×

Wally Pfister on Phedon Papamichael & Darius Khondji

Eye on the Oscars: The Cinematographer

Two cinematographers have had an incredible influence on the early years of my career and my growth as a cinematographer: Phedon Papamichael and Darius Khondji.

Phedon and I have been friends and colleagues for 22 years. I first worked for him on a film called “Streets,” a Roger Corman epic that Janusz Kaminski was shooting second unit on, and employed me as an electrician.

While Phedon, Janusz and I were still making our way on smaller films, Darius exploded into our field of view in 1991 with a French-language film called “Delicatessen.” The contrast, the color, the lighting was something we were in awe of, and became a source of incredible artistic inspiration. Darius followed up with extraordinary work in “The City of Lost Children,” then “Seven,” and created a new gold standard for our generation of cinematographers, particularly for me, as I continued struggling to free myself from the shackles of low-budget, straight-to-video movies.

So it was no surprise to see that fantastic sense of color and contrast envelope the screen yet again in Darius’ latest collaboration with Woody Allen, “Midnight in Paris,” in which a writer visiting Paris (Owen Wilson) is fantastically transported back to the 1920s where he meets nearly every great artist, writer and musician of that era, including Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso and F. Scott Fitzgerald. The warm yellow/red glow that has become the default color palette on Woody Allen films for many years is present here, but there is also a balance of colors from across the spectrum, painted softly, that support the romantic nature of the fantasy sequences.

While the present-day scenes are brighter and slightly less color-saturated, the night sequences come alive and warmly transport us to 1920s Paris with their mood and expanse of color range. Darius is an expert at this, and his love of Paris seems to be evident in the photography.

“The Ides of March” is quite a different experience than that of the fantastical world of “Midnight in Paris” but equally pleasing. This is reality-based political drama with a string of strong performances and a serious theme. As far as I am concerned, it’s the most inspired work that Phedon (who also shot “The Descendants”) has done in years.

The look and feel of the photography is mature. The contrast, the composition, the tone shows the work of a cinematographer that is in sync with the director’s (George Clooney) vision and is adept at following the mood of the dramatic structure of the film. Phedon’s naturalistic photography darkens and increases in contrast as the film’s theme grows more ominous. He is an intelligent cameraman, and that shows in his tastefully use of cinematography as a dramatic tool.

It is worth noting that Darius and Phedon shot their work on film. The color range, the contrast, the sharpness, is far more pleasing to me than those shot on any digital medium, and yes, there is a difference. I sincerely hope we continue to have the choice of what format to use as technology races ahead and industry standards change and begin to limit our options. There is much that will be lost if film goes away completely, and I fear we will not fully understand exactly what until it is too late.

Wally Pfister, who won an Oscar for his d.p. work on Christopher Nolan’s “Inception,” is in post on his third Batman film for the director, “The Dark Knight Rises.”

Return to EYE ON THE OSCARS: THE CINEMATOGRAPHER

Popular on Variety

More Scene

  • Taika Waititi Natalie Portman SDCC 2019

    Natalie Portman Weighs in on 'Thor: Love and Thunder's' Possible Breast Cancer Storyline

    Natalie Portman doesn’t know if “Thor: Love and Thunder” will include a breast cancer storyline for her character Jane Foster, but she’s definitely intrigued by the possibility. “It’s just very rare that these kinds of big entertainment films look at more serious, real-life issues,” she told Variety at L.A. Dance Project’s 8th annual fundraising gala [...]

  • Julie Andrews

    Julie Andrews Recalls Husband Blake Edwards' Battle With Depression

    The line to see Julie Andrews at the 92nd Street Y wrapped around the square of a sprawling New York City block. Seventy years since the start of her career, 60 since she asked “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?” as Lerner and Loewe’s first Eliza and 50 since she sang “The Sound of Music” before the [...]

  • Bombshell Charlize Theron Megyn Kelly

    'Bombshell': Why Charlize Theron Was Terrified of Playing Megyn Kelly

    Charlize Theron is getting some of the best buzz of her career for channeling Megyn Kelly in “Bombshell,” but the Oscar-winning actress admits she almost turned down the role. “I was shit scared,” Theron said during a question-and-answer session following a Manhattan screening of “Bombshell” on Sunday. Partly, she was worried about portraying someone who [...]

  • Natalie Portman Benjamin Millipied LA Dance

    Natalie Portman, Benjamin Millepied Help Raise Over $1 Million For L.A. Dance Project

    Natalie Portman may be joining Chris Hemsworth in Marvel’s “Thor 4: Love and Thunder,” but as the petite, Dior-clad actress struck a range of poses on the carpet inside downtown Los Angeles gallery space Hauser, Wirth & Schimmel on Saturday night, it was impossible to imagine her wielding an enormous hammer. But then, the Oscar [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content