Masterclass in Cinematography from Legendary DP Christopher Doyle
Oftentimes, Youtube can be a dark and desolate place, leading even the most focused of viewers on hour-long journeys through series of absurd cat videos that, by all accounts, are too ridiculous to even exist. However, sometimes the myriad links to the right of your videos can send you in the direction of some fantastic content. That’s what happened to me today as I stumbled upon an old segment from the BBC Culture Show about Christopher Doyle, the legendary cinematographer who is most famous for his work on the films of Wong Kar-Wai. So without any further ado, here is the segment in all of its low-resolution glory:
What I find most interesting about Doyle’s approach to cinematography is that it’s at the complete opposite end of the spectrum from the Hollywood cinematographic conventions. Instead of building any and all sets needed for production, Doyle makes a point of using the city’s unique culture and settings to create visual poetry that just can’t be faked. It’s this visual poetry, this interplay of story, setting, and camera that make of Doyle’s work some of the most beautiful cinematography that I’ve ever seen.
Doyle’s style, in regards to his extraordinary use of locations, is similar to the way in which Beasts of the Southern Wild was shot, with a sense of culture and exploration built directly into the cinematography. The difference, however, is that Beasts was born of an independent spirit, whereas Doyle and the directors with whom he works are at the highest levels of the Asian film industry. Doyle has the ability to create images that are incredibly subtle and artful as a result of this approach, yet he does so without alienating the audience. It’s something to note for all aspiring cinematographers; just because things are done a certain way in the States does not mean that more effective and artful approaches don’t exist and shouldn’t be tried.
Doyle’s comments about his theories on camera movement are equally interesting:
What happens with camera movement is what I call “the dance” between the actors and the camera. And I think that the dance is what really engages people. And how well we dance is really what camera movement is about. I always felt that the camera is in a very intimate relationship with the actors. They take me somewhere, and I go with them. And that’s what gives the actors their flexibility.
For those of you who haven’t seen Chunking Express, here’s a quick example of the style to which Doyle is referring:
What do you guys think? What’s your take on Doyle’s poetic use of location shooting? What about his theories on camera movement? Let us know in the comments!