I cursed the business from start to finish,” paparazzo Victor Malafronte now says of his early-’90s tenure as a hard-nosed, potty-mouthed flash popper on New York’s celeb-shooting circuit. But in Blast ‘Em!, the 1992 documentary just reissued on tape by Fox Lorber, he also curses — sometimes within earshot — such photophobes as Robert De Niro, Christie Brinkley, and Michael J. Fox, who found his family tailed for days by the shooter after Fox’s wife, Tracy Pollan, gave birth.
Despite the fallout from Princess Diana’s death — the cataclysm that, coupled with George Clooney’s media bashing, spurred Blast ‘Em!’s rerelease — Malafronte, now 34, remains unapologetic about his in-their-face profession. Diana’s end ”was a terrible tragedy, everyone was affected by it and needed someone to blame. But,” he cautions, ”the paparazzi followed Diana every single day for 16 years without a single incident — i.e., the X factor was a drunken, speeding driver. That’s number one.”
If the statement above proves unpopular, Malafronte doesn’t care. Blast ‘Em! director Joseph Blasioli recalls the public’s initial impression of his chief subject: ”People were either really engaged by his charisma, or they were morally offended. Victor developed a characteristic armor for dealing with it.”
That same armor had helped make him the documentary’s star. Malafronte, says the director, ”was indifferent to our camera’s presence, whereas everyone else was always a little bit obvious or on edge. Victor just focused on his work.”
After Blast ‘Em!’s theatrical release put Malafronte in the gossip pages alongside the stars, the former Newark, N.J., Star-Ledger photographer got the Hollywood runaround himself: ”I’m on the phone to my agent; I’ve got Entertainment Tonight in my apartment; I’ve got MTV downstairs. I don’t know what stars are complaining about. I was totally sucked into it.”
And spat right back out after a book deal and talk of a screenplay evaporated like so much flash powder. Malafronte hung up his camera after Blast ‘Em!’s release, and went on to develop a celebrity-photo CD-ROM he marketed to editors. He’s only recently returned to photography, calmly shooting a few parties a week (”I let everyone else yell now”) and refusing to stalk the rich and famous: ”Have John F. Kennedy Jr. yell at you a couple times, see how you feel about staking him out.”
Which doesn’t mean the public has the right idea about paparazzi. ”Here’s the myth,” says Malafronte. ”Everyone thinks that all these stars are getting hounded every single day of their lives. [But] this happens to a small group that includes Madonna, Michael Jackson, John F. Kennedy Jr. But nobody’s chasing George Clooney right now. No one cares, because he acted kind of silly.
”Television stars are more gracious,” he continues. ”Tim Allen. Paul Reiser. Cybill Shepherd. They’ll joke with you, they’ll pose for pictures, they’ll treat you like a human being. It’s the film stars, Brad Pitt and Sean Penn and others, who think this is all so below them.”