DP JOHN MATHIESON LIGHTS A SEQUEL WITH BITE On February 9, almost 10 years to the day since The Silence of the Lambs was released, its sequel Hannibal will hit theatres. Anthony Hopkins returns as the new film's title character, Dr. Hannibal Lecter, esteemed psychoanalyst and cannibal. But he has a new costar, with Julianne Moore replacing Jodie Foster in the role of FBI Agent Clarice Starling; a new director in the person of Ridley Scott; and also a new director of photography, John Mathieson. Even with all of these changes, and the amount of time that has elapsed since Silence was a worldwide hit and five-time Oscar winner, Hannibal will have to work to distinguish itself.
"I really didn't think about The Silence of the Lambs," says Mathieson, who previouly worked with Scott on Gladiator. "Ridley and I sort of blundered into it. People may find that disappointing, but if you know each other quite well, you just do it. It's difficult to stand outside and say why we did this, and why we did that."
Still, the memory of its predecessor did subtly influence the production. Though Hannibal was shot in summer, on locations in Washington, DC, Virginia, North Carolina, and Florence, Italy, the "cold, sludgy, rotting-bodies-and-beetles" look of the first film - which was shot in winter - was maintained as much as possible. And like Silence, Hannibal was photographed in the 1:1.85 format. "I persuaded Ridley to do that; I don't think he was ever really convinced by it," says Mathieson of the director, all of whose previous films have been widescreen. "Gladiator was Super 35. That was another big coup, to get him off anamorphic, which he loves. I think 1.85 is more intimate. It certainly helps if you're shooting somewhere like Florence, where everything's up and down. If you shoot really wide lenses and you're trying to get a distant light or church spire, your camera ends up on the ground. You get a lot of walls left and right, and the center of the frame is the only interesting thing."
For those who don't know the story of Thomas Harris' novel, which has been adapted by David Mamet and Steven Zaillian, Florence is where Dr. Lecter has settled into hiding, a decade after escaping during the action of The Silence of the Lambs. True to form, he is living a cultured life in a grand palazzo, enjoying the city's artistic and musical treasures (while keeping his seamier appetites largely at bay). For the purposes of the production, Palazzo Capponi became the character's residence, while other locations included the Mercato Nuovo, the Palazzo Vecchio, the Ponte Vecchio, the Pharmacy of Santa Maria Novella, and il Duomo.
FLORENTINE ILLUMINATION What the filmmakers wanted to stress in Florence was a sense of decay as well as beauty. "You didn't want a sort of bright opulence, a French Versailles type of thing," Mathieson says. "It's much more about forgotten palaces, dusty libraries, places run by old Italian families that can't afford to live in most of the rooms in their palaces or apartments. The colors are all kind of subdued, because everything's so old and faded. It's a nice palette to film in; film always tends to lift up colors, and we're always trying to dirty things down."
Florentine lighting follows suit. "The streets are high and narrow, it's all kind of crammed in," the DP continues. "It keeps things cool and shaded in the summer, but even in the palaces, the light barely penetrates the rooms. So you've got a dark, cracks-of-light type of situation." Another obstacle: "Florence wasn't made for the automobile, so there are logistical problems - how to get from A to B, because modern trucks can't go down the streets. You need smaller vehicles." Fortunately, Mathieson says, "Italian crews are quite used to this sort of thing. You don't have many options: `The light will go there.' `Well, can you move it left?' `No.' `Can you move it right?' `No.' `Can you move it up or down?' `No, that's where the light goes.' I'm not too heavy on lots of lights anyway. One big thing somewhere usually does it."
On exteriors, the big thing usually took the form of a Dino, a Wendy, or a Maxi Brute. For soft ambient light inside the fragile Florentine structural locations, Leelium lighting balloons were generally the order of the day. "They're the best balloons going: You can use them with an 8k or 5k HMI, you can swap the bulbs out," says Mathieson. "They're sausage-shaped, and come with skirts so you can drop the light down where you want it, rather than having it spray all over the room. It's on a dimmer as well, so you can control how much light."
While location scouting, the cinematographer says, "You walk into a place and go, `Would he live here?'" Apparently, when it came to the sumptuous yet murky Palazzo Capponi, the answer for Hannibal Lecter was yes. "There were six or seven windows down one side - narrow, tall French windows, starting quite high in the room and going to the ceiling. I lit the exterior with 18ks from a terrace garden across the road. You wouldn't know that from looking at it; it looks like a grim, old, dark palace, which is what it is. We could keep the shutters closed or open, we could play with the light a bit, and the sun might come in and join you, or it might not. Plus I put the balloon in."
One large-scale scene was an open-air nighttime opera staged in the courtyard next to the monastery of Santa Croce. "It was written in an opera house, but they moved it outside," says Mathieson. The opera was an original composition depicting the death of Dante, and the resulting pageant was suitably phantasmagoric. "I didn't stage light it as such," the DP says. "I lit it like a William Blake picture, which was really the only reference we used in the movie. There were some big trees to one side where I put a lot of different-sized tungsten lamps - a couple of 10ks and some 12k PARs, which I raked across the stage to give it a dramatic, sidelit feeling. It was quite broad and overexposed. There were a few flame things going here and there, and we had a Dino up at the far end just picking up some backlight. Behind the stage was a church, and we put some 10ks and 5ks up there, and some flickering flame effects. We bounced light up into the arches, and that silhouetted the colonnades."
