With videos for such artists as the Cranberries, Moby and Jay Z as warm-up, cinematographer Matthew Libatique’s edgy eye became all the rage at the ’98 Sundance Film Festival with “Pi,” director Darren Aronofsky’s moody mind-trip about a mathematician with insight into numerical infinity. Photographed on 16mm reversal film stock, its gritty black-and-white images made Libatique a Cinematography nominee for that year’s Independent Spirit Awards.
His follow-up collaboration with Aronofsky, “Requiem for a Dream,” has raised even more eyebrows. With its harrowing portrait of addictive behavior, “Requiem” is being dubbed “Christiane F” for the MTV generation. Though the film is steeped in realism, the pair take great pains to stylize this slow spiral into drug-induced debasement.
“Matty and I come from a very stylistic, impressionist school (of thinking) so I pointed to the filmmakers I really respect — like Terry Gilliam and Federico Fellini — who basically start off in reality and slowly drift more and more into surrealism,” says Aronofsky.
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The cinematographer mines almost every technique imaginable to offer up hallucinatory, paranoid imagery: multiple exposures, rapid-fire montages, time-lapsed body motions and extreme wide-angle lenses.
Each act of “Requiem” mirrors a specific season, running through summer, fall and winter. To register that shift, Libatique altered his lighting tones to present a progression from warm to cold hues.
The overall aim was to give “Requiem,” adapted from the 1978 novel by Hubert Selby Jr., an “eternal” look, Libatique says. “We wanted to work with color in broad strokes and our motivation was to create a timeless world.
“Selby’s dialogue is very pointed towards its time, but his stories transcend that. Though we didn’t want to go with a particular period, it also shouldn’t be overly retro — the time could be the early ’70s, the ’80s or the ’90s.”
He recently completed the comedy “Josie and the Pussycats” as a respite from Aronofsky’s somber vision, and the indie drug film “Saturn” and Joel Schumacher’s recent Vietnam flick “Tigerland.” That reprieve, however, will be short-lived. After reteaming with Schumacher on the thriller “Phone Booth,” Libatique will join Aronofsky in Gotham City to reinvigorate the Batman franchise.
Despite the film’s bleak imagery, the experience of making “Requiem” remains an affirming one for the lensman.
“It made me grow as a filmmaker because it gave me an understanding of how images affect an audience,” remarks Libatique. “However discomforting, I believe all our techniques were justified within the narrative.”