Camerimage: Christopher Doyle Tells Cinematographers to Break the Rules

BYDGOSZCZ, Poland — Cinematography is the guts of cinema, says d.p. Christopher Doyle.

In a lengthy, somewhat rambling yet riveting presentation here at Camerimage on Sunday evening, Doyle held forth before an packed audience of fellow cinematographers, younger d.p.’s and film students.

“Express yourselves,” he exhorted. “Don’t try to be Chris Doyle. Don’t follow what they tell you in film school.”

Using the refrain from “What Have They Done to My Song,” Doyle railed against what he considers the perversion of art by Hollywood studios and YouTube — although he used far more colorful words, some of them beginning with F and C.

Doyle praised cinematographers who have kept their integrity, including Edward Lachman (“Carol”) and Matthew Libatique (“Straight Outta Compton”), who were both in the audience.

He showed clips of those he considers the greats, including Derek Jarman (whose “Will You Dance With Me” was released in 2014, exactly 20 years after his death).

He also invoked the thoughts and ideals of Eastern philosophy popularizer Alan Watts, director David Lynch (“Twin Peaks”) and musician Nick Cave (“Crimson Peak”).

Doyle claims he does not see many films. He loathes big projects like the “Fast and Furious” franchise and the Harry Potter movies. He admires most of all the work of filmmakers whose background is in the visual arts, such as Steve McQueen and Julian Schnabel.

The cinematographer, explained Doyle, creates a direct connection between actor and audience. “We’re the closest person to the person in front of the camera. Cinematography is not a job, it’s not a career; it’s about the image, the intent, the focus.”

He added: “We never work, we just look all day. What a great life we have.”

The audience gave Doyle a standing ovation — a testament to his cult status in their world.

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