The Philadelphia Inquirer
November 3, 1992
Shoot to thrill
In a blinding
flash, they get their pictures of the rich and famous. They're paparazzi -
hated by most of their subjects - featured in the new film "Blast 'Em."
NEW YORK - The monsters with
cameras growing out of their faces were poised outside a trendy SoHo
restaurant, waiting for megamodels Cindy Crawford and Naomi Campbell to
arrive. A limousine pulled up.
A pasty man with a nice suit and a bad haircut emerged, followed by
four heart-stopping, low-cut, barely legal babes.
"Don-ald!" sung the lunging paparazzi as Donald Trump worked
his way through the blast of white flashes, his ornamental quartet in tow.
"Wait for the girls," Trump advised the photographers, a
badly dressed assemblage of jostling rudeness. He wrapped his arms around
the women while the cameras erupted. "It's tough being single,"
he chirped before disappearing into Casa La Femme.
The paparazzi went back to their watch, circling the sidewalk last week
outside this Wooster Street bistro, where an AIDS benefit was being held
and where a publicist had promised Cindy and Naomi would be showing their
But so far The Donald was the biggest quarry - not a pretty mug, but a
salable image, nonetheless - especially after his breakup with Marla
This is the factory floor of the entertainment industry, where images
are manufactured and molded. The paparazzi - those reviled chroniclers of
celebrity life - are the assembly-line workers.
"It's a big industry," said Keith Butler, a tall, 40-ish
Englishman who cut his teeth shooting Princess Diana for Fleet Street
tabloids. "We're filling a consumer market."
It is a coarse, contrived world, where celebrities, publicists and
photographers coexist in antagonistic symbiosis.
"It's an easy way for magazines to fill space," said Butler.
"They put the pictures in and write a bunch of crap around it."
Such is Butler's exalted view of the work of paparazzi, a term meaning
"household pest" that was first applied to assault photographers
by the director Federico Fellini.
That world is ably portrayed in a documentary, Blast 'Em, which opened
Friday at the Roxy Theatre in Philadelphia. The film focuses on an
obnoxious, foulmouthed, archetypal New York paparazzo named Victor
Malafronte, who is so disdainful of his craft - he calls it a joke - that
he quit shooting pictures after the documentary was released this summer.
Now Malafronte, 30, plans to write an autobiography exposing the
business. "I'm glad I bailed out, but now I'm exploiting it to the
max," he said.
Indeed, Malafronte agreed to come out of retirement for a camera crew
from TV's A Current Affair, which was doing a story on paparazzi.
His re-emergence outside the SoHo restaurant was greeted with derision
by the other photographers, who regard his combative performance in the
film as a calculated, staged act.
Malafronte acknowledges that he stoked the flames in the movie with his
hot pursuit of John F. Kennedy Jr., Michael J. Fox and his profane
characterization of an unhelpful Christie Brinkley.
"You don't say those kind of things unless you're really out there
on the edge," he said. "Most people wouldn't do that if they're
going to stay in the business, and I knew that I wasn't."
So the bad blood between Malafronte and his colleagues added a sour
dynamic to the circus atmosphere outside the restaurant, as the wait for
Cindy and Naomi went on.
Some photographers attempted to spoil the TV crew's shots as they
interviewed Malafronte, circling in the background of the shot, talking
emphatically or picking their noses.
"Most of those guys out there don't know an f-stop from a bus
stop," Malfronte said. "That's a good line, if you want to use
A cab pulled up and the pack surged. Out stepped actress Kyra Sedgwick
and her husband, actor Kevin Bacon. Flashes exploded and motor drives
"Kevin, look over here."
Sedgwick put her head lovingly on Bacon's shoulder.
"Kevin. Straight ahead."
It's amazing how long the actors can hold a smile without blinking.
Less than an hour later, Bacon and Sedgwick emerged from the restaurant
and posed again. This time they also are surrounded by professional
autograph-seekers clutching glossies of the actors. They will sell the
Paparazzi and autograph hounds often trade tips on celebrity sightings,
but the photographers clearly regard themselves as higher up on the
celebrity food chain. "Those autograph seekers, now that's a seedy
little business," said Butler.
Most of the paparazzi are freelancers, getting paid only when their
pictures are published. They work through agencies that sell their photos
for a percentage of the sales. Their livelihood depends upon obtaining
Among the paparazzi, there is a hierarchy as well. Some photographers
only work at events to which they are invited. Others are stakeout artists
who ambush celebrities. Some news photographers cross over and do
celebrity shots, because a photo of Barbra Streisand pays better than one
of starving Somalian children.
