A Beatle's Upbringing

By Hope-Jones, Mark | American Cinematographer, September 2010 | Go to article overview

A Beatle's Upbringing


Hope-Jones, Mark, American Cinematographer


Nowhere Boy, shot by Seamus McGarvey, ASC, BSC, tells the story of John Lennon's formative years.

It's the final day of principal photography for Nowhere Boy, and AC is on location with the cast and crew in Hanwell, West London. The Parish Church of St. Mary's is standing in for St. Peters Church in VVoolton, Liverpool, where, during a garden party on July 6, 1957, 16-year-old John Lennon performed with his skiffle band.The Quarrymen, and met fellow teenager Paul McCartney, Beyond the church, a small field has been dressed to re-create that famous day, its perimeter festooned with bunting that quaintly frames a picturesque scene oí 1950s English summertime. Director of photography Seamus McGarvey, ASC, BSC, calls for his pan glass as a small outcrop of cloud threatens to interrupt the unseasonably warm sunshine and, with ir, the filming. After a brief search, the pan glass is found, and McGarvey lifts it to his eye as he tilts his head skyward. "There," he says. "Now I look like a proper cinematographer!"

Lennon and McCartney would, of course, go on to form a songwriang partnership that made the Beades the most successftil rock 'n' roll band of all rime, but Nowhere Boy is the story of Lennon's pre-fame adolescence. Written by Matt Greenhalgh, who also penned Control (AC Nov. '07), Nowhere Boy is the feature-directing debut of artist Sam Taylor-Wood, and the production was filmed on a modest budget in Liverpool and London.

The closing day at Hanwell was one of the most elaborate ot the shoot, with several cameras and a multitude of extras, but the crew knew they would have to work with whatever the weather threw at them. "On a larger-scale film, we probably would'vc hud a lot of big silks to block the sun, and have lit from underneath," notes gaffer Lee Walters. "But we had to go with what we had, and, tortunately, it was a good day. With a low-budget film, there's no going back another time!"

At the garden part}', Lennon s mother, Julia (Anne-Marie Duff), and his aunt, Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas), stand in the crowd and watch The Quarrymen perform on the back ot a flatbed truck. There is tension between the sisters, who have always disagreed about what is best for John (Aaron Johnson). Julia, ill-equipped for motherhood, gave him up when he was 4 but later encouraged him to pursue music after introducing him to rock music and buying him a guitar. The strict and disciplined Mimi, who took John in and raised him, is convinced that music will never be anything other than a distraction. It is the relationships between Lennon and these women, as much as his emergence as a musician, dint form the focus of the film.

Although Nowhere Boy is TaylorWood's first feature, she and McGarvey have been collaborating on a variety ot artistic projects for more than 12 years. "I've worked on 10 ot Sam's video installations and done the lighting for many of her photographs," says McGarvey. "When you're working with an artist, you're exercising totally different cinematographic muscles, and itV an interesting dynamic. 1 love the sort ot evolution that's happening in British film, with artists like Steve McQueen, WiUie Doherty, Damien I Iirst, the Chapman brothers and Sam working on film. What defines them is that they've got an amazing vision and soul. They're nor afraid of unbridled emotion in their work, and I think that's sometlung other filmmakers sometimes trip over - they get snared by formula, or genre, or emulation of Hollywood. It's liberating tor the cinematographer because there's mutual trust, and you have a degree of creative -autonomy that can go missing on a lot of' films where directors are more doctrinaire about how they want their films to look."

Rather than giving rise to an overly stylized visual approach to the material, Taylor-Wood's artistic background contributed to an uninhibited creative atmosphere that helped the filmmakers develop an appropriately muted look. "We knew it was a period film and that it had to evoke an era, but we didn't want to eulogize or fetishize the period," says McGarvey. …

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