"Digital Manipulation" Takes on Strange Meaning in Seven Servants

By Comer, Brooke | American Cinematographer, December 1996 | Go to article overview

"Digital Manipulation" Takes on Strange Meaning in Seven Servants


Comer, Brooke, American Cinematographer


Seven Servants presents a truly eccentric premise: the wealthy, aged Archie (Anthony Quinn) attempts to fend off his imminent death by hiring four young men to move into his castle and keep their fingers plugged into his nostrils and ears in order to help him retain his life essence. In adjusting to this attachment, the five men move with the fluid grace of a dancing octopus, until they become one organism with collective powers; Archie can even breathe underwater through his surrogate lungs. Together, the group prepares elegant meals and fends off burglars.

Seven Servants' Iranian born director, Daryush Shokof, is a former painter whose experimental art videos were, he admits, "too conceptual or philosophical to win mainstream acclaim." This video work, however, gave him tremendous freedom to experiment with the camera, framing and lighting techniques that he applied to his first celluloid project. Championing Shokof in this high-concept film is his mentor of 20 years, international film scholar/critic Bahman Maghsoudlou. A fellow Iranian expatriate, Maghsoudlou produced Shokof's art videos, as well as Seven Servants.

Cinematographer/co-executive producer Stefan Jonas, a partner in the film's Frankfurt-based production team Das Werk, became excited at the prospect of collaborating with an artist/director. Comments Jonas, "Seven Servants is a poetic comedy, along the lines of [the works] of Bunuel, Greenaway and Tarkovsky. Because he's a painter, Daryush contributed visions and philosophical ideas that gave the film a surrealistic craziness." To bring that surrealism to the screen, Jonas says he utilized "an observing camera style with long smooth tracking and crane movements. Nearly every shot was done on a Panther or Tulip Crane, which you don't see, but you certainly can feel."

During Jonas and Shokof's preproduction discussions of camera details and the film's overall style, the director showed the cinematographer an array of Flemish paintings, "which had the same colors, and reflected the same kind of atmosphere that we were trying to create," says Jonas. The director of photography selected Arriflex cameras for Seven Servants: the 535 for first and second unit; the 435 for various speed effects; a BL-IV for Steadicam use; and the 35-111 for studio shots of fruits, which create diverting sequences within the film. Says Shokof, "It was better that we didn't have camerawork with a lot of tricks because the concept of the film was enough. …

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