Robert Frank arrived in America in 1947 and for the next twelve years he held it in his grasp, capturing its packed streets, ruined alleys, curving highways, bright diners, bandstands, churches, bars, and homes with his camera. His most enduring work is unquestionably The Americans, a book of 83 black and white images taken during a 10,000 mile roadtrip in 1955. Having been born in 1924 into Zurich's staid efficiency, Frank adored the democratic, open character of his new country and took over 27,000 photos as he drove from New York to Miami, Detroit, Alabama, and LA. What he came back with is an unforgettable document of private life observed by a careful eye.

Frank found a black nurse cradling a white baby in Charleston, drunk cowboys in a New Mexico bar, sprawling and ugly rooftops in Montana, horny teenagers in California, everyday Jim Crow in New Orleans, and many white children playing beneath the American flag. Today, nearly 60 years since it was published, The Americans still rattles with the tremulous hope and panic that enveloped the nation post-WWII. It is, simply put, the finest book by a living photographer. But only a year after it was published, Frank put his Leica down for good.

He took up filmmaking. For the rest of his life, Frank used motion pictures as a means of exploring the outside world and coming to terms with himself, and while each of his photos contained a discrete idea, the films he made turned out messy with all their moving parts exposed. His actors were untrained, his scripts were mere outlines, and his directing was strange. Frank's style bordered on gonzo and used almost none of the steady, beautifying techniques of Hollywood.

His first release, 1959's Pull My Daisy, was a badly-lit manic comedy populated by beat writers; Allen Ginsberg starred and a wasted-off-applejack Kerouac provided narration. It's impossible to follow but a joy to experience all the same, and The Times has referred to it as "indie cinema before indie existed." Like most of the films Frank went on to make, there was little planning, no budget, and practically no audience.

Pull My Daisy will be the first film shown at BAM's new long-running retrospective of Frank's work. All told, 25 of his 31 films will be played, including the haunting 1968 feature Me and My Brother, which follows the poet Peter Orlovsky as he reconnects with his schizophrenic brother Julius, who had been confined to a mental institution for 12 years then thrust back into the clamor of Manhattan. The film is an unkempt heartbreak as Frank shows us footage of Julius wandering alone, followed by shooters holding clunky super-8 cameras. At one point, a young Christopher Walken steps in to play Frank. "Don't make a movie about making a movie. Make it," one of the actresses tells Frank, raising the sad question of purpose that was Frank's motive all along.

Frank's most difficult piece of work is 1969's Conversations in Vermont, which shows the director/artist reckoning with his greatest failure: fatherhood. In order to make The Americans, Frank chose to abandon his young family for many months, and his son Pablo and daughter Andrea grew up estranged from their celebrated father. The family is the main cast of Conversations, which shows Frank visiting them at a New England private school in which he enrolled them, hoping they'd grow up sheltered from his messy New York scene ("I feel the burden of bringing myself up," Pablo tells his father). Slow-moving and sad, the movie is made all the more chilling by the fact that in 1974, Andrea died in a plane crush. In 1994, Pablo committed suicide.

The gravitas of Walker Evans inspired Frank's photography, and the downtown beat scene powered his early films, but eventually he had to find new sources of creative energy. BAM plans to close the series on September 22nd with a screening of his most controversial, rarest film, 1972's Cocksucker Blues, which was born out of a Rolling Stones photoshoot and became a malformed ride-along diary of how the band passed their off-hours.

When Frank turned it in, the Stones hated what they saw and barred its theatrical release. Its elusiveness lent it mythical cult status (Don DeLillo claims to have watched a badly-copied version decades ago), but luckily BAM managed to strike a deal with Frank's legal team and now legitimate tickets for Cocksucker Blues are on sale.

"We didn’t choose a subset or organize [the films] around a theme,” BAM Cinematek coordinator Jesse Trussel told Crain's New York. "It’s a celebration of all of his films." Trussel worked closely with Frank's longtime film editor Laura Israel, who met Frank in the 1980s when both were hired to make a music video for Joy Division. Israel recently finished Don't Blink, which serves as a masterful biopic of Frank's life told in his own words, and it was her documentary work that catalyzed the new BAM series into being (Don't Blink is currently showing until August 9th at Film Forum and is a must-see for Frank fans).

Over the course of his life, Frank knew great success and terrible pain. Now, at age 92, he lives a quiet life in his dusty Manhattan loft with his longtime wife June Leaf. Don't Blink reveals it to be a calm place decorated with memories: reels of unfinished movies, film negatives, notebooks, letters. Despite the societal strife he captured in photos and manic dread he forced onto film, the aged Frank appears at peace—he laughs easily and smiles for the camera. It's possible that he's able to rest assured that his art comforted the disturbed, and disturbed the comforted. He did it by putting all of himself into his work. For the next two months at BAM, we can see him for ourselves.