Peering Into The Light: “The Warriors”

2140

I’ve always loved New York films.  Growing up deep in suburban Connecticut my access to the city of all cities was limited at best; a trip or two a year strictly following the late 80’s early 90’s visitor play book of only trekking into the safest and most touristy of areas.  While these trips were always an education most of what formed my views of New York City for better or worse came from cinema.  The bustling streets tucked within endless labyrinths of metal and glass were always something to experience in person, mysterious and imposing, yet charged with a life far different then the one that I was used to.  Once safely tucked back in suburbia films became the window back into that world, a vantage point from which I could continue my education, even if the views it sometimes offered were less then factual.

The films that I’m speaking of are no doubt from a specific time in the city’s history.  “Midnight Cowboy”, “The French Connection”, “The Taking of Pelham 123”, and of course anything by Woody Allen are what come to mind first as being quintessential New York to me, and probably most others in my age range.  But years go by, times change, and the New York that once was no longer exists.  It’s 2016 now and even after spending the last three years living in New York City I can still say that I love New York films. Since my younger days there have been countless more movies featuring the city made, but I’ll always go back to the ones I remember most from my suburban childhood.

I’ve found that my love for these movies has become more refined as time went on.  I am undoubtedly drawn to a very specific subset of New York cinema which could be loosely classified as ” urban apocalyptic”.  Those films that set out to capture, even satirize the more harrowing aspects of life in what was a decaying metropolis.  Along these lines one of my favorites has to be 1979’s “The Warriors”.  Directed by Walter Hill and based on Sol Yurick‘s 1965 novel, the story is set in a not so distant from reality New York City which has become overrun by gangs, focusing specifically on The Warriors a gang framed for the murder of Cyrus, a well respected gang leader.

0939

Cyrus’ murder on the night he was to address a gathering of all of the city’s gangs sends The Warriors on the run from the Bronx back to their home turf in Brooklyn. A hit is put out on them through an underground radio station and the gang’s journey into the dark night of the city’s soul begins.

1740

Cinematography is just as much about what you are shooting as it is how you are shooting it, and the streets of 1978 New York provided the production with near limitless options for ready made sets.  Facing sporadic bouts of bad weather cinematographer Andrew Laszlo opted to wet down all of the streets the crew was shooting for consistency. It was a trick that also served to imbue the surroundings with a hyper textuality. Cold steel, pavement, decay and darkness was the world of The Warriors. Even though   director Walter Hill has said that the film was supposed to be a dystopian vision of New York in some near future, given the state of New York in the 70’s reality and fantasy were definitely not so far removed from one another.

1840

Hill and Laszlo employed color in strategic ways, be it through subtle to not so subtle washes of light or interestingly inspired wardrobe choices. As a result the narrative is given that extra dimension of surreality, perhaps even a very light suggestion of sci-fi.

0440

0340

3040

The filmmakers also utilize quiet framings to enhance The Warriors plight.  Shots of empty city streets and rusted out subway platforms emphasize the characters’ isolation, exiled into the murky fringes of an already fringe society.  In an instant they are subject to the very dangers they were once very much a part of doling out, only having themselves and each other to rely on.

2940.jpg

4239

4835.jpg

I suspect that it’s shots like these that most pique my fascination with New York films such as “The Warriors”, as well as with New York City itself.  Over the course of 30 years so much has changed here, and films like these are more documents of a specific time and place, rather then reflections of reality.  That said, there are still plenty of pockets of past New York which still exist, even though these days I don’t often find myself in one.

Every once in a while however I catch a glimpse of an empty ally way to nowhere, or find myself on a mostly deserted subway car and tense up, my brain playing back not only real life danger scenarios, but also those iconic scenes of violence and mayhem in those New York films that I grew up with and continue watching to this day.

3240

Thanks to http://film-grab.com/ for the stills.

Peering Into The Light:”The Fountain”

2260

If I were ever asked to create a top ten list of films that featured some of my favorite cinematography Darren Aronofsky’s 2006 film “The Fountain” may always rank close to the top.  The film is comprised of three distinct storylines interwoven into a singular narrative; at its heart is a meditation on love and mortality.

