Cinema is a complex business. Seemingly straightforward, yet devilishly intricate, but when we view films we tend to, subconsciously or not, gratify the director. After all, he/she is the visionary; the sole creative mind behind an entire project — aren’t they? In honesty there’s far more to filmmaking than meets the eye. One cannot and should not gift complete appraisal to a Spielberg, a Scorsese or a Coen (or two).
For example, when you think of E.T., Spielberg instantly comes to mind, but not its cinematographer, Allen Daviau. Similarly, Ridley Scott is the man you associate with Blade Runner, yet the late Jordan Cronenweth is responsible for its groundbreaking cinematography.
The truth is that a much wider, collaborative effort is needed when making a movie: assistant directors, writers, choreographers, crucially the editors and, of course, cinematographers all combine to shape something that can resonate as a true classic or an unholy mess. The latter role is today’s topic for discussion in the first of new feature, Unscene Heroes (genius pun, no?)
In many ways a capable cinematographer is as invaluable as a competent director. In short they are responsible for the visual aesthetic of a shot, scenes and entire film. Visual continuity, lighting and framing all engulf the responsibilities of said profession. Often referred to as a Director of Photography (DoP), everything we see on screen is, in most cases, down to this role. A lot of responsibility indeed. Therefore a good rapport between cinematographer and director is essential, as some tend to trust these people implicitly, granting them total freedom when creating a scene.
One of the industry’s highly talented cinematographers is Devon born, Roger Deakins. You may not be familiar with the name, but you certainly will be aware of his films. From his efforts on The Shawshank Redemption, to the Di Caprio-Winslet reunion in Revolutionary Road, to the Oscar-winning A Beautiful Mind, he’s had a hand in a host of critically acclaimed films including a role as visual consultant for Pixar’s WALL-E. Yet there’s still a chance you’re none the wiser to whom I refer to, which seems somewhat ironic in an industry of global superstars and recognisable faces.
As one of the most respected talents in his field, Deakins has been nominated for no less than nine Oscars, cruelly missing out on every occasion even when, in 2009, he was nominated not once, but twice in the same category for efforts on The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and No Country For Old Men. It feels an injustice that the man hasn’t yet taken home a golden statue, but no doubt his day will come. Saying that, it’s not like he’s been left high and dry. Elsewhere, he’s picked up a collection BAFTAs and ASC Awards over the years for his troubles.
Predominantly associated with the Coen Brothers, Roger Deakins has worked on eleven of their films since 1991′s Barton Fink. Other successes that subsequently spawned from this partnership include Fargo, The Big Lebowski and O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and has become a synonymous figure within their regular crew. Only this year was he credited for the gorgeous visual prowess of True Grit, which if you’ve seen is a truly stunning visualisation of the American West. Yet would anyone realise if they bumped into him on the street? During this year’s build up to the Oscars it seemed possible that the Torquay raised Brit would scoop his first, but was harshly denied by Wally Pfister for the brilliant, Inception.
There’s no denying his prolific career. Whilst it has been recognised by the industry, there’s an overwhelming sense of underexposure in the mainstream for a man that has essentially defined the Coen Brothers visual style, as well as claim responsibility for numerous iconic scenes in cinema. We all remember the serenity Andy Dufresne experiences in the midnight rain after his escape in The Shawshank Redemption; the surrealism of The Dude parading around in his porno flick hallucination in The Big Lebowski; as well as the sumptuous lighting and framing of The Assassination of Jesse James. Deakins, now in his early 60′s, is still adding to an already unrivaled CV as he tackles the Sam Mendes directed, Skyfall, with no signs of his illustrious career fading anytime soon.
Sadly, it’s far too easy to overlook such a vital cog in the filmmaking machine where audiences credit too much (if not all) praise towards its stars and directors. Without a decent cinematographer it’s fair to say that many of today’s acclaimed faces wouldn’t be where they are if it wasn’t for these gifted, unsung individuals.