Dariusz Wolski has spent his career vaulting from one big-budget project to the next, most recently serving as d.p. for the elaborate “Pirates of the Caribbean” films. But “Sweeney Todd,” with its minimalist production aesthetic and highly desaturated palette (the better to accentuate the film’s copious flow of blood) reveal Wolski to be a visual purist at heart.
“If you look at ‘Sweeney,’ we probably used five or six lenses — that’s it!” Wolski explains. “We weren’t inventing shots just for the sake of being flashy or visually spectacular. Everything in the film is really driven by the story and we had to restrict ourselves.”
After finishing the third “Pirates” film, actor Johnny Depp introduced “Sweeney” director Tim Burton to Wolski, and their shared cinematic sensibilities were instantly apparent: “It felt like we’d known each other for years” Wolski says. “We both loved black-and-white films, we both loved Fellini movies, and we both had a fear of making a musical. So we decided to try and find a new way of doing it.”
“Sweeney Todd,” with its depressed Victorian cityscapes and pallid complexions, retains the stylized ambiance of a full-blown theatrical production, but Wolski and Burton’s subversive sense of humor continually uproots the oft-cliched tendencies of a traditional musical. Wolski calls particular attention to the film’s sentimental flashback sequences, which he describes as an intentionally cloying attempt at kitsch: “Those scenes look like a movie from the ’80s, where we used a lot of backlight and diffusion to try and make everything look happy, but there’s a twist to it, and it becomes very powerful.”
Awards pedigree: ASC nom for “Crimson Tide.”
Mentors/inspiration: Sven Nykvist, Gianni Di Venanzo, Giuseppe Rotunno, Gordon Willis and Conrad Hall.
Visual aids: For “Sweeney Todd,” “I was watching a lot of old black-and-white movies, horror films and books of London from this period, trying to find something very graphic.”
Favorite tool: “I’m not very much a tool person. I think it’s possible to make a movie with one camera and three lenses.”