Rachel Weisz and Hugh Jackman play the main characters across each of the narratives: A scientist fighting to find a cure for his wife’s terminal cancer, a 16th century conquistador setting off on a quest for his beloved queen, and a next century space traveler still grieving over his lost love.

To help further tie all three stories together Aronofsky and Director of Photography Matthew Libatique rely on a limited color palette of oranges; ranging from the dull rusty interiors of a research lab or an Inquisition dungeon, to the etherial golden hues of the garden of the Tree of Life or the star fields of the Xibalba nebulae.

5960

0960

3660

At it’s core “The Fountain” is a straightforward love story with each of Jackman’s characters being portrayed as singularly obsessed with not losing the love of their lives. Weisz’s characters, cancer stricken Izzi and Queen Isabella are often rendered in brilliant beatific light, women who have been raised up on pedestals and beholden to an impossible ideal.  It’s that very same light that blinds Jackman’s Tomás, Tom, and Tommy characters to the things that really matter, while at the same time illuminating each of their flaws. They will not be, in fact, cannot be be distracted from their quests, even if it means sacrificing precious time with their loved ones in the now.

0360

4260

4360

One of the most engaging aspects of the film for me was the treatment of the visual effects shots. It was Aronofsky’s stated goal to use as little traditional CGI as possible in an effort to create effects that would stand the test of time. With nearly one-third of the film taking place in deep space this was certainly a challenge.  To overcome this the production team used macro cinematography of deep sea organisms and chemical reactions to create the a vision of infinite space that is truly inspired.

fountain076

fountain132.jpg

fountain225

It’s in these scenes that the film’s imagery becomes as transcendent as the themes it treads in. Tommy the space traveler could just as easily be on a journey inside his own mind rather then across the Universe. Aronofsky created such a unique representation of interstellar space I feel that it is still worthy of consideration even n0w 10 years after the film’s initial release.  The reliance on the natural phenomena of fluid dynamics to create these sequences was an inspired choice, the slow moving ebbs and flows becoming a visual metaphor for the nature of time and space itself.

fountain189

To me these choices are even more intriguing when placing “The Fountain” into context with other science fiction films, both past and future. In most cases the representation of space is handled in traditionally recognizable ways; i.e. the endless pin-prick star field and colorful planet backdrops of the Star Wars or Star Trek movies.  Be they created though today’s CGI or the practical effects of decades ago, representations of outer space have always evoked a feeling of separation between our natural world and the one that exists outside our atmosphere.

In using imagery crafted in this way Aronofsky has broken down that separation, giving us a vision of the interstellar that begins to feel very different from the cold mysterious unknown that we have seen time and time again in films. His outer space is one built of organics – the same elements that we ourselves are made of.

As space traveler Tommy nears the heart of Xibalba, the three narratives collapse into each other. By the end of the film we realize that the journey that we have joined him on is one that has led us into the depths of ourselves.

fountain230

Thanks to http://evanerichards.com/ for the images.

 

Peering Into The Light: “In The Mood For Love”

inthemoodforlove093

Wong Kar Wai’s 2000 opus “In The Mood For Love” is a piece of cinematic poetry. A work of understated beauty that slowly casts a spell on the audience over the course of its 98 minute run time.

Set in 1962 Hong Kong, the film follows neighbors Chow Mo-wan (Tony Leung) and Su Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung) as they navigate their burgeoning relationship while simultaneously trying to manage the loneliness that pervades their personal lives. Both have absentee spouses whom they suspect of carrying on an adulterous relationship of their own.  Even while knowing this Chow and Su have decided that even as they begin to develop feelings for one another they can never act on them, having no desire to sink to that level.

inthemoodforlove016

“In The Mood For Love” is a deeply nuanced story, but at the core it is a film about loneliness of the worst kind; that which we feel in the presence of others, an impossible love story draped in the trappings of a film noir.  The imagery of cinematographers  Christopher Doyle and Mark Lee Ping Bin are all at once precise and kinetic, painted with layers of light and color to evoke feelings of the imprisoned longing the protagonists cannot let themselves escape from.

