There was no shortage of visually stunning works at the 2000 New York Film Festival, and experimentation was in healthy supply. From the handheld, digital video rawness of September 22 opening film Dancer in the Dark to the magical leaps and vistas of October 9's closing night attraction Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the screens at Lincoln Center were alive with cinema's new millennial possibilities.
There were only a few American films in the festival, but they were distinguished. David Gordon Green and his cinematographer Tim Orr made striking debuts with George Washington, which casts a vibrant, crystal-clear gaze on a rundown industrial slice of North Carolina. Pollock, a directorial debut by Ed Harris (who also stars as the pioneering abstract expressionist painter) is in some ways a traditional biopic. But director of photography Lisa Rinzler gives the movie a handsome period burnish, and the creative sequences are lit and framed with a thrilling eye for the artist's process. Contemporary painter Julian Schnabel, directing his second feature Before Night Falls, focused on Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas. Working with DPs Xavier Perez Grobet and Guillermo Rosas, Schnabel achieves a visual correlative to Arenas' poetic, impressionistic style.
South of the border, Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and DP Rodrigo Prieto combined three tales of the country's capital city in Amores Perros (American title: Love's a Bitch), a sprawling saga that mixes social classes and film stocks. Making Inarritu's two-and-a-half-hour work look like a miniature was Japanese director Shinji Aoyama's Eureka, a three-hour-and-37-minute epic of desolation shot in widescreen sepia by Masaki Tamra. At the other end of the scale was Neil Jordan's 13-minute version of Samuel Beckett's Not I (shown in conjunction with another Beckett piece, Atom Egoyan's film of Krapp's Last Tape), in which DP Roger Pratt focused a single source on an extreme close-up of Julianne Moore's chattering mouth.
Dancer in the Dark (see "Experimental dance," page 104, October 2000 LD), wasn't the only entry to adopt a video format. French director Agnes Varda used a combination of digital cameras, sometimes perched on her own 70-year-old shoulder, to follow the subjects - dumpster divers, remnant pickers, and detritus sifters - of her idiosyncratic documentary, The Gleaners and I. A more familiar side of French life was depicted in Agnes Jaoui's The Taste of Others, a romantic roundelay, photographed by Laurent Dalland, featuring somewhat older characters than usual as well as a novel small-town setting.
But it was from eastern Asia that many of the festival's major offerings emerged. In addition to Eureka, Japan contributed Nagisa Oshima's Gohatto (Taboo), a 19th-century samurai tale shot by Toyomichi Kurita in stylized studio settings. Taiwanese director Edward Yang's Yi Yi (A One and a Two) was a three-hour portrait of a Taipei family, photographed with eloquence but little fuss by Weihan Yang. Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai's latest, In the Mood for Love, was a 1962-set love story starring Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung, shot in Kar-wai's trademark style - bold color, fluid camerawork cued to music and cut on moving shots. Christopher Doyle, DP on the first half of production, and Mark Li Ping-bin, DP on the second, shared a technical achievement award at the Cannes Film Festival with In the Mood for Love designer William Chang.
Another Hong Kong native, Peter Pau, shot Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon on location across China. Pau is highly experienced with shooting the wirework action choreography that highlights this movie, but he had to adapt it to Lee's style, which favors eye-level angles and a warmer look than characterizes most Hong Kong action films. The model was Chinese watercolor paintings. "In our movie, when the camera flies, it's intended to fly at the same level as the person," says Pau, whose Arri 435 was rigged to a power pod remote control head for scenes like the renowned bamboo forest duel. "Also, I usually use fog for atmosphere, and I didn't use a single fog machine in this movie."
The film's colors are generally muted. "I shot the film with a relatively low-contrast negative, Kodak 5277, which is 320 tungsten, and I rated it to 250," Pau says. "Outdoors, I used 5245, a finer-grained 50ASA daylight film. Where the weather was stormy, especially in the bamboo forest, I had to switch stock to stock, but the entire film, I refused to use any high-speed stock." Pau also supervised digital wire removal on the movie, which contains 350 effects shots.
For more information on Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which Sony Pictures Classics released in December, log onto www.lightingdimensions.com.