This documentary on the life and times of the prolific and uncannily gifted photographer, novelist, filmmaker, musician and painter Gordon Parks is never less than absorbing. The film stretches across two centuries as it traces his life and career from abject poverty in Kansas city, circa 1912 (the year of his birth), to his astonishing and unprecedented rise (in the late 40's, 50's and 60's) as a top photographer for Vogue, Life and other magazines, to his later years as a filmmaker and composer, through 2006 (the year of his death). That Parks was the product of illiterate Black sharecroppers is all the more riveting! Aside from prominent photographs, footage and voice-overs of Parks himself, "Half Past Autumn" features Parks'children and ex-wives, as well as celebrities and lifelong friends like record-mogul Russell Simmons and Gloria Vanderbilt--all of whom provide thoughtful, considerate anecdotes. Though Parks' subject matter widely varied (for a crucial time in his career he quickly garnered coveted assignments to places as far-flung as Paris and Brazil), his biggest claim to fame were his heart-stopping photographs of the Southern civil rights movement in the 1960's for Life magazine. In general, the power of his photos was such that no text needed to explain them. In still after still, you are astonished by his innate ability to capture and convey the very essence and beauty (however savage) of an image--whether that image is of families entrapped in poverty; a high fashion model; a glitzy society doyenne; or a cleaning woman resigned to her fate (his iconic photo "American Gothic," shows a Black maid posed in front of a draping American flag, staring down the camera as she holds an upended mop in one hand and a broom in the other).
Parks' other prominent interests included writing and filmmaking (he wrote, produced and directed the highly-acclaimed movie "The Learning Tree"). Sandwiched between his photography, writing and filmmaking was yet another tremendous gift for composing music. He was an untutored, respectably-skilled pianist with an abiding interest in classical music. In short, "Half Past Autumn" is a succinct epitaph of one the greatest American rennaissance men of the 20th century!