On November 17th the new Steven Shainberg film Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus will be released. Shainberg directed Secretary, a demented film from 2002 about the S&M relationship between a young, mentally disturbed woman played by Maggie Gyllenhall, and her boss, played by James Spader.I don’t like to read reviews before I see a film, but based on the trailer for Fur, it looks pretty out there. Arbus is played by Nicole Kidman, who I really didn’t pay much attention to until seeing her in Lars von Trier’s film Dogville. Lionel Sweeney is played by Robert Downey Jr. — another actor who wasn’t really on my radar until he stole the show in Richard Linklater’s animated adaptation of Phillip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly this year.
In 2003, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art had an amazing exhibition on Diane Arbus. Three years later there are a few things from the show that still stick in my mind. The contact sheet for Child with Toy Hand Grenade is a very interesting window into her photographic process. In her journals, Diane laments that the quality of her students’ work has a negative effect on her own photography. And finally, the square format twin lens reflex (TLR) camera proved to be the right equipment choice for Diane.
There is a lot of information on Arbus online. Have a look at the Smithsonian article A Fresh Look at Diane Arbus, and the book Diane Arbus Revelations.
Even though photography is a much different medium than cinema in a lot of ways, there is a lot you can learn by studying your favorite films. I like to pick a director to study, and really try to dive in deep into their visual style. For instance, pick your favorite Kubrick film, and go back and watch it again — this time just concentrate on the masterful lighting.
Yesterday I watched Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s wonderful film Amélie again. Interestingly enough he cites A Clockwork Orange as one of the movies that made him want to be a director. I saw Amélie in the theater, twice again about two years ago — on this fourth viewing I wanted to concentrate on the composition, lighting, and color palette.
The color palette is mostly intensely saturated greens and reds, often with a small contrasting element of a different color in the scene. In the extra features on the DVD, Jeunet talks about being inspired by Brazilian painter Juarez Machado. There is also a lot of great information on the look of the film in the extra features, including the digital process used for the saturated green and red look of the film.
In the DVD interviews, I also learned that Amélie is the first film Jeunet shot on location. He is a compositional control freak, and takes some ribbing from the cast and crew about his obsessiveness over small compositional details. The interview with his cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel is also quite interesting. The crane shot over the canal when Amélie is skipping stones is stunning.
On the business and marketing end, Jeunet also talks about being rejected from Cannes, and financing the film. He is a great storyteller. Watching a film with the director’s commentary isn’t something I do very often, but I highly recommend Jeunet’s commentary on Amélie.
I really enjoyed Jeunet’s Delicatessen, and The City of Lost Children. I wasn’t as taken with A Very Long Engagement, which I saw a second time just to give it another chance. I’ll have to put 1997′s Alien Resurrection in my Netflix cue. In the Amélie interviews he says he didn’t speak English when it was filmed, and had to use an interpreter. Jeunet was excited when the DVD came out because he could watch his own movie with French subtitles. Hilarious.