The Fabulous Baker Boys: Lounge Lizards in Love

By Heuring, David | American Cinematographer, November 1989 | Go to article overview

The Fabulous Baker Boys: Lounge Lizards in Love


Heuring, David, American Cinematographer


Produced by Paula Weinsteirt, Sydney Pollack and Mark Rosenberg

Directed by Steve Kloves

Michael Ballhaus, ASC, director of photography

Before he crossed the Atlantic in 1982, Berlin-born Michael Ballhaus, ASC made a whole career's worth of memorable European cinema; his celebrated collaboration with Rainer Werner Fassbinder yielded 15 films, including The Marriage of Maria Braun. His first American feature was John Sayles' Baby It's You, and the list now includes The Glass Menagerie, Broadcast News (1987 Oscar nomination), Working Girl, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and three films with Martin Scorsese: After Hours, The Color of Money, and The Last Temptation of Christ.

The Fabulous Baker Boys, Ballhaus' newest credit, breaks his habit of working with established directors-writer Steve Kloves (Racing With the Moon) makes his directorial debut with the film. In a recent interview, the soft-spoken but confident Ballhaus recalled his decision to work with a first time director.

"I had some time between projects, and my agent called and said, ? have a script, but it's a first time director and a low budget movie, I don't know if you're interested in doing it.' I liked the script so much, I wanted to meet the guy. We talked for about an hour or two, and after a while I felt that I understood the essence of Steve's vision for the film. There is a tendency that first time directors sometimes have-they feel they have to prove they're the boss. The truth is, there's no question about it, the director is the boss. But Steve didn't have that problem. He was very open, and he didn't have the big ego.

"Sometimes you work with directors who give you a lot, because they have great ideas. But on Baker Boys, because of my experience, I was in a position to give and help Steve realize his vision for the movie, and that's very satisfying. And the movie turned out to be very good."

The movie, which teams Jeff and Beau Bridges, follows the fortunes of a slightly smarmy nightclub act. With their career drifting dangerously close to the rocks, the Baker brothers take on a singer. When the charming, headstrong and sexy Susie Diamond (Michelle Pf eif f er) joins the act, the sailing is more successful, if not quite smooth.

Originally, the entire film was to be shot in Seattle. Scheduling and economics dictated that the interiors be moved to Los Angeles, however, and almost all of the film is set indoors-in lounges, bars, hotels-the places where the Fabulous Baker Boys earn their keep.

"We went to Seattle first to get impressions of the city. We spent time in appropriate locations, and then tried to match those places by redressing Los Angeles locations. It was important to match all the exterior locations with the interiors so that you never feel that 'this is LA' and'this is Seattle'."

Much of the early part of the story takes place in the dark dives that Frank and Jack have had to resort to for work. Ballhaus recalls with relish his opportunity to reverse the cinematographer's job-to purposely create garish, unattractive lighting of the sort often found on the stages of such venues.

"We had some fun creating lighting that was ugly and cheap, and a little sleazy. Some of the places really looked terrible," he laughs. "You feel that it's kind of a cheap crowd, not a great place to be. You can't go so far that you feel the people are ugly, but you can still do a lot with light to give the impression that it's an undesirable place. We used a lot of cheap colors, green and pink gels, and the lighting was bad. We had simple track lighting installed, and usually one spot was aimed in.

"I looked at the answer print the other night, and I had to tell the timer that I really wanted ugly-I don't want it beautiful, I want it bright and overlit. It has to be just as it is."

When Susie Diamond enters the picture, the fortunes of the Baker brothers take a turn for the better. …

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