inthemoodforlove083

inthemoodforlove121.jpg

Wong and his cinematographers skillfully sculpt in shadows to intensify the sense of isolation that surrounds the characters.  That, combined with selectively tight compositions and the use of obscuring objects within the frame place Chow and Su in a world of restriction not only representative of the conservative time and place in which they are living, but also that of their own morals.  Their Hong Kong is a place of confinement, populated with silent hallways, cramped offices, and dim lit ally ways.  The stakes get even higher when the pair realizes that their friendship has become the subject of neighborhood gossip, as platonic relationships between men and woman are very much unfamiliar territory.

inthemoodforlove202

 

For both of them their partnership is an island in a sea of the lonely, but more then a hint of the tragic drifts into the narrative as we come to realize that it can never be fully realized. With each passing day the pair grows simultaneously closer and further apart, as the emotional gravity of their situation bears its full weight.

inthemoodforlove181

I found it difficult to talk about any one image in this film primarily because ever single one is striking in its own way.  They work in perfect concert with every other element in the production in creating something beyond cinema.  Given that it’s a film that I love, yet one that I rarely find myself in the mood to watch, I would say that it’s that something which could best be described as raw emotion…  The type of raw emotion that someone only wants to visit with occasionally.

inthemoodforlove144

Thanks to evanerichards.com for the stills.

My Favorite Shot: “Days of Heaven”

As is probably the case with most cinematographers Terrence Malick’s 1978 film “Days of Heaven” is my go to whenever I find myself citing impossibly beautiful camera work. Lensed by both Néstor Almendros and Haskell Wexler, the production relied primarily on natural rather then studio lighting to craft images that are infused with the sort magical naturalism found in paintings by  Johannes Vermeer, or Andrew Wyeth.

Set in 1919, the story follows a laborer named Bill (Richard Gere) and his girlfriend Abby (Brooke Adams), who find themselves on the run after Bill accidentally kills his boss in a Chicago steel mill.  Fleeing to the Texas panhandle, the pair take up with a wealthy young farmer (Sam Shepard) and instantly hatch a plan to get hold of his money.

49-plague

Though there are many stunning shots in the film my favorite has to be one of it’s most iconic.  Taking place at the film’s climax, the shot depicts a scene of crisis. The farm Bill and Abby are using as a hideaway is overtaken by a plague of locusts, the workers left with little to do but look on helplessly. Within the bounds of this frame so much is conveyed, a fiery sense of foreboding rendered through an impressionistic haze of insects. A retribution of the Biblical kind brought down upon an undeserving soul. Everything is in its correct place. The silhouetted workers lost within the swarm. The beautiful old farmhouse, an apparition of a brighter past looming lonely in the distance.

To this day it’s a shot that brings me inspiration and frustration. A single magic hour tinged moment in time that all at once pushes me to pick up a camera and shoot something, anything while simultaneously setting off the voices in that tell me to forget the whole cinematography endeavor altogether. To just pack it in, since there is no way I will ever capture anything that beautiful.

In short, it’s a shot that provides fuel to my creative fire.

Peering Into The Light: “Valhalla Rising”

3248

“Peering Into the Light” are brief essays on the cinematography of films which have become part of my own personal canon.

Nicolas Winding Refn’s 2009 adventure film “Valhalla Rising” is an exercise in beautiful brutality. Set in 1000 AD the film follows One-Eye (Mads Mikkelsen), a Norse warrior and his young ward as they travel with a band of Christian Crusaders on a quest to the Holy Land.

Shooting entirely in Scotland with a Red One camera, Refn and DoP Morten Søborg use their locations to full effect to crafting a haunting tale of revenge and destiny.  The action unfolds against stunning anamorphic lensed backdrops, every frame a painted pastoral scene flipped on its head into something ominous.

2148

0448

The world Refn portrays is one comprised completely of danger and death, a stage on which he plays out his own unique style of noir. Streetlight slashed back alleys are replaced by sweeping landscapes that have a tendency to fade into etherial nothingness whenever the fog rolls in.

0249

Without a doubt light and fog are well calculated main characters in this story, their interaction imbuing scenes with a sense of spectral impermanence. This is never more evident as during a sequence when the group finds themselves lost at sea.

