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"He breaks off, cackling."
March 14, 2013 11:02 AM   Subscribe

Christopher Doyle, cinematographer for Wong Kar-Wai's most acclaimed works (and dozens of other movies), calls Life of Pi's Academy Award an "insult to cinematography" in a recent interview. He elaborated: "What a total fucking piece of shit." (Part 1 of the same interview, more informative but less entertaining) [NSFW film posters and language]
posted by BlackLeotardFront (47 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
That Julian Assange has let himself go a bit.
posted by Abiezer at 11:07 AM on March 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think I love Christopher Doyle.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 11:10 AM on March 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


I love him too and this interview is the cherry on top.
posted by Falconetti at 11:16 AM on March 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: It's just these old people wanking.
posted by sparklemotion at 11:20 AM on March 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've watched Last Life in the Universe many more times than I think that movie actually deserves just because it looks so damn good. Christopher Doyle is just wonderful. I love a good curmudgeon, too.
posted by invitapriore at 11:20 AM on March 14, 2013


If I understand him, he hasn’t even seen the piece of shit, because he doesn’t give a shit. That's fucking consistency, right there. Also, he doesn't give a fuck what you think about him. He doesn't need your love. Also, fuck and shit.
posted by flechsig at 11:21 AM on March 14, 2013 [12 favorites]


I think the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are not the same people who greenlight movies to be made. The former group may include the latter, but the interests of the Oscar voters aren't necessarily the same as the speadsheet driven decisions of Hollywood Executives.

But he raises a good point: how much work did Life of Pi's cinematographer actually do?
posted by Kevin Street at 11:24 AM on March 14, 2013


I definitely prefer Christopher Doyle to Yann Martel.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:29 AM on March 14, 2013


I think if you're going to denounce Life of Pi's Academy Award for Cinematography in these kinds of terms it pretty much ruins your point when you admit that you haven't actually seen the film. And then when it appears that the basis for your holy outrage is that the film has a lot of CGI in it you start drifting into "Old Man Shouts at Cloud" territory.

Like it or not (he obviously doesn't) CGI is going to be a huge part of the art of film moving forward. Essentially he's in the position of those curmudgeons of their day who railed against the coming of sound to movies or the coming of color or what have you.
posted by yoink at 11:42 AM on March 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


Doyle: "I have horror enough in my pants". Case closed.
posted by meehawl at 11:47 AM on March 14, 2013


So he thinks that they should have had a live Bengal tiger padding about? Isn't that where you get things happening like the helicopter accident in the Twilight zone movie?
posted by angrycat at 11:50 AM on March 14, 2013


I hadn't watched even the trailer for Life of Pi before reading this, and went to watch it after. Oh my god, it looks awful. It does detract from his point in a way that he hasn't seen the movie. But he is a professional who has been doing this for decades. There are divergent opinions on what constitutes cinematography, but I'm more likely to cast in my lot with this guy than the Oscar-winning dude in question.

I'd actually be interested in what Doyle thinks of the first part of Wall-E. That was 100% CGI and incredibly well directed and "shot."
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 11:58 AM on March 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


And then when it appears that the basis for your holy outrage is that the film has a lot of CGI in it you start drifting into "Old Man Shouts at Cloud" territory.

Well, one could probably infer that he's not a big fan of CGI in general, but that's not what he's railing against. He's angry about the implicit labeling of CGI as "cinematography." In a world where usage had drifted to the point that cinematography as a term described the creation of a film image in a technology-agnostic way, then this semantic argument too would be him pissing in the wind, but I think most people still think of cameras when they use that word. It's a reasonable thing to be annoyed by when your craft is misrepresented that way.
posted by invitapriore at 11:58 AM on March 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


He seems to have issues...
posted by jim in austin at 11:59 AM on March 14, 2013


That was just great.

I don't think he seemed against CGI or that he suggested practical effects or live tigers for Life of Pi. I read it as a call to distinguish cinematography from CGI coordination. And the members of the Academy should be knowledgeable enough to tell the difference!

2012 had such great visual filmmaking -look at Roger Deakin's Skyfall. Like it or not, it looked amazing. And it had a bunch of CGI, but not so much that the movie was more cartoon than live action.

