DP Martin Fuhrer, a great fan of desaturation, had been hoping for some time to use the bleach bypass process on a feature film. Wilde, a biography of the late-19th-century Irish-born London playwright and novelist Oscar Wilde, may not have seemed a natural subject for a black-and-white-in-color look. But Fuhrer and director Brian Gilbert were determined to make the film visually distinctive from so many others with a similar setting.
"We started off looking at period painters: Sargent and other British Impressionists," says the cinematographer. "We also looked at interiors of the time, and found colors that brought us to the bleach bypass. We did extensive tests at different laboratories, including ENR, which is quite common these days. But the producers had an agreement with Metrocolor that restricted me to the straightforward bleach bypass, which was executed by Rank.
"I eventually enjoyed it over ENR because I got more of a black-and-white kind of look, which I pushed even further, in that I overexposed the stock," says Fuhrer, a native of Switzerland whose other credits include Gilbert's Tom and Viv, John Schlesinger's Sweeney Todd (for Showtime), and Last of His Tribe, a TNT movie that won him a Cable ACE award. "Underexposing helps bleach bypass to not be so heavy, whereas I went the opposite direction--we felt it helped the whole picture."
What Wilde was about, in this telling, was flamboyance and creative genius brought low by the scandal that erupted from his relationship with young Lord Alfred Douglas (Jude Law). "In the beginning," the DP says, "we wanted to have a more friendly look, until he got into trouble. We were using lots of corals and warmer lights and gels. And then we cooled everything down gradually, stripped everything of diffusion. I think if colors are very heavy or saturated, they take your eye away from the actors."To slightly undercut the coldness of the look he devised, Fuhrer relied on tungsten lighting. "Because of the bleach bypass," he says, "if you want to have a warmer feel, you have to counteract with warmer lighting or filtration. And I'd prefer to do it with lighting, because filtration is an overall warmth, whereas with lighting, you can point to certain areas. So in the beginning of the movie, we used a lot of artificial lighting through windows with huge Dinos, 12ks to 24ks. Leading up to prison, we went more and more with 12k HMIs."
With a total of 56 locations, including London's Palace Theatre, Fuhrer had to make do with a modest lighting package that could be filled out per location. The anamorphic format only made things more difficult. But the result is a moody-looking costume drama--like Wilde himself, a bit of modern sensibility injected into Victorian convention. Wilde, a Sony Pictures Classics release, opened in May.