whoopi Goldberg, Arnold Schwarzenegger and others. Two stories stand out - the photos of Patti Smith after the death of her husband and the detailed description of the genesis of the Demi Moore photos. The other extras can be characterised as "deleted themes"; little sections of the Leibovitz puzzle that didn't find their way into the finished product. Some interesting stories but difficult to watch in a single sitting.

Theatrical Trailer (2.09)

     The trailer.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     This DVD is identical to the Region 1 DVD.


     Annie Leibovitz: A Life Through the Lens is a solid, interesting documentary that illuminates the life behind the iconic images that are reflective of our society and , for better or worse, indicative of the nature of celebrity.

     The documentary is well presented on DVD considering the poor quality of some of the sources and is supplemented by a number of extras. The extras are a bit "more of the same" but worth watching.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Trevor Darge (read my bio)
Saturday, January 15, 2011
Review Equipment
DVDCambridge 650BD (All Regions), using HDMI output
DisplaySony VPL-VW80 Projector on 110" Screen. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationPioneer SC-LX 81 7.1
SpeakersAaron ATS-5 7.1

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