Maybe there's a category where Pi should've won, but it'd be nice to leave cinematography awards for live action films. It's a different career to light & photograph movies than to build them in computers.
posted by rock swoon has no past at 12:00 PM on March 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Christopher Doyle, eh?
Wasn't he the guy who directed Slumdog Millionaire?
I guess life took on a turn for the worse for him, what with the cackling and the tirades.
posted by sour cream at 12:02 PM on March 14, 2013


That was Danny Boyle, not Christopher Doyle.
posted by invitapriore at 12:03 PM on March 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


I hadn't watched even the trailer for Life of Pi before reading this, and went to watch it after. Oh my god, it looks awful.

Judging the quality of the cinematography of a film from a trailer watched on your computer is perhaps not quite as silly as judging the cinematography of a film you haven't seen at all; but not by a very large margin.
posted by yoink at 12:09 PM on March 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Aw... he thinks Academy Awards somehow correlate with quality filmmaking. Cute.
posted by Rykey at 12:12 PM on March 14, 2013


In a world where usage had drifted to the point that cinematography as a term described the creation of a film image in a technology-agnostic way, then this semantic argument too would be him pissing in the wind, but I think most people still think of cameras when they use that word. It's a reasonable thing to be annoyed by when your craft is misrepresented that way.

Shrug. The people who nominate the movies for this category are all cinematographers. If they think that this "isn't real cinematography" they have absolute power not to nominate the film. I think if a bunch of old, established cinematographers don't see the distinction you're making then it's a bit odd that we should.

As to the cinematographer's involvement with the CGI part of the film: to be honest I don't know much about it, but I find it a little hard to imagine that they just hand those portions off to the CGI team and say "O.K., bye!" I would imagine that they're pretty heavily involved--typically--in both parts of the process. After all, part of their technical achievement is filming the live-action parts of the film in such a way that they mesh as seamlessly as possible with the CGI parts. I would be surprised if there isn't a constant coordination between the Director, the Cinematographer and the VFX guys.

Anyone here actually have first hand experience of this?
posted by yoink at 12:15 PM on March 14, 2013


Nah, he's got good points. Lots of "fuck" and "shit" doesn't undo that, nor does the fact that he hasn't seen the film.

Have a hypothetical: one reads about a film and there is a factoid that runs something like "and over 60% of the scenes, background, motion etc were assembled digitally in post-production" then one does not need to see the film to know that over 60% of the scenes, background, motion etc were assembled digitally in post-production.

One could reasonably be moved to question the relevance of the cinematography of Hypothetical: The Movie to the majority of its visuals, even without seeing the film, and call into question its being nominated for that category, when the main visual experience is a result of special effects.

He states no beef with "new-fangled" CGI in of itself, or with youth (he states expressly the opposite). His beef is with an group of old America-centric fogies awarding things based on a series of merits that have little to do with film making generally, and increasingly less to do with the individual components of film making.

It's not an unreasonable position.
posted by menialjoy at 12:17 PM on March 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'm assuming CGI shots aren't composited magically on their own. There's still somebody who has to determine how a scene is shot, whether that's with a real camera or a virtual one.
posted by kmz at 12:20 PM on March 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


Shrug. The people who nominate the movies for this category are all cinematographers. If they think that this "isn't real cinematography" they have absolute power not to nominate the film. I think if a bunch of old, established cinematographers don't see the distinction you're making then it's a bit odd that we should.

But then he further implies that the motivations underlying their choices don't have much to do with their beliefs about what constitutes cinematography. Whether or not you grant that statement is a different argument, one that probably cleaves more along strata of cynicism rather than fact, but if you do grant it his frustration remains coherent.
posted by invitapriore at 12:26 PM on March 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Christopher Doyle is one of the best cinematographers, and I agree that Life of Pi (an excellelent film) is a ridiculous nominee for cinematography.

On the other hand, I have no idea what his problem with Lincoln is supposed to be: "“Lincoln”! Oh! Let’s talk about patriotism. Do you not fucking realise the rest of the world just sits back laughing"

I didn't realize the Confederacy had this kind of global sympathy. How can a movie about the Civil War even logically be jingoistic? It's dirty laundry. An inherent embarrassment.

And if we're criticizing cinematic nationalism, do I need to point out that Doyle did the cinematography for probably the most overtly Fascist movie since Triumph of the Will.
posted by dgaicun at 12:53 PM on March 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's not an unreasonable position.

