Friday, January 09, 2004

A little movie blogging

Yesterday, I read the review of Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation (which opened today in the UK) in the Evening Standard. It was a good review, but it said that the film was shot on digital video, which I had not heard before, and which struck me as surprising given Sofia Coppola's pedigree (although perhaps not surprising given the film's budget of only $4m).

However, seeing the film this afternoon I do see what the reviewer meant. The film takes Tokyo, one of the most cinematic cities on earth, and makes it dark and muddy looking, just like stuff shot on DV often does look dark and muddy looking. (At times the cinematic qualities of Tokyo shine through anyway, but it could have been visually so much nicer). I checked the credits at the end and found a credit given to the company that produced the dailies so no, it was not shot in a digital format. (When shooting on film, it is necessary to have the film processed and prints that can be watched immediately made every day - the director then watches these "dailies" to see whether the shots turned out and reshoots are necessary. This is not necessary on digital, because you just look at the LCD screen on the back of the camera, or equivalent). The Internet Movie Database tells me that the format was 35mm (which I knew already, as the film didn't have the grainy look of 16mm - it was just dark). So perhaps we should just blame the cinematographer.

I enjoyed the film. I thought the two central performances were just great. I liked the music. Despite having commented in the past that people who have not visited Japan do not always get how incomprehensible and over the top it can be, I actually have to say that I agree that the Japanese characters were slightly more in the way of being caricatures than they needed to be. Yes, in Tokyo you do indeed find everything seen in the film, but it is not quite such a continuous full on experience as it was portrayed as being in the film. And for the purposes of the film it didn't need to be.

But, unless I got a bad print or an incompetent projectionist, my main criticism of the film is the photography. (Given that the critic whose review I read yesterday saw the same thing but interpreted it in a different way, it probably is neither of these things). I didn't think it was well done at all. Perhaps I will have to become a cinematographer myself, to ensure that someone photographs Tokyo properly.

Update: The Director of Photography was Lance Acord, who also shot both Being John Malkovich and Adaptation for (Sofia Coppola's husband) Spike Jonze, and also Buffalo 66 for Vincent Gallo amongst other things. I can't recall anything wrong with the way those films were shot, so I am a little puzzled by this. Edward Lachman, who shot The Virgin Suicides, is someone who has a lot of experience and often shoots much bigger budget films, and that film featured much nicer photography than this one. But given that I am puzzled, perhaps it was a technical issue with my viewing of the film. Perhaps I should go and see a different print shown in a different cinema.

Further update: Sofia Coppola and Spike Jonze are apparently getting divorced. This suggests that the allegedly autobiographical aspects of the film are more than alleged. If you have seen the film you will know what I mean. (It's worth remembering that as well as an actor and director of motion pictures, Spike Jonze is a very famous director of music vidoes and occasionally commercials).

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