The Criterion Collection has a new feature called UNDER THE INFLUENCE… which, as you can imagine if it is from Criterion, is a smart and compelling discussion of what films have influenced en vogue or stalwart film auteurs.
Barry Jenkins, director of the knockout MOONLIGHT, discusses his thoughts and feelings on the two WKW films Criterion has the license for – CHUNGKING EXPRESS (this is now out of print) and IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE.
WKW is one of my favorite directors, his films are like intimate visual novels with great expanses of poetry interspersed within the scintillating narrative.
On Roger Deakins’ Instagram, he recently posted a quote from the incomparable Conrad L. Hall: Connie used to say he wanted his films to look ugly, to capture something that we [cinematographers] shy away from [beautifully lit images] in making movies. Ugliness can have a certain beauty as well. There’s a strange dichotomy going on there.”
What is Ugly Cinematography?
What Hall was championing is eschewing the most flattering and revealing lighting set-ups; withholding visual information is just as important as withholding narrative information. And “ugly” cinematography by a Deakins or a Hall or a Libatique or a Debie won’t be ugly-ugly (which for most means poorly composed and lit), but where harshness overrides the glamor.
Take a look at this clip from IN COLD BLOOD (shot by Hall) and notice the high contrast lighting doesn’t illuminate Robert Blake (yes, that Robert Blake) in a way that makes him look agreeable or even handsome. But the beauty of the image is sublime.
When you watch a film that you absolutely fall in love with five minutes in, and you know it’s going to change the way you appreciate “movies” from then on out, when you sense in your gut that “movies” will become “cinema”, and you are destined to become a “cinephile” and to sacrifice a typical existence for one that is constantly seeking the brass ring of cultural immortality through cinema… you probably, at some point, ask yourself — many times over and over — how did those guys create that piece of entertainment?
Indiana Jones and his swashbuckling tale of derring-do exploded upon the cultural landscape in the summer of 1981 and irrevocably changed everyone’s expectations and appreciations for the action-adventure film. It gave George Lucas his second extra-lucrative franchise… and gave us the man in the hat with the whip.