It is an entirely unreasonable position to comment on the quality of cinematography that you have not seen. It really doesn't matter if "only" 40% of the images in the film are in-camera images. That's like criticizing a supporting actor award because the performance wasn't as long as someone else's.

But then he further implies that the motivations underlying their choices don't have much to do with their beliefs about what constitutes cinematography.


Yes he does--but he's swinging wildly on that point, too. For one thing the obsession with the choices the Academy makes is silly: BAFTA also gave the prize to Miranda, for example. The whole notion that there's some specific American, corporate conspiracy afoot here is just palpable nonsense. Look at the myriads of other organizations--none of which have the same economic imperatives or demographics as Academy members--who either awarded or nominated Miranda for this movie (and for a previous movie, come to that: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button). What is the British Society of Cinematographers's stake in the peculiar logics of the Academy Awards that made them nominate Miranda for their own Best Cinematography award in 2009? What is supposed to have broken them free of this jackbooted dominance by the Academy that meant that they didn't nominate him at all in 2013 for Life of Pi?

The fact is that lots and lots and lots of movie-dedicated people both with specific professional expertise in cinematography and without were wowed by what Miranda did in Life of Pi. The idea that the Academy are pushing some weird, perverse agenda at the behest of their corporate masters in nominating Miranda and giving the award to him is just silly (the film industry does not rise and fall on movies like Life of Pi, and in fact the movies that it does rise and fall on are the movies that almost never get nominated for an Oscar). The Academy Awards are nothing more than a pretty good indicator of average, middle-of-the-road taste. We should not be surprised that their picks are less than cutting-edge, but it's also silly to imagine them as some kind of nefarious conspiracy to enslave us to US Megacorp (Film division).
posted by yoink at 1:01 PM on March 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Don't you think that's overstating his position by a large margin?
posted by invitapriore at 1:18 PM on March 14, 2013


I think we're barking up the wrong tree by trying to logic our way through this argument, anyway, when the utterances in this interview are so clearly emotionally motivated. Is he being hyperbolic here? Yes. Does his frustration with the Academy's valuation scheme merit some sympathy? I think so.
posted by invitapriore at 1:26 PM on March 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


It seems more like criticizing a supporting actor award for having a CGI stand in for most of a movie. I don't think you would have to watch that performance to know that most of it was generated by someone else.
posted by P.o.B. at 1:28 PM on March 14, 2013


I hadn't watched even the trailer for Life of Pi before reading this, and went to watch it after. Oh my god, it looks awful.

I loved the book when it came out, was horrified to hear it was going to be made a movie, was relieved when I heard it was Ang Lee going to direct it, and was really really happy with the movie that resulted.

Lee was a perfect choice to direct the movie. He's long demonstrated skill at somehow getting very internal narrative to appear on the screen in a way that an externalized movie audience can be carried into the internal story.

I don't know much about Claudio Miranda, and I don't know how much influence he had on the look and feel of the film as opposed to carrying out what Lee wanted to see on the screen. But I loved Life Of Pi's lengthy static shots, which in the 3D version allowed me as an audience member to let my eye wander around the image and really drink in what was being presented. This is something which is impossible if there are too many cuts, and there are NOT too many cuts in LOP.

Having only seen the film once, I can't speak more deeply to the crafting of the film than that. I do want to see it again. I was quite pleased with it all around, and was glad it won a few of the awards it was nominated for.
posted by hippybear at 2:59 PM on March 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


2012 had such great visual filmmaking -look at Roger Deakin's Skyfall. Like it or not, it looked amazing. And it had a bunch of CGI, but not so much that the movie was more cartoon than live action.

Skyfall is the first movie in a while where I looked up the cinematographer after watching it. It was gorgeous.

Almost as gorgeous as Dredd, but I knew that wouldn't be nominated.

Also, Doyle was raised in Australia, which partly explains the profanity.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 3:03 PM on March 14, 2013


He's right though, I did watch Lincoln, and I did sit back and laugh at it, and then I turned it off halfway through and watched one of the latest episodes of Archer, which did not elicit a single chunkle. It was a night of conflicting emotions, that's for sure.
posted by turgid dahlia 2 at 3:17 PM on March 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Almost as gorgeous as Dredd, but I knew that wouldn't be nominated.

