Magazine article American Cinematographer

Clubhouse News

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Clubhouse News

Article excerpt

Melville Inspires Deakins

Roger Deakins, ASC, BSC recently attracted a capacity crowd to the Hammer Museums Billy Wilder Theater when he presented Jean-Pierre Melville's Army of Shadows (1969) as part of "The Movie That Inspired Me," an ongoing series sponsored by the UCLA Film & Television Archive and curated by director Curtis Hanson.

Following a screening of the French Resistance drama, which was restored and re-released to great acclaim in 2006, Deakins recalled the impression it made on him when he first saw it while attending art school in England. "I was just getting into stills photography and was most inspired by [photographers] who were able to capture reality, street photographers like Roger Mayne," he told Hanson. "Melville's film has a similar, almost documentary quality. It's like watching a meticulous, methodical reenactment of something, and [the pacing] feels almost like real time.

"The world he creates feels totally real, yet when you step back and look at it, it's pretty stylized," he observed, referring to Melville's penchant for using painted backdrops, rear-projection and models without high regard for photorealism. "But there's just so much humanity in it, it's so deeply felt, you stay focused on the characters."

Deakins said he also marveled at Melville's ability to balance economy with creative daring. "It's a hell of a thing to make a film of such breadth on such a low budget," said the cinematographer, who has mingled independent productions with studio features throughout his career. "Another thing I love is that all through the film, there's experimentation - stuff Godard was doing in more extreme forms." Although his own dislike for zoom lenses has been well documented, Deakins acknowledged with a laugh that some of Melville's now-famous zooms work: "Some are horrible, and some are really good."

Noting the diversity of Deakins' most recent credits - In the Valley of Bah, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and the Oscar-winning No Country for Old Men - Hanson asked the cinematographer what attracts him to a project. "It's always the script," said Deakins. "I like character pieces, really." As for the type of film he would most like to try: "I'd love to do science fiction, but not the science fiction that's being made today. …

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