×

Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters

Ten years in the making, Ben Shapiro's docu on celebrated photog Gregory Crewdson concentrates on his magnum opus, the collection of huge prints known as "Beneath the Roses."

With:
With: Gregory Crewdson, Russell Banks, Rick Moody, Laurie Simmons, Melissa Harris, Richard Sands, Costanza Theodoli-Braschi.

Ten years in the making, Ben Shapiro’s docu on celebrated photog Gregory Crewdson concentrates on his magnum opus, the collection of huge prints known as “Beneath the Roses.” For those unfamiliar with Crewdson’s oeuvre, the docu serves as a delicious eye-opener, while for fans it furnishes an unprecedented look at his long-secret methods, utilizing crews and budgets suitable for independent features, by which his eerily frozen moments of Americana come into being. Bowing Oct. 31 at Gotham’s Film Forum, the bigscreen providing a perfect canvas for Crewdson’s epic creations, “Brief Encounters” reps a must-see for art lovers.

Producer-director-lenser Shapiro follows Crewdson at each stage of his laborious process. Location photos require endless hours of the shutterbug driving solo through the streets of the same Western Pennsylvanian towns where he shoots all his photographs, endlessly retracing his steps until inspiration strikes and the key aspects of his composition come together in his mind.

At that point, Crewdson, his director of photography Richard Sands and a large crew (many, like Sands, veterans of feature filmmaking) meticulously micromanage every element in the huge frame, a two-day affair that might involve closing off roads, rearranging selected cars, carefully positioning human subjects, laying down fog, washing or dirtying up windows, stapling flowers to a beanstalk and, most importantly, setting up the lighting. (Crewdson’s final photo in the series, fittingly titled “Brief Encounter,” needed 75 lights deployed along a half-mile stretch.) Finally, at twilight on the second day, they take some 40-50 shots that will be further fiddled with and composited in post-production to create a final print.

Non-location images that spring fully formed from Crewdson’s imagination are re-created on soundstages, with a production manager, carpenters and a sizable posse on hand to build, say, a dilapidated house (replete with outmoded, rusty appliances and menacing basement) or a fantastically moonlit room. Throughout the docu, Crewdson supplies revealing commentary on his life, work and influences, many of them cinematic.

This close scrutiny of the artist at work never diminishes the eerie, haunting quality of the photographs themselves, which Shapiro’s camera explores in detail before pulling back to appreciate the whole. The helmer also wisely taps novelists Russell Banks and Rick Moody, rather than fellow photogs, to describe in words the power of Crewdson’s vision. Banks sees the choice of twilight as marking the shift between public and private spaces. Both writers stress the narrative nature of his pictures, and the melancholy beauty of the economically depressed ghost towns where industry has fled, leaving sad, bewildered inhabitants adrift. This socioeconomic layer counterbalances the darker imagery of dreams, often filtered through films. Thus, the bathroom in “Psycho” reappears, virtually unrecognizable, in the corner of a mysterious, very different drama.

A coda in Shapiro’s docu explores Crewdson’s next project, a black-and-white series featuring the decaying, abandoned sets of Cinecitta. As Crewdson himself puts it, every artist has just one story to tell. The challenge is telling it over and over, differently.

Popular on Variety

Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters

Production: A Zeitgeist Films release of a Ben Shapiro production with support from IFP, in co-production with Avro Television, the Netherlands, in association with SVT, Sweden. Produced, directed by Ben Shapiro.

Crew: Camera (color, HD), Shapiro; editors, Tom Patterson, Nancy Kennedy; music, Dana Kaproff; associate producer, Annie Berman. Reviewed on DVD, New York, Oct. 26, 2012. Running time: 77 MIN.

With: With: Gregory Crewdson, Russell Banks, Rick Moody, Laurie Simmons, Melissa Harris, Richard Sands, Costanza Theodoli-Braschi.

More Film

  • Amanda Awards

    ‘Out Stealing Horses’ Tops Norway’s 2019 Amanda Awards

    HAUGESUND, Norway —  Hans Petter Moland’s sweeping literary adaptation “Out Stealing Horses” put in a dominant showing at Norway’s Amanda Awards on Saturday night, placing first with a collected five awards, including best Norwegian film. Celebrating its 35th edition this year, the Norwegian industry’s top film prize helped kick off the Haugesund Film Festival and [...]

  • Editorial use onlyMandatory Credit: Photo by

    Richard Williams, 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit' Animator, Dies at 86

    Renowned animator Richard Williams, best known for his work on “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” died Friday at his home in Bristol, England, Variety has confirmed. He was 86. Williams was a distinguished animator, director, producer, author and teacher whose work has garnered three Oscars and three BAFTA Awards. In addition to his groundbreaking work as [...]

  • Instinct

    Locarno Film Review: 'Instinct'

    Now that “Game of Thrones” has finally reached its conclusion, releasing its gifted international ensemble into the casting wilds, will Hollywood remember just what it has in Carice van Houten? It’s not that the statuesque Dutch thesp hasn’t been consistently employed since her startling 2006 breakout in Paul Verhoeven’s “Black Book,” or even that she’s [...]

  • Good Boys Movie

    Box Office: 'Good Boys' Eyes Best Original Comedy Opening of 2019

    Universal’s “Good Boys” is surpassing expectations as it heads toward an estimated $20.8 million opening weekend at the domestic box office following $8.3 million in Friday ticket sales. That’s well above earlier estimates which placed the film in the $12 million to $15 million range, marking the first R-rated comedy to open at No. 1 [...]

  • Pedro Costa’s 'Vitalina Varela' Wins at

    Pedro Costa’s 'Vitalina Varela' Triumphs at Locarno Film Festival

    The 72nd Locarno Film Festival drew to a close Saturday with Portuguese auteur Pedro Costa’s dark and detached film “Vitalina Varela” coming away with several awards together with superlatives from segments of the hardcore cinephile crowd, including jury president Catherine Breillat. In announcing the Golden Leopard prize for the film, as well as best actress [...]

  • Vitalina Varela

    Locarno Film Review: 'Vitalina Varela'

    Frequently beautiful compositions and the theatrical use of a fierce kind of artifice have long been the hallmarks of Portuguese auteur Pedro Costa, regarded by a small but influential group of aesthetes as one of the great filmmakers of our era. For those in tune with his vision, the director’s films offer an exciting lesson [...]

  • Notre dame

    Locarno Film Review: 'Notre dame'

    Not to be too cynical about it, but might the recent horrific fire in Paris’ cathedral attract audiences to a film in which the gothic gem plays a major role? It’s likely a wiser marketing strategy than promoting the unrelenting silliness of Valerie Donzelli’s oh-so-kooky comedy “Notre dame,” the writer-director-star’s return to contemporary Paris following [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content