Dredd movie is best movie. Also, you're right, it was really nicely shot. I did feel that Wood Harris was pretty badly treated by the film though, given that he spends like two thirds of it just being shoved around and not allowed to speak. Surely they could have given him more to do, even if it's just pulling faces and calling Anderson a bitch.
posted by turgid dahlia 2 at 3:26 PM on March 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


According to a 2012 report by the LA Times, the Academy is 94 percent white, 77 percent male, and has a median age of 62.

They should send up some white smoke when they choose the year's Oscar winners.

I ... think ... I agree with Doyle on some of his points? But on the whole film vs digital issue I'd rather read something a little more substantial, like this interview with noted film restoration specialist James White. Doyle just comes off as ranting, but then again he's noted for his images, not his words.
posted by Currer Belfry at 4:24 PM on March 14, 2013


In the early-ish days of color films, separate awards were given for color and black & white films' cinematography (as well as, I think set design?)

It would not be unheard of to add a new distinction for "traditionally shot" films vs., say "predominantly digital" films.

Just "photoshop" is not the same as "photography," there ought to be a distinction. Nevertheless, they are now inextricably linked, and there's a pretty good case for deciding that "the final image is what counts, regardless if how it was created."
posted by ShutterBun at 4:26 PM on March 14, 2013


What a frustrating interview. Not for this guy's over the top remarks, but a total lack of what he thinks good cinematography is. He's all over the place, seemingly criticizing Lincoln for it's subject matter and not its cinematography. He rails against the producers (or something) on Life of Pi but doesn't actually mention the camera work--if it's camera work specifically that he's all worked up about.

What about the technical aspects of Life of Pi does he think are incompetent, or whatever? Had the interviewer done a good job, maybe we'd know.

I wonder if Doyle has seen any Pixar film. There is cinematography going on in all those, all digitally rendered. And it's artistry to me, anyway, though Doyle may disagree. But again, what exactly is invalid about this incarnation of cinematography?
posted by zardoz at 6:09 PM on March 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


It seems more like criticizing a supporting actor award for having a CGI stand in for most of a movie. I don't think you would have to watch that performance to know that most of it was generated by someone else.

I dunno, I thought Andy Serkis as Gollum was pretty fantastic.
posted by smoke at 7:21 PM on March 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


> Judging the quality of the cinematography of a film from a trailer watched on your computer is perhaps not quite as silly as judging the cinematography of a film you haven't seen at all; but not by a very large margin.

That's simply ridiculous. While you won't be able to detect errors in nuance, while it's certain that your color balance is somewhat off even if you have a color-calibrated monitor, you often don't need particularly accurate representations to detect badness.

To take an example from a different medium, you could hear "My Pal Foot Foot" on a cassette tape and instantly understand that this was "very bad" (I actually like the song but the Shaggs are indubitably "very bad" musicians).
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 7:46 PM on March 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I thought Andy Serkis as Gollum was pretty fantastic.

Then again there isn't a professional stand-in sky, or background to map it's (facial) movements off of, so it's not a) really that great of a comparison in the first place, and b) one I would've chosen to make.
posted by P.o.B. at 7:52 PM on March 14, 2013


That's simply ridiculous. While you won't be able to detect errors in nuance, while it's certain that your color balance is somewhat off even if you have a color-calibrated monitor, you often don't need particularly accurate representations to detect badness.

He didn't watch the movie on his computer, he watched the trailer for the movie on his computer. You cannot judge the quality of the cinematography in a two hour film from a few snippets in a five minute trailer. You may not like the look of the shots they chose for the trailer, but you do not know their context, you do not know what effect they are trying to convey when seen in context etc. etc. etc.

It seems bizarre to have to spell this out, actually, it's so obvious. It's like claiming that you know a writer is crap because you read the blurb and looked at the cover of their book.
posted by yoink at 10:19 PM on March 14, 2013


Yes, but his argument isn't simply "this movie looks like over processed crap," it's that "whatever it is they're doing to create these images is NOT (according to his definition) cinematography."

That kind of declaration can be safely made simply by learning about the process and sampling some evidence if it.

