One of the most challenging things about being a wanna-be film snob is that there are so many opportunities to reveal my true, not-particularly-knowledgeable-about-film colors. I live in constant and frequently-realized fear that I will -- with the utmost sincerity and confidence -- say something of such glaring inaccuracy that it will accidentally reveal me as a cinephilic poseur. It can be tough to talk a good game when the very talking exponentially increases the chances that I'll expose myself as fairly fraudulent in the realms of cinematic knowledge and appreciation.
Mostly, I keep these regularly-occurring...lapses in movie judgement to myself. I've got a reputation to maintain, after all. But this one was just too good/bad not to share:
For years, I've heralded Zhang Yimou's Hero as one of the most gorgeously-shot films I've ever seen. Top 5, easily. A true visual masterpiece, regardless of its story (which I also enjoy, actually, because it feels like such a Rashomon homage to me). Today, completely by accident, I learned that Yimou's cinematographer for the film was none other than the legendary (and legendarily, intensely rebellious) Christopher Doyle. You know, the self-christened "[CENSORED] Keith Richards of cinematography," whose years as a sailor and oil driller probably help to explain why it's so difficult to find any G-rated interviews? Yeah, that Christopher Doyle.
My two almost-simultaneous thoughts when I discovered this? First, "Well no wonder it looks so amazing." And second? "How did I not know this? Here; here's my snob card. Just take it; take it away."
One of the reasons this new-found information stung me so sharply is that Doyle was the man behind the camera (literally) for one of the most memorable scenes in my early "Mostly Self-Taught Film Study" days. It's a moment from Wong Kar-Wai's Chungking Express, which (like all his films that I've seen) is a bit too unfocused plot-wise for me to entirely embrace, but which most definitely captures a unique cinematic mood and has a vibrant visual tone that is all its own. And the "blame" for that falls at least somewhat (or mostly) to Doyle, I'm sure.
The moment that really got to me is just a little less than 5 minutes into this clip, but the whole thing is a pleasure to watch. Just look at the quality of the light in that first shot. And the surprisingly gentle way Doyle uses the usually harsh florescent lights that make up so many of the film's visible light sources. And the shot through the glass display case/countertop at the very end. And the great time manipulation. Gorgeous, all, and a real testament to Doyle's craft. (In keeping with the "Joseph's Favorite Working DPs Cannot Have Oscars" rule, he does not have one. In fact, I don't think he's even been nominated. Of course.)