My Father and Me
In his recently released documentary, Nick Broomfield turns the camera inward to look at his relationship with his dad, Maurice Broomfield. Though famed for his films on iconic US music stars like Leonard Cohen, Whitney Houston and Kurt Cobain, the title suggests the viewer will be offered an intimate exposure into father-son relations. Actually – and fittingly – My Father and Me is a celebration of Maurice’s hitherto-unrecognised talent as a leading industry photographer in post-war Britain.
His masterful and bold pictures are frequently embedded into and bookend the narrative of the film. Doing so acts as a reminder of the great significance of Maurice’s work and – as we learn – one of many differences that are apparent between the pair.
Such disparities cause no animosity or strain between the duo. However, Broomfield exposes a greater discomfort between his xenophobic grandmother and Maurice’s Ashkenazi-Jewish wife Sonja. Despite this, exploring his mother, too, helps to give the feature a wider and warmer familial feel. Even her father, Gogo – who recounts with horror his experience of liberating Belsen – is explored.
Indeed, it is the social activist leanings of the Lagusovas that clearly influence Nick’s early career. Clips from Behind the Rent Strike and Juvenile Liaison I and II are interwoven into the movie and remind the viewer of the stark dissimilarities between dad and son. The director offers a sober contrast to Northern English society than that which Maurice depicted in his glamorous, beautifully lit photos.
This distance between these careers is echoed in the space Maurice puts between himself and his son. At one point, we get a sense of the sadness this causes Broomfield when his former wife, Joan Churchill, tells the camera that Nick is crying as he interviews her.
The work never over-indulges in dwelling on hurt or sorrow, though. Even when Broomfield documents Maurice’s depression after Sonja dies, it is overcome through a chance encounter with second-wife Suzy. From there, the man lives a rejuvenated life with happiness emanating from his relationship with grandson Barney and the successful post-millennium exhibitions celebrating his photography.
In prioritising our focus on the latter over the former throughout the film, Broomfield ensures our last memories of Maurice are as an artist, not just a caring grandfather. My Father and Me is not a standard biographic movie, but a paean of Britain’s most pre-eminent industrial photographer.
My Father and Me is released on BBC on 20th March 2021.
Watch the trailer for My Father and Me here: