Cinematography Week: Roger Deakins and Robert Elswit

From two of the greats of the classical studio era, to two of contemporary Hollywoods finest cinematographers. Roger Deakins and Robert Elswit are both responsible for some of the best American cinematography of the last ten years (although Deakins is actually British).

Roger Deakins 

Deak

Selected Filmography:

–          Barton Fink (dir. Coen Brothers, 1991)

–          Fargo (dir. Coen Brothers, 1996)

–          Kundun (dir. Martin Scorsese, 1997)

–          The Big Lebowski (dir. Coen Brothers, 1998)

–          O Brother, Where Art Thou? (dir. Coen Brothers, 2000)

–          The Man Who Wasn’t There (dir. Coen Brothers, 2001)

–          Jarhead (dir. Sam Mendes, 2005)

–          No Country For Old Men (dir. Coen Brothers, 2007)

–          The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

            (dir. Andrew Dominik, 2007)

–          Revolutionary Road (dir. Sam Mendes, 2008)  

Deakins is perhaps most synonymous with the Coen Brothers, having shot almost all of their films since 1991. Just as the Coens change their style from film to film so too does Deakins, his versatility being perhaps his best asset. Deakins is also responsible for Sam Mendes’ Jarhead as well as Revolutionary Road. In the latter his work is arrestingly understated in its use of movement and subdued colour. Deakins always succeeds in finding the right way to shoot subject matter, never overpowering a film with stylistic bravado. He is thoughtful, clearly taking the tone of the film into account and allowing it to motivate his approach.

Revolutionary Road

I think my favourite work he has done recently, besides No Country For Old Men, was on Andrew Dominik’s overlooked The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Below is the train robbery sequence, which is magnificent from start to finish.

Robert Elswit

Elswit

Selected Filmography:

–          Hard Eight (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson, 1996)

–          Magnolia (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson, 1999)

–          Punch-Drunk Love (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson, 2002)

–          Good Night, and Good Luck (dir. George Clooney, 2005)

–          Syriana (dir. Stephen Gaghan, 2005)

–          Michael Clayton (dir. Tony Gilroy, 2007)

–          There Will Be Blood (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007)

Robert Elswit is more bravado, but in a good way. Compare the spectacular opening of Boogie Nights to Metty’s opening shot on Touch of Evil to see what I mean. Elswit’s collaborations with P.T. Anderson are always exciting and his work on There Will Be Blood justly won him the Oscar, albeit over Deakins who was actually nominated for both Jesse James and No Country For Old Men!

There Will Be Blood

I could pick almost any part of There Will Be Blood to play but instead I chose the opening of the excellent Michael Clayton another film Elswit shot in 2007. Here Elswit elevates the banal into the sublime, with a series of beautifully composed frames.  

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