You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

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: 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

  • Zeroville

    Film Review: 'Zeroville'

    I’m tired of hearing how some novels are “impossible to adapt.” Balderdash! Just because some books don’t lend themselves to being translated from page to screen doesn’t mean that the attempt ought not to be made. Just ask James Franco, who’s shown a speed freak’s determination to tackle some of the unlikeliest literary adaptations of [...]

  • Red Penguins review

    Toronto Film Review: 'Red Penguins'

    “Red Penguins” is a cautionary tale with particular resonance in the context of our current bizarre intertwining with Russia, the country that interfered in the last U.S. presidential election and is led by the POTUS’ apparent BFF. This wild tale of attempted transnational commerce just after the demise of the USSR in the 1990s chronicles [...]

  • Danny Ramirez'On My Block' TV show

    Danny Ramirez to Star in Film Adaptation of 'Root Letter' Video Game (EXCLUSIVE)

    An English-language film adaptation of Japanese video game “Root Letter,” starring Danny Ramirez, is in production in the U.S. through Akatsuki Entertainment USA. Besides Ramirez (“Top Gun: Maverick,” “Assassination Nation”), the film stars Keana Marie (“Huge in France,” “Live in Pieces”) and Lydia Hearst (“The Haunting of Sharon Tate,” “Z Nation”). With a screenplay by [...]

  • Screen writer Beau WillimonMary Queen of

    Beau Willimon Re-Elected as President of Writers Guild of America East

    Beau Willimon, the playwright and showrunner who launched Netflix’s “House of Cards,” has been re-elected without opposition to a two-year term as president of the Writers Guild of America East. Willimon also ran unopposed in 2017 to succeed Michael Winship. Kathy McGee was elected to the vice president slot over Phil Pilato. Secretary-treasurer Bob Schneider [...]

  • Running With the Devil review

    Film Review: 'Running With the Devil'

    A retired Navy SEAL who for a time was a military advisor on the Colombian drug trade, Jason Cabell conceived his first solo feature as writer-director to tell the story of that particular commerce “from the point of view of the drugs.” The result isn’t exactly a docudrama indictment like “Traffic,” a thriller a la [...]

  • Sweetheart review

    Blumhouse's 'Sweetheart' Sets October Digital Release From Universal (EXCLUSIVE)

    After making waves at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, the Blumhouse project “Sweetheart” is set to hit digital and on demand platforms. Universal Pictures Home Entertainment will offer the film on all major streaming hubs and paid video on demand come Oct. 22, unleashing the creature feature which stars Kiersey Clemons in a harrowing tale [...]

  • Bob OdenkirkAFI Awards Luncheon, Los Angeles,

    Bob Odenkirk to Star in Thriller 'Nobody'

    “Better Call Saul” star Bob Odenkirk has signed on to star in the thriller “Nobody.” The Universal pic follows Hutch Mansell (Odenkirk), a suburban dad, overlooked husband, nothing neighbor — a “nobody.” When two thieves break into his home one night, Hutch’s unknown long-simmering rage is ignited and propels him on a brutal path that [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content