If a hypothetical award for "best guitar playing" were given to a musician who played a Casio key-tar throughout 70% of an album, I'd feel safe in proclaiming "that's not guitar playing!" without hearing the entire thing, regardless of how good or bad the results were.
posted by ShutterBun at 10:31 PM on March 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


His points are perfectly fine. He rejects Life of Pi's "cinematography" for how it was made, clearly and basically saying that the work is bad because the ethics that created it are bad. The key word to understand, in the interview, is what he means by technique/technicians (I'll leave that as an exercise…) One doesn't have to see the film in order to formulate a valid complaint against it, just like one doesn't have to eat GM corn to have valid criticisms of it. It's that simple.
posted by polymodus at 1:50 AM on March 15, 2013


The Academy Awards are nothing more than a pretty good indicator of average, middle-of-the-road taste.

Agreed, but in the Seth MacFarlane is evil thread there were quite a few people who clearly believe the Academy Awards are a massive cultural touchstone that influence the course of a nation's culture and could possibly damage millions for years to come.
posted by juiceCake at 8:44 AM on March 15, 2013


If a hypothetical award for "best guitar playing" were given to a musician who played a Casio key-tar throughout 70% of an album, I'd feel safe in proclaiming "that's not guitar playing!" without hearing the entire thing, regardless of how good or bad the results were.

See, my reaction would be, "I really need to hear what was so great about the guitar playing that all these people thought it deserved an award even though he was only playing guitar on 30% of the album."

Life of Pi had non-CG cinematography in it. Was it great? Christopher Doyle sure as hell doesn't know.
posted by straight at 9:00 AM on March 15, 2013


More Doyle - an episode of BBC's Culture show. I've always thought him a genius. A drunk genius, but a genius.
posted by Kafkaesque at 10:53 AM on March 15, 2013


See, my reaction would be, "I really need to hear what was so great about the guitar playing that all these people thought it deserved an award even though he was only playing guitar on 30% of the album."

Does that then mean you believe something only needs to be great a third of the time to win a prestigious award? Or that someone made something great and it mimics this other great thing so it should be judged in the exact same way, even though the technical aspects to pull them off are worlds apart?
posted by P.o.B. at 12:49 PM on March 15, 2013


No, I'm saying that if someone is given a prestigious award in spite of only contributing to a third of the final project, then I would assume their contribution was even more exceptional to have stood out that much.

Is that what happened with Life of Pi? Or was the academy actually giving the cinematography award for work that really shouldn't be considered cinematography? I don't know, but neither does Mr. Doyle.
posted by straight at 1:22 PM on March 15, 2013


I didn't mean to comment on this thread, but a few quick things: first of all, what's the point of arguing that Chris Doyle doesn't know enough about Life of Pi to make a comment? First of all, who cares about adjudicating the film views of someone who many of you have apparently never heard of? Second, he's given an off-hand comment as someone who is an expert in the field--something the people do all the time (including you). Most people in real life treat every single opinion they possess, particularly about movies they know they'll dislike, as the start for deliberative research. Third, you're missing his point: it's not about quite about being a luddite (2046 is the melancholic futuristic masterpiece you've waited your whole life to be disappointed by) or disliking Pixar (heaven forbid!), but a much more fundamental, ethical and aesthetically disagreement. If it makes it easier, think about this as a genre issue. This isn't about hating autotune; it's about not thinking Jethro Tull should win best metal album.

Like a lot of posts about things I like, this post was really framed poorly. Someone should do another one just showcasing all the awesome Doyle scenes on Youtube. He's one of the most compelling cinematographers who's ever lived. Doyle let Wong Kar-wai film in his apartment for two months for Chungking Express (Tony Leung's apartment is his apartment). For the burning house scene in Ashes of Time, he ran out of the burning structure, filming it while covered with water, risking his life in the process. Take a look at that video posted a few comments above: he improvised those scenes in IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE by feeling the craggy melancholy of the streets of Thailand. Chris Doyle is a loudmouthed iconoclastic Australian who's all about sensuosity, improvisation and counterculture. Hating Lincoln and Life of Pi and the Oscars is his job.

If you're really interested in the idea of film after the end of celluloid, you should check out JR Hoberman's FILM AFTER FILM--a great book about the age of film after film as a material process is over.
posted by johnasdf at 1:48 PM on March 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


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