1948

2848

Every time I’ve watched this scene I find myself reminded of the “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.
 The framing of the shots in this sequence is largely restrained to the characters within the confines of the boat – the sea itself rarely if ever seen.  With this decision the filmmakers masterfully increasing the dread by only showing hints of the world beyond.  Surrounded by little more then an impenetrable wall of light and fog the hopelessness of the travelers’ situation is intensified to the breaking point.
For me this scene is also unique because of its sense of artificiality.  It sits in sharp contrast to the naturalistic scenes which preceded it.  At this point in the film there is a vague stage set quality to everything.  Each vignette is washed in a hyper saturated reds, blues,and oranges that would work just as well as if this were a theatrical production.
3048
2548
All of this works to the film’s advantage. There is little doubt that this is a transitional scene, otherworldly and slightly detached from the established narrative. Though it is not nearly the end of the film, it is not doubt the end of something.  The lower angle POV shots place the viewer right in with the travelers, waiting in limbo until their journey reaches it’s inevitable denouement on a distant shore.
5948
Thanks to http://film-grab.com/ for the stills.

Creativity and the Art of Embracing “The Void”

TheVoid

Currently, most of my work as a cinematographer has been on zero budget indie projects with severely limited crew, minimal equipment and heavily compressed shooting schedules.  Time and time again I’ve waded into these projects knowing full well the pressure to deliver quality images within an environment which can be described as the trash compactor scene from “Star Wars”.  Even within the context of those projects where the stakes are “lower”, little to no pay ventures done more for love or experience, the pressure is still there – mainly from myself more then anyone else.

As I’ve been thinking more about these creativity under the gun experiences I find myself coming back to a concept which I have come to name “The Void”.  For me it’s a span of time that happens right at the very beginning of a project in which I am tasked with creating something.  In my case it started in my work as a visual designer, however I quickly noticed that the same feelings while working as a cinematographer as well.

At its core, the concept is little more then my own spin on the well worn trope of a writer staring into the endless white of a blank page – the ultimate representation of writers’ block.  I like to think that my metaphor is more accurate in describing my own head space that occurs when beginning a visuals based creative project.  The Void can be a terrifying place for a creative, a sprawling expanse of bottomless nothing that quickly engulfs all functional thought.  In The Void there are no ideas or there are infinite ideas, a perverse all or nothing game that seems could last forever.  Worst of all, more often then not you face it alone, drifting aimlessly through that neither-space of un-productivity.

My forays into “The Void” started ever since beginning my career as a creative quite a few years ago.  Whether it was designing a logo, writing a script, or framing a shot, I dreaded that feeling – the tightening in the gut that signaled those first steps into that nothingness. While designing I quickly found that wild sketching, or semi-random pixel pushing seemed to help.  Pulling the ideas from the aether by hook or crook using a machine gun fire approach not only seemed to work, but also made The Void less scary.

As I started to pursue cinematography more seriously I found that while The Void was still there, it was easier to control.  This is probably most due to the fact that when it comes to properly lighting and framing a scene more pre-planning and less spontaneity (arguably) is required.  I also realized that the physical nature of being on a film set helped my creative process.  If I was struggling with a concept I could get up and move the camera, adjust a light, or just survey the space once more  The very dynamic act of doing these things helped to combat the encroaching Void in a way that felt much different then the design projects that usually had me stuck at a computer.  In realizing this I found myself doing everything I could to get out of The Void as fast as I could – especially when working behind a camera.   

Though all of this I’ve come to understand that my concept of The Void is difficult to put into words, yet important to my own creative process. To me the discomfort of being stuck in that place of anti-inspiration should be viewed as a normal way point along the creative path.  However, up until recently I had been viewing it as an obstruction, something to fight against with a lot of unfocused action.  Of late I’ve become interested in the idea of allowing myself to submit to this mental state, to actually exist within that boundless ocean of quiet.  Much of the time my process has yielded some good ideas, but I can’t help but wonder how many truly great ideas were lost merely because I didn’t spend enough time in that quiet place, because I merely settled for the first answer for the sake of completing a task.  Really it’s just a change of perspective, a flipping of the script on a long held belief.

That said, this whole thing might be easier said then done – only time will tell.

