Top

film

Stories

 

Cinematographer Harris Savides on Trust, Birth, and Invisible Light

"I light a room and let the people inhabit it, as opposed to lighting the people," says Birth cinematographer Harris Savides, explaining his philosophy of illumination. "It's more organic. You want to protect the people you're working with, and there's a constant battle between the best light for their face and the best light for the story. You don't want to get to the point where the audience notices the light."

Critics, for their part, have noticed Savides's work—he won last year's New York Film Critics Circle and Voice-poll cinematography awards. The New York–based SVA graduate describes his latest partnership, with Birth director Jonathan Glazer, as a product of trust and guesswork. "It's kind of like the Wong Kar-wai process," says Savides, who shot Wong's BMW short The Follow. "Jon's always trying to surprise himself—he told me afterwards that he'd improvised the whole thing. He showed me some films but was careful to say that we were not to take anything specific from it. I remember we watched [Robert Bresson's donkey spiritual] Au Hasard Balthazar. . . . I guess Balthazar's arc is the same as Nicole [Kidman]'s in Birth."

Savides says that even though Glazer wanted the movie to be somber, he had trouble articulating the visual style. "Finally, we saw one location photo—the lobby of the Waldorf-Astoria, dark marble and warm colors. And Jon just said, 'That's it.' " Birth's otherworldly pall, Savides says, was achieved by lighting from overhead and through muslin, and "we also had to underexpose the film quite a bit."

Details

Related:

  • Sean of the Dead
    About a boy: Upper East Side widow finds love with underaged object of obscure desire
    By Dennis Lim

  • Birth Control
    Light motifs: Music video pro Jonathan Glazer conducts a moody symphony of shadows
    By Jessica Winter
  • Related Stories

    More About

    After getting his start in the European fashion world, Savides shot a few visually striking movies (James Gray's The Yards, David Fincher's The Game) and a string of iconic music videos: Fiona Apple's "Criminal," Nine Inch Nails' "Closer," Madonna's "Bedtime Story" (all for Mark Romanek). But he's best-known for his recent Gus Van Sant collaborations: Gerry, which pays tribute to the mystical powers of the long take, and Elephant, in which the signature shot—a spectral Steadicam glide from behind—deftly conflates an eerie horror movie trope and an empathetic documentary one (familiar from verité and the Dardenne brothers). Savides also shot Van Sant's just completed Kurt Cobain movie, Last Days, and credits the director with inspiring his new "story-based" approach. "After working with Gus, I can't go back to just loving the visuals," he says. "On one level, I don't want the work to be photographic. But I'd also have trouble doing a comedy, where there's so much that needs to be delivered verbally. It's about having an opportunity to tell the story without words."

     
    My Voice Nation Help
    1 comments
    gregoryearls
    gregoryearls

    The dude brought it on every film. I'll miss his work. Nice article. Strong work.

     

    Now Showing

    Find capsule reviews, showtimes & tickets for all films in town.

    Box Office Report

    Join My Voice Nation for free stuff, film info & more!

    Loading...