THE HUNT CONTINUES Following production in Italy, the film moved to the States for scenes focused on Agent Starling. The character's fortunes at the FBI have waned since the glory days of Silence, and she is consigned to a "rather grisly basement office with poor striplighting," says Mathieson. This space was shot in a Richmond, VA, library, "a low-ceilinged place that served us well. There are lots of shelves and metal cabinets, really dry books and documents, and sprinklers everywhere." Clarice is on the hunt for Hannibal, "and she's down in this basement with all her horrible pictures and lightboxes from some forensic department, things she's gathered that people didn't want."
To provide an extra boost of clammy atmosphere to the space, Mathieson says, "I used aqua-blue gel and wrapped two sides of the room in this fantastic green polyethylene. Clarice eventually gets in more stuff - more monitors, more lights, more things to play with. She hangs up X-rays, evidence bags, and Post-It notes over the lights. So it becomes this cluttery, not really designed place. You walked in and thought, `Yeah, this would be the place you'd shove someone you don't care about.' When I went to shoot it, I thought, `My God, we're going to have three weeks in this bloody room.' And it's just her in there. It's quite a discipline to shoot something like that, and make sure you're giving it a bit of spice."
Of course, compared with Dr. Lecter, Clarice leads "an aesthetically dull life," in far less beautiful surroundings.
To subtly build up the contrast, Mathieson used Kodak's 5245 daylight stock in Florence wherever he could, and switched to 5246 - "not quite as rich a stock, a bit dirtier and grainier" - for the United States scenes. "The places are so different anyway," says the DP. "You just try to make the differences a little bigger." Nighttime scenes in both locations were photographed with 5279.
After a foray to President James Madison's Montpelier, VA, estate, where a gruesome sequence involving some ravenous hogs was filmed, the production went to the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC: the largest private home in North America, built in the 1890s by George Vanderbilt. The Biltmore Estate served as the location for the mansion of billionaire Mason Verger, another major character played by an actor whose identity is not being disclosed. Suffice it to say that Verger is the only victim of Dr. Lecter's perverse gustations to survive, and that the transformation of Mr. X into this character required five hours of makeup application.
"The makeup is so strong that [producer] Dino De Laurentiis was sort of keen to see him," says Mathieson. "I wanted to put him in the shadows, and Ridley was with me. But he wanted us to put the light on where he'd spent the money. We kind of arrived somewhere in the middle." Verger, who summons Agent Starling as part of his twisted plan to exact revenge on Hannibal, stays primarily in his darkened bedroom, surrounded by video monitors. "It's a curtains-drawn, twilighty world," the cinematographer says. "The video monitors give a pinprick of light in his eyes, and the rest is from a distant window - the light comes in and hits the floor, fills the room a little bit."
There are moments, however, when more is revealed. Our first glimpse of Verger's "scarred and unsuccessful plastic surgery" is also Agent Starling's. "When Clarice meets him, you want it to be quite shocking," Mathieson explains. And the character emerges from his warren for the film's climactic movement. There is also a flashback sequence "when you can actually see who the actor might be," the DP says, coyly. "But we used some distorted, smeary lenses, and we disconnected the shutter from the camera and did other strange things to make it feel like a nasty little home porn film that goes a bit wrong."
In addition to the exterior of the Biltmore Estate, which Mathieson describes as a "Victorian folly, very William Hearst and quite crazy," the production basically confined itself to two interior rooms. One served as the Verger library, where the DP once again used lighting balloons. "But I did most of the work from outside," he says. "I always tend to that anyway; I don't bring much into the room. I put the big lights outside, and if something's not landing in the right place, I go to the window and put another light up at another angle. Sometimes your angles are such that the room looks great, but the action is happening over here. I leave other things on the towers so I can crosslight, or even turn the lights in a different direction, to light the windows that are adjacent."
SMOKE AND STYLE The cinematographer's preference for oblique lighting matches up well with Scott's aesthetic. The two got together after Mathieson shot Plunkett and Macleane for the director's son Jake Scott. "Ridley called me up to do a commercial," says the DP, whose other credits include Love Is the Devil and Twin Town. "It was all exterior day, nothing much to do. But we got along, and that was that, I suppose." Next up was Gladiator, a far more massive project than Mathieson had ever shot.
Hannibal was a comparatively "boring shoot," says the DP. "You have detectives in front of the computer, on the telephones, driving the car, back in the office: shoe-leathery type of stuff." For the most part, it was one location after another. "There were two sets, really. We built the interior of the Palazzo Vecchio in a warehouse outside Florence. And we rebuilt Hannibal's room from The Silence of the Lambs. Clarice goes looking for old files and evidence, and she finds herself being drawn down to the old cells." Customarily, though, "you were always traveling. It was kind of annoying - you come all this way for another grubby office. That was another good reason to shoot 1:1.85; otherwise, you'd end up with walls and light switches."
Apart from the format change, Mathieson may have influenced Scott to cut back just a bit on his beloved smoke. "Ridley likes a lot of smoke; he thinks he invented it," the DP says with a laugh. "He puts it in, and I always try to slip the windows open. I like it when you feel a thickness to the room, a dampness" - a quality that's perfect for Hannibal - "but I don't like it when you can see beams everywhere." Still, Mathieson makes it clear that any adjustments he's made to the imagery of a stylist like Scott are just tweaks. "I think maybe he's come a little bit down to me, and I've come a long way up to him."