Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Man with a Movie Camera

As in, does anybody put one to better use than Stuart Dryburgh, the English cinematographer who celebrates his 53rd year today? At least in his two collaborations with director Jane Campion, Dryburgh managed to create startlingly modern images that nonetheless hearkened back to the earliest days of photography—not just in the stop-motion trick shots in The Portrait of a Lady or the wedding-picture scene in my all-time favorite movie, The Piano, but in all of the tight close-ups, gleaming skin tones, aquefarious blues, sepia mists, and daguerreotype purples. These are easily two of the most gorgeous English-language movies of the 1990s, and aside from a weakness for wild angles and a few self-quotations (like Barbara Hershey framed at her piano in Portrait), their styles are admirably distinctive. Don't tell me you can look at these images...

...and not want to see the movie that they are from. In fact, don't admit to me that you haven't seen the movie that they're from. Don't even live like this. LOG. OFF. and go rent it. Really, you should be renting out the 35mm reels and projecting those babies on the side of your house, because the available DVDs for both Piano and Portrait are hair-risingly careless in their transfer quality and packaging materials. But that's a fight for another day. Just savor these images. Look at that closeup of Holly Hunter's hand caressing her piano keys through a crack in the packing-crate. Tell me that isn't from a silent movie.

Meanwhile, my man Stuart has not exactly had the career I would have expected since the two-shot with Campion. The same year as Portrait, he lent some nice photography to John Sayles' sprawling and subversive Lone Star (another great rental), but for some reason, he's been dicking around ever since in a bunch of romantic comedies, whether agreeable (Bridget Jones's Diary), forgettable (Kate & Leopold), or downright execrable (Runaway Bride, whose look was as garish as the writing, the performances, and the premise). The forthcoming Aeon Flux may or may not inspire confidence.

Come back to the 5 and Dime, Stuart D, Stuart D.! Obviously, this dude works well with women directors and he's a genius at the 19th century, so I'm hanging my hopes on Liv Ullmann's forthcoming adaptation of A Doll's House, starring Kate Winslet (!), John Cusack (?), and Tim Roth (mmmm...). Meanwhile, I can't be playing favorites, so here's some luscious Portraiture to look at on your way out, including the most remarkable dying scene in recent memory, when John Gielgud's character yawns himself into permanent sleep. Happy birthday, Stu. You changed my life, man.

Photo of Dryburgh © 1996 by Samuel Goldwyn Film. Photos from The Piano © 1993 by Miramax Films/Artisan Home Entertainment. Photos from The Portrait of a Lady © 1996 by Gramercy Pictures/Polygram Filmed Entertainment.

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Blogger Dr. S said...

to this:

Liv Ullmann's forthcoming adaptation of A Doll's House, starring Kate Winslet (!), John Cusack (?), and Tim Roth (mmmm...).

I say this:
woo woo! I've been waiting awhile for John Cusack to be in a movie that doesn't suck. "Whores don't deserve to live!" That's all I needed to hear from Identity. (Or maybe not, since that means I made it to the end of the film.)

8:21 PM, March 30, 2005  
Blogger par3182 said...

Have you seen the recent New Zealand film 'In My Father's Den'? Dryburgh's beautiful images have tricked many a critic into thinking this ok film is a lot better than it really is. You have to applaud a man of Dryburgh's talent working on a debut feature (although working on a NZ film worked out for him in the past).

11:47 PM, April 30, 2005  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

In My Father's Den yet hasn't hit the States yet, as far as I know. You might know better than I, though I've been on the lookout. (I realize it played the Toronto Festival last fall, quite successfully, but that's the only North American release I've become aware of.)

Dryburgh's beautiful images would tide me through quite a bit, but it is disheartening when good images simply serve to aestheticize mediocrity. As I said, my hopes remain high for A Doll's House, which at least has a certifiably great play to work from.

12:45 AM, May 01, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i have privilaged information that ol stu is not working on 'a dolls house' but something shooting in asia, i have my fingers crossed. have you seen 'an angel at my table', his first collaboration with jane campion? he really experiments with composition with amazing results, and another new zealand film 'once were warriors' ? both fantastic and evocative, try track them down!

6:12 AM, August 03, 2005  

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