In its very beginning, film was purely a cinematographer's medium - a camera operator recording what's in front of them. And while it's since become a medium defined by the landmark achievements of actors, writers, directors, editors and composers, the cinematographer remains quite literally the most essential role in the making of a film; meanwhile, a great cinematographer can be as crucial an artistic force as the writers and directors whose stories they help bring to life.
Over the course of five weeknights at 9:30pm, SBS World Movies invites you to bask in the unforgettable imagery - all captured on 35mm film - that these five legendary cinematographers have created for the directors they've enjoyed an ongoing collaboration with.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Monday 14 December, 9:30pm on SBS World Movies
Genre: Comedy, Romance, Sci-Fi
Director: Michel Gondry
Starring: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffalo, Elijah Wood, Tom Wilkinson
What's it about?
Joel (Carrey) is stunned to discover that his girlfriend, Clementine (Winslet), has had their tumultuous relationship erased from her mind. Out of desperation, he contacts the inventor of the process, Dr Howard Mierzwiak (Wilkinson), to get the same treatment. But as his memories of Clementine begin to fade, Joel suddenly realises how much he still loves her.
This Oscar-winning modern classic was shot by Ellen Kuras (a regular collaborator with Gondry, as well as Spike Lee and Martin Scorsese), and the film's dreamlike (and sometimes nightmarish) feel owes a lot to her work as cinematographer. “[It] broke every rule and did it with such elegance and poetry," she reflects. "It has a much bigger feel than what it actually was, with in-camera trickery that would now be done with a lot of effects.”
The Last Emperor
Tuesday 15 December, 9:30pm on SBS World Movies
China, UK, Italy, France, 1987
Genre: Biography, Drama, History
Language: English, Mandarin
Director: Bernardo Bertolucci
Starring: Victor Wong, John Lone, Ruocheng Ying, Joan Chen, Peter O'Toole
What's it about?
A dramatic history of Pu Yi (played by John Lone as an adult), the last of the Emperors of China, from his lofty birth and brief reign in the Forbidden City, the object of worship by half a billion people; through his abdication, his decline and dissolute lifestyle; his exploitation by the invading Japanese, and finally to his obscure existence as just another peasant worker in the People's Republic.
This 1988 Academy Award-winner for Best Picture also earned DP Vittorio Storaro his third Oscar (following Apocalypse Now and Reds), though his most famous work for Bertolucci (including The Conformist, Last Tango in Paris and 1900) had been ignored by the Academy until then. Befitting his visual mastery, Storaro became renowned within the industry for his striking fashion sense, as Francis Ford Coppola recounts: “Vittorio is the only man I ever knew that could fall off a ladder in a white suit, into the mud, and not get dirty."
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
Wednesday 16 December, 9:35pm on SBS World Movies
Genre: Drama, Adventure, War
Director: Peter Weir
Starring: Russell Crowe, Billy Boyd, Paul Bettany, James D'Arcy
What's it about?
During the Napoleonic Wars, Lucky Jack Aubrey (Crowe) captains the crew of his H.M.S. Surprise. When the ship is suddenly attacked by a superior enemy, it is badly damaged and much of his crew is injured. In a bold and dangerous move, Aubrey decides to set sail in a high stakes chase across two oceans to intercept and capture their foe.
As with Bertolucci and Storaro, director Peter Weir and cinematographer Russell Boyd had worked together in the past on their most iconic films (in this case, Picnic at Hanging Rock and Gallipoli), but Boyd only earned his first and (to date) sole Oscar nomination for this swashbuckling 2003 historical epic, which he went on to win. As part of pre-production research, Boyd and Weir looked extensively at a wide range of oil and watercolour paintings of ships from the era for both aesthetic inspiration and period accuracy.
Children of Men
Thursday 17 December, 9:30pm on SBS World Movies
Genre: Sci-Fi, Thriller, Action
Director: Alfonso Cuaron
Starring: Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Caine, Danny Huston
What's it about?
This dystopian sci-fi epic from director Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity, Roma) envisages a future world that has fallen into anarchy on the heels of an infertility defect in the population that has made humankind face the likelihood of its own extinction. Set against a backdrop of London torn apart by violence, the film follows an unlikely champion of Earth's survival: Theo (Owen), a disillusioned ex-activist turned bureaucrat, who is forced to face his own demons and protect the planet's last remaining hope for a future generation.
DP Emmanuel Lubezki has worked with Cuarón on nearly every feature of his to date, and Children of Men exemplifies the mobile, fluid style of cinematography that Lubezki has become synonymous with, also seen in his work with directors like Terrence Malick (The New World, The Tree of Life) and Alejandro González Iñárritu (Birdman, The Revenant). Children of Men was shot largely using unbroken long takes with a relative lack of continuity editing within scenes, and the film's mid-film car chase and final battle sequence are particularly virtuosic pieces of realist action filmmaking.
No Country For Old Men
Friday 18 December, 9:30pm
Genre: Crime, Thriller
Director: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Starring: Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, Tommy Lee Jones, Kelly MacDonald, Woody Harrelson
What's it about?
In the desolate country near the Rio Grande, hunter Llewellyn Moss (Brolin) stumbles on the aftermath of a drug deal gone wrong. Desperate to improve his circumstances, he acts on impulse and takes a briefcase containing $2 million in cash from the crime scene. His actions make him the target of deadly bounty hunter, Anton Chigurh (Bardem, in an Oscar-winning performance). Based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy, and winner of Best Picture at the 2008 Academy Awards.
The Coen brothers first worked with Roger Deakins on 1991's Barton Fink, and he's best known for their collaborations (also including Fargo, The Big Lebowski and O Brother Where Art Thou?), as well as his Oscar-winning recent work for both Blade Runner 2049 and 1917. Deakins intended to become a painter when he enrolled in university, and those ambitions carried over into his work in film; his use of light and exposure gives nearly every frame a painterly quality that's instantly recognisable as his.