Weber’s ‘Chop Suey ‘ a tasty dish

Bruce Weber’s documentary Chop Suey was on the menu last Wednesday at the Cosford Cinema as audiences were served up this intricate medley of sight and sound that offers an intimate view into the renowned photographer’s soul.
“There are two ways to go through life,” said Weber, sporting a navy blue bandana around his graying head. “You can live your life or you can see it through the lens of a camera. I chose the second.”
There really is no way to sum up Chop Suey but to say that it is truly an experience of the senses. Where a typical autobiographical approach would be to tell a story, Weber chooses instead to weave a tapestry of his artistic, childhood, and emotional experiences using his photos and videos as the key elements. Accompanying the visuals are Weber’s narration, relevant quotations from books and people, and vibrant music, mostly the work of legendary singer/songwriter Frances Faye.
One of the main threads used to weave this story together is Peter Johnson, whom Weber plucked out of a crowd of high school wrestlers and took to New York to become a highly paid model. The camera, along with Johnson’s and Weber’s voiceover narrations, tracks the life of Johnson from his high school days to fatherhood, and from the shy, insecure rookie model he once was, to the professional muse he becomes to Weber.
As Weber acknowledged, the main theme of Chop Suey is that of the journey. Johnson’s journey from innocence mirrors Weber’s, as do all aspects of the film.
Another dominant thread was that of Faye, an influential performer whose characteristic high-strung, wild style led her to success throughout most of the twentieth century. Weber grew up listening to Faye’s music, and he presents her music almost as if it were the soundtrack to his life. Weber gives it a prominent role in his autobiographical work, so much so that he lists Faye as the star of the film in the credits.
“Chop Suey is a celebration of life, but there is also a sad quality to it all,” said freshman Tarah Rogowski as she was walking out of Cosford. “He captures so much beauty in his work, but he knows he will never be like the muses in his photographs, so he’s always on the outside, looking in.”
Weber has been a leader in the world of photography and film for decades. Along with Chop Suey, Weber has produced seven short and feature-length documentaries, two of which were named Best Documentary at the International Documentary Association, and his Let’s Get Lost was nominated for an academy award. His work has been published in 16 books and almost every magazine, and he has even directed music videos for Chris Issac and the Pet Shop Boys.
With a documentary featuring the late Robert Mitchum still in production, Chop Suey will be a hard act to follow, leaving high expectations for those who tasted the delight, the sorrow, and the wonder of Weber’s latest dish.