Peering Into the Light: “Never Let Me Go”

neverletmego-184

“Never Let Me Go”

I’ve decided to try to center more of my writing on the aspect of filmmaking that is my personal passion: Cinematography.  In this regard I’m staring what I hope to be an ongoing series of articles that focus specifically on a film’s imagery first and foremost.

I keep coming back to 2010’s “Never Let Me Go” as an example of cinematography that is truly striking in its subtly. Directed by Mark Romanek and lensed by Adam Kimmel, the film is an adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s 2005 novel of the same name. It’s A dystopian science fiction story set in a world where human clones are bred to serve as organ donors for the rest of the population.  The story centers around three of these young donors and their lives within “Hailsham”, the boarding school that they attend.

To say that the premise is horrific is an understatement and it’s here that the brilliance of Kimmel’s cinematography shines through.  Every frame is a work of naturalistic beauty, a collection of timeworn snapshots that reconstruct memory.

neverletmego-010 neverletmego-008.jpg

The visual style is built in part upon restrained lighting. Faces often lit at or just under key and edged by slightly harder daylight sources set the mood throughout the film. Shadows are ever present, constantly wrapping the protagonists in a dim embrace.   As the story progresses and the reality of the character’s situation comes into sharper focus, the juxtaposition of the beautiful imagery against the bleak storytelling creates an increasing sense of melancholy surreality.

neverletmego-301

neverletmego-007.jpgThe film was shot in 35 mm anamorphic using a variety of Kodak film stocks. The decision to film a piece like this in anamorphic obviously playing no small part in the overall look. The wider format enabling compositional choices in which the characters begin to look increasingly  lost as they get the opportunity to explore the somewhat alien world that surrounds them. The use of anamorphic lenses imbues the entire piece with a softness that is not so much dreamlike, but more representative of time past.  A series of bittersweet recollections rendered in slightly faded soft palette sepia.

neverletmego-120

neverletmego-175.jpg

neverletmego-256

The framing choices are masterstrokes, with many of the wide shots that appear later in the film reinforcing the hopelessness of the character’s situation. They are insignificant, trapped by a wider world of which they can never really be a part of. As they continue to explore the world outside their school the dull British weather becomes another character in and of itself, casting an oppressive air across every frame.

neverletmego-292

neverletmego-259

By the end of the film you realize that what we’ve been watching an alternate history unfold in front of us, an intriguing document of a time and place that we would never really want to experience – yet was far too compelling to turn away from.

neverletmego-330

neverletmego-328

neverletmego-331

Special thanks to evanerichards.com for the film stills.

“Ex Machina:” Love Is Artificial

2015_ex_machina-wide

“Isn’t it strange, to create something that hates you?

 – Ava

This past year’s “Ex Machina” was easily one of my favorites. The film’s masterful use of Artificial intelligence as the narrative framework allows for a deeper exploration of themes such as identity, love, trust, and maybe most of all envy.  Alex Garland the film’s writer/director showcases his excellent storytelling chops, confidently navigating the audience though his vision. Without going into too much detail to avoid spoilers the film’s plot revolves around Caleb (Domhnal Gleeson) a young programmer employed by a massive Google-like tech company. We quickly learn that Caleb has been selected by the company’s founder Nathan (Oscar Isaac) to join him at his secluded home/laboratory to administer a Turing Test to his latest creation; an AI name Ava (Alicia Vikander).

Artificial intelligence has been a subject of fascination for me for sometime now, so even before walking into the theater I was fairly sure “Ex Machina” was going to be an interesting watch. What I wasn’t quite prepared for was just how much I loved the film.  This is probably in no small part due to the fact that I had just finished reading a few books on the current state of artificial intelligence research and philosophy a few days before… Now before your eyes glaze over let me just say that pre-reading before seeing this movie is not necessary, however I will say that my viewing experience was enriched by being able to understand more of the context of the world Garland’s script exists in. There are some truly intriguing lines of thought surrounding today’s race towards developing more advanced AI and it’s clear that Garland wove inspiration from the same readings into his script.

ex-machina-vikande_3170840b

Vikander’s Ava is a interesting character, but what really drives the movie the work of all three principles in unison.  Garland constructs a love triangle between Caleb, Ava, and Nathan which quickly becomes the film’s engine, and it’s at this point Isaac’s excellent performance should be called out. He plays Nathan as a damaged alpha male frat boy bro who just happens to be brilliant – his obscured motivations and bullying becoming the fulcrum between Caleb and Ava.

