Eye on the Oscars: The Cinematographer

My immediate reaction to Ben Smithard’s task in shooting “My Week With Marilyn” is the precariousness of being a cinematographer faced with the daunting challenge of dealing with such a recognizable iconic figure.

While presenting a viable and believable facsimile of Michelle Williams as Marilyn, Ben had to concurrently take on the position that every cinematographer must assume: the one of using our tools to tell a dramatic story. It would be easy to concentrate on the more obvious of the two objectives, presenting Michelle as Marilyn the icon at the expense of the other. Yet Ben gracefully and effectively excelled in both these objectives.

His lighting of Michelle is beautiful, her skin an alabaster beacon and her eyes appropriately afire every time they were intended to seduce, charm or disarm. Alongside the excellent job done by the actress, Ben’s presentation of her face served to hook me into the character’s psychology. He aptly reveals her public siren side, then shows us the essence of the insecure and delicate woman she was away from the spotlight. To this end, Ben employed his craft in expert ways.

When Marilyn is being Marilyn the star, Ben replicates the glamour lighting of the period, presenting her as an object — a shining and polished figure replete with the glow of a superstar.

However, when the film requires us to be a fly on the wall, Ben uses his tools to present Marilyn/ Michelle in delicately modulated natural light, so as to remove her from the pedestal.

For example, in Ben’s visual construction of the secret day Marilyn spends with Colin at the Windsor palace and countryside, Marilyn is bathed in the warm and shimmering glow of natural sunlight and the ambient effulgence of a softly day-lit interior. Here Ben gives us a rare opportunity to see in her natural state, not caught up in the proscribed and media-created definition of beauty.

And it is in these moments that her soul is revealed and we recognize her true humanity.

Bukowski’s d.p. credits include “Arlington Road,” “The Messenger” and, most recently, “Rampart.”

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