Ed Lachman, Chameleon, at BAM


Ed Lachman, who turns 60 this year, is a cameraman with brand-name chops but no fixed style—he invents one according to the needs of each project or, maybe, the zeitgeist. The Harvard-educated son of a movie-theater owner, Lachman apprenticed himself to a succession of great European cinematographers during the ’70s, then made his reputation in the ’80s imbuing a series of postpunk U.S. indies and quasi-indies with the look du jour: Ulli Lommel’s Blank Generation (1980), Susan Seidelman’s Desperately Seeking Susan (1985), David Byrne’s True Stories (1986), Marek Kanievska’s Less Than Zero (1987), and Paul Schrader’s Light Sleeper (1991) would all be lesser films without Lachman’s rich electric palette.

In addition to these, BAM’s 12-film retro, “The Cinematography of Ed Lachman,” features Lachman’s two movies for Todd Haynes—the amazingly faux-Technicolor Far From Heaven (2002) and last year’s multi-stylistic tour de force, I’m Not There—as well as a pair of films that Lachman either directed or co-directed. Songs for Drella (1990)—showing with Werner Herzog’s short paean to American auctioneers, How Much Wood Would a Woodchuck Chuck (1976)—documents Lou Reed and John Cale’s performance of their Andy Warhol concept album at BAM. Opening the series is the legendary and never-released teen skateboard drama, Ken Park (2002). Lachman, who co-directed with the king of the sensationalist youth film, Larry Clark, will be present for a post-screening Q&A. May 9 through 20, BAM.

Another master cameraman, Peter Hutton spent the last 30-something years bringing motion pictures back to the moment when the Lumière brothers invented the medium. Hutton’s films—silent, voluptuously monochromatic, largely devoid of camera movement and montage—suggest sketchbooks or photographic albums. This contemplative, sensuous cinema, now on exhibition at MOMA, has largely been defined by places—the images that the filmmaker gathered in Northern California and Southeast Asia while living as a hippie and working as a merchant seaman. Hutton’s three-part New York Portrait (shot mainly in the late ’70s and early ’80s) is the most elusive and melancholy of city symphonies; he’s also made wonderfully atmospheric studies of Budapest and Lodz.

Urban loneliness was eventually supplanted by an identification with the natural world. Living in the Hudson Valley, Hutton took that landscape—the inspiration for America’s first major school of indigenous painters—as his own in his ’90s films: In Titian’s Goblet, Study of a River, and Time and Tide. Two Rivers (2001-2) juxtaposes the Hudson and the Yangtze. Hutton’s most recent film, At Sea (2004-7), is as close as he’s ever come to narrative—taking as its subject the biography of a giant container ship. Through May 26, MOMA.

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on May 6, 2008

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