exmach-1422026632377_1280w

As I write this I realize that one of the most interesting aspects of this film for me is how the entire concept of the creation of a self-aware AI is handled.  Little to no worried philosophical questioning on if humankind’s penchant for playing God has gone one step too far. No over the top Skynet-like plans for the eradication of us all.  You get the sense that Ava’s creation was just as much a business decision as it was a personal ego fueled moon shot. Humans are going to do what humans are going to do and not much is going to stop us.  If you are someone who is inclined to believe that it is one of humanities own creations will be our ultimate undoing then it’s within this conceit that the film builds real dread.

World meet Ava. Ava meet world.  Apple’s Siri she is not.

Tentpole Cinema, the Internet, and the Distracting Voices of Banality In Our Heads

starwarshorizontal

Running of the risk of losing my Platinum Status Geek Card I have to admit I wasn’t among the the crowds that swarmed theaters the day “The Force Awakens” was released.  Instead I opted to wait close to a week before venturing out to see the latest chapter, mainly motivated by my desire to not deal with the insanity that was a New York City theater at the release of one of the most anticipated films in years… I know… I guess I’m getting old.

Once the decision to wait was made I instantly undertook a course of action probably familiar to many hardcore fans of iconic geek tentpole cinema – the much adopted Social Media Lockdown to avoid any spoilers, offhand criticisms, or vague impressions of the media in question.  Honestly, in my case it didn’t end up being a full on lockdown, (more a Social Media Scaling Back) and as a result I can say my experience remained adequately unsullied by the digital masses. As a result of all of this I’ve been thinking more about a topic that has crossed my mind more and more over the last few years – just how much I hate social media when it comes to how it relates to film. In this case I don’t just mean the potential to step on a spoiler landmine when perusing my Facebook or Twitter feeds, I’m actually referring to the entire ecosystem that has sprung up around these big budget releases.

Now let me pause a moment before I continue… I am aware that a “you kids get off my lawn” vibe is starting to permeate this post.  I’m also aware that there is little new ground to be broken here either.  Someone’s complained about this before and someone will certainly complain about it again.

My thoughts around all of this solidified even more after my friend and I were recently having one of our usual conversations which I call our “periodic airing of social media grievances”. Generally, these sessions have spanned a wide range of issues not at all solely centered on film.  The point she brought up this time around was in reference to “The Force Awakens” – specifically the inevitable glut of click bait fan theory articles that we get hit with whenever a movie such as this gets released, (I believe the article in question was a top ten theories of who Rey’s parents are).  The semi-rhetorical question she posed was essentially did the Star Wars loving movie watching world really need this article?

Her question got me thinking, and while I guess the philosophical answer is “probably not”, I am a realist in the understanding that we are now in a society where digital content is king, (lets face it… does the world need another article like the very one I’m writing here?).  As long as there has been something to discuss, over think, or bitch about someone is going to do those very things, on the most public platform available to them.  My annoyance around all of this has ramped up because frankly it seems that the landscape has become flooded with this kind of hollow chatter, and the bulk of it seems centered around these film properties that are the easy targets. A key example would be the aforementioned “The Force Awakens”, but could also include any movie adaptation of a comic book property, or of course a novel.  More often then not these properties have become the sacred cows of geek cinema (or television) tirelessly protected and lauded by those who are ever concerned with either a) making sure the films in question remained faithful to the source material, or b) were just trying to get someone to click into their tiny section of the internet.

Does it really matter who Rey’s parents are going to be revealed to be?  Or if Ben Affleck will play a good Bruce Wayne/Batman? Or if Spiderman’s suit is the right shade of red?

Ben-Afflecks-Batman-Has-17-Inch-Biceps-In-Batman-V-Superman

Depending on what kind of movie watcher you are maybe minor questions like the ones above would make a difference in how much you enjoyed a particular film. If you’re a more causal, movies-as-entertainment viewer then issues like these may not show up on your radar at all.  If you are a something more of a cinephile, (the group which I suspect the article is targeted towards) then they may be the kinds of questions that may make or break a movie for you. For those in the later group, (myself included) I wonder how much time we are spending being distracted by getting caught up in reading these click bait speculation articles, or engaging in the latest round of “This Marvel Movie Didn’t Work Because…”  I know I myself have been guilty of it regularly, and it’s something that I found myself actively trying to resist.

