Shoot To Thrill In A Blinding Flash, They Get Their Pictures Of The Rich And Famous. They're The Paparazzi - Hated By Most Of Their Subjects - Featured In The New Film "Blast 'em."

Posted: November 03, 1992

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 precious faces.

But so far The Donald was the biggest quarry - not a pretty mug, but a salable image, nonetheless - especially after his breakup with Marla Maples.

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 it."

*

A cab pulled up and the pack surged. Out stepped actress Kyra Sedgwick and her husband, actor Kevin Bacon. Flashes exploded and motor drives whirred.

"Kevin, look over here."

Sedgwick put her head lovingly on Bacon's shoulder.

"Marvelous."

"Left. Left."

"Kyra. Gorgeous."

"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 signed photos.

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 exclusives.

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 involved."

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 said.

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 pursued.

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 marketplace."

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 Galella.

"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 chorus girl."

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 photographers laughed.

"This could be a real good skit for a comedy show," said Davidovich.

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 night.

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 said.

Just before midnight, while waiters were still serving plates of grilled tuna steak, the benefit organizers opened their doors to the remaining paparazzi.

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."

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