Category: Cinema
Sergio Leone | The Surrealist Western

Sur·re·al·ism: the principles, ideals, or practice of producing fantastic or incongruous imagery or effects in art, literature, film, or theater by means of unnatural or irrational juxtapositions and combinations.

He gave back to the actors from the USA, the confidence that a western can be a great movie.

-Bernardo Bertolucci

When I go to the cinema, I’m often frustrated because I can guess exactly what is going to happen about ten minutes into the screening. So, when I’m working on a subject, I’m always looking for the element of surprise.

-Sergio Leone

A Sergio Leone film is an Ozu-esque journey into an arid, surreal land. The stories unfold at a pace that allows you to feel the passing of time like the best of post war Japanese cinema. The landscapes of the face, the expressions of the land, the scratchy gaze of taciturn men, Morricone’s wild, melodramatic score filling the dry air.

To watch a Leone film is to wait. The payoff will arrive, Sergio will always deliver, but you must wait and watch and wrap yourself in the languid pacing until the violence explodes in a flash. Then, it is time to wait again.

Leone was a big admirer of painters, especially the surrealists and Giorgio De Chirico in particular. You can see in De Chirico’s canvases that same bleak austerity that infuses Leone’s every frame. Leone shot many of his scenes on the same locations that Salvador Dali used in many of his nightmarish images from the 1930s. After filming the desert torture scene in The Good, the Bad, the Ugly, Leone later told  cinematographer Tonino Delli Colli that it was shot “in a way that was worthy of the great surrealist painters.”

His slow hand is so far away from what is being show in theaters today with the emphasis on showing continual loud, explosive pay-offs, dispensing with the whole notion of earning a climax through suspense. Once Upon a Time in the West, the film I consider to be the height of Leone’s career, features about 15 pages of dialogue for a film that is well over three hours, following the maxim laid down by John Ford that true cinema is short on dialogue and long on action.

I’m a pessimist by nature. With John Ford, people look out of the window with hope. Me, I show people who are scared to even open the door. And if they do, they tend to get a bullet right between the eyes. But that’s how it is.

-Sergio Leone

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo) 1966

One of the best cinematic introductions of a character, Tuco makes his first appearance in the film, glass in his hair, mouth full of food, bottle of wine, leg of chicken, bursting through a window after having just killed three men that tried to ambush him.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, 1966, Sergio Leone

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, 1966, Sergio Leone

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, 1966, Sergio Leone
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, 1966, Sergio Leone

Props like a simple mule-driven water wheel become gothic mechanisms in Sergio’s hands. Little details such as the need for the boy to duck twice during each rotation make a commonplace contraption into a bizarre device.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, 1966, Sergio Leone
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, 1966, Sergio Leone

Designed and built by