For the sake of ending this article in time to make the release of the next installment of the Star Wars I’ll leave it it by suggesting that the next time you get the urge to indulge in wanton fanboy/girl griping pause for a moment and refocus the energy into creating something – a photo, a painting, a short film, a long-winded directionless blog post, anything.  You may be happy with the result.

Beyond The Black Rainbow: The Style is the Substance.

philip-galbavy-final-photoshop-renderAs I started to discuss in my previous post, I’ve become interested in talking about films that run counter to the current Hollywood paradigm. Undoubtedly 2010’s sci-fi/horror mind bender “Beyond The Black Rainbow”  deserves  mention.

Directed by Panos Cosmatos, the film can be best described as an acid trip coated in a thick candy shell of baby boomer retro. In interviews Cosmatos has said that he set out “to create a film that is a sort of imagining of an old film that doesn’t exist.”

18RDP_BEYOND_SPAN-articleLargeOn this point I have to say he’s succeeded gloriously, though others might suggest otherwise, as the film ended up with a 50% on Rotten Tomatoes – with much of the criticism being focused on the story.  To confess, upon my first viewing at a midnight showing in Boston I was inclined to agree with the detractors, but after I walked out of the theater there was no denying that the experience would stay with me.  To put that statement further into context I watched BTBR right after a viewing of Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus” and even now 3 years removed I can easily say Cosmatos’ effort, was far more inspiring to me.

A36YJ michael-rogers-as-barry-nyle-in-beyond-theWithout going in too much depth, the story, set in 1983, revolves around a young girl with telepathic abilities named Elena (Eva Allan) who is held hostage at a place called the Arboria Institute. A man by the name of Dr. Barry Nyle is her sadistic captor, played skillfully by Michael Rogers.  The Institute has become his malevolent playground, a place to further his goal of trying to control Elena’s abilities.

There’s no denying that comprehending the full scope of the story could be considered challenging at times, it’s structure obscured by a pacing that modern audiences have trouble dealing with.  However, those who quickly dismissed the film because they had trouble “getting it” are doing it a disservice.

The more I thought about “Beyond The Black Rainbow” the more I came to understand just how important the imagery, the at times sprawling space between proper exposition really is.

beyond_black_rainbow

beyond-the-black-rainbow And it’s here again the film suffers at the hand of critics, one going so far to say the experience was akin to staring into a “lava lamp” for two hours… In other words – all style, no substance…  An interesting complaint taken in the context of today’s very unoriginal big-budget Hollywood landscape.

Being someone who passionately pursues cinematography it was of course the imagery that very much stood out to me.  Cosmatos and his Director of Photography Norm Li captured some truly haunting visuals, (with the help of some intriguing set design) undoubtedly influenced by any number of 70’s and 80’s sources, but to my mind pays homage to Kubrick first and foremost.

big_thumb_f1ac5d69325024d87726eb2ced858fa9.jpgIt’s in this imagery that the true soul, the substance of “Beyond The Black Rainbow” can be found. Working in tandem with a brilliant score by Sinoia Caves, the film pulls you into it’s dark alternate reality of perverse 80’s excess, failed New Age ideals, and techno-body-horror, forcing you to drift along with its trance-inducing pace until the final shot. Along the way Cosmatos weaves an odd cinematic tapestry. He’s crafted a film that both documents and indicts the artistic, philosophical, and social leanings of past decades, while at the same time recreating the impossible realities represented in the garishly illustrated VHS cassette boxes of his youth.

GlenG-2

I could go on and on about the film, but that would certainly muddy the waters of what I’m trying to do with this post; to get people to check the film out, and in turn to continue to think and talk about films like this so that challenging cinema continues to be created.

In the long run the conversations to be had will be far more interesting then complaining about how “The Force Awakens” is just not original enough, or how Marvel Studios totally missed the mark on its latest foray into our childhood lore.