"Sometimes you don't mind blasting them," said Rick Maiman,
primarily a news photographer, who put on his paparazzi hat to chase Woody
Allen and Soon-Yi Previn. "It's a way to get even because they look
down on you, thinking you're just some fleabag shooter."
Russell Turiak, a Yonkers stakeout artist who was shot at in 1989 while
attempting to photograph the wedding of Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith
from a helicopter, looks down on event photographers. "A monkey could
do that," he said.
"I'm a rare breed, in a much more exclusive club," said
Turiak by phone from Florida, where his competitors feared he was sneaking
pictures of Madonna's new mansion. "There's a lot more talent
Turiak recently struck gold by ambushing Daryl Hannah with a flash
photo that showed the black eye she allegedly received at the hands of
ex-sweetie Jackson Browne. He also shot her with John F. Kennedy Jr.
"I've done my work artfully when the subjects don't know that I've
taken their picture until a week later when they see it in print," he
Nick Elgar, based in New York for London Features International,
normally shoots events - in Blast 'Em, he is the well-behaved photographer
juxtaposed with the rude Malafronte.
"But even at events, you'll always have somebody who's trying not
to have their picture taken," said Elgar. And those subjects must be
At last year's Oscars, Elgar went so far as to obtain crew credentials
and hid a camera backstage. He snapped a picture of Madonna and Michael
Jackson together - this is like hitting the lottery twice.
Elgar says that many young actors only pretend to be avoiding
paparazzi: "There's a deliberateness to the way they hide their
face," he said.
"For the most part," said Elgar, "it's homogenized,
premeditated, baby food that's just calculated and tossed out to the
Some of the photographers outside the restaurant were beginning to
think the supermodels were not going to show up.
"I came down here from Yonkers and being six months pregnant, I
don't want to be jerked around," said Kelly Jordan, resting her
camera on her belly. She used to work for Jackie Onassis-stalker Ron
"The aim is to get them coming out of the car," Jordan said.
"The magazines love it when they have those long legs extended."
As the night dragged on and the temperature dropped, the paparazzi
began drifting away. Some decided to try their luck elsewhere. Macaulay
Culkin was rumored to be dining at Tavern on the Green.
Butler, however, stuck around because he got a tip that Cindy Crawford
was on her way.
He has learned that patience pays off. This year alone, he said he has
grossed $30,000 from surreptitious pictures of Jackie Onassis with her
grandchildren in Central Park.
Jaime Davidovich, the landlord of the building next door to Casa La
Femme, came downstairs to see what was causing the explosion of flashes.
"Only in America," said the Argentine native.
Then a black car pulled up and Davidovich blurted, "It's a
celebrity, yes? But it was a regular car. "No, no celebrity in that
car. Even I can hire that car - $35 to the airport. It must be just some
Davidovich had been watching Bill Clinton on Larry King Live.
"This is much more interesting."
Another neighbor threatened to call the police about the noise. The
"This could be a real good skit for a comedy show," said
While New York's baddest paparazzi were standing around on Wooster
Street, their fingers getting cold, there was an occasional flash of light
from inside Casa La Femme.
Somehow, a photographer got inside. That was Aubrey Reuben, a slight,
balding man. Until he retired five years ago, Reuben, 60, was an assistant
high school principal in Queens by day and a party animal by night. Now
he's the king of the New York social circuit.
"I go to parties 365 nights a year, except leap year, when I go
366 nights," said Reuben. He goes to as many as eight parties a
Several years ago, he coaxed Michael Jackson and Elizabeth Taylor to
pose together - that made him a lot of money. He had the only shot of Bess
Myerson and Andy Capasso. He had one of the first pictures of Marla Maples
when she became known.
He always asks permission before he takes a picture with his
point-and-shoot Leica. "There's no place I can't get in," he
Just before midnight, while waiters were still serving plates of
grilled tuna steak, the benefit organizers opened their doors to the
There were only four left.
Three photographers went in to snap some pictures of Trump. But Butler
stayed outside. He packed up his camera - finally convinced that Cindy was
a certified no-show.
"It was a terrible night," he said.
The next day, he sent the film to his agency's main office in London,
which would sell the pictures worldwide. He simply threw all the photos
from the week together and said they were taken at the same event.
"They'll never know the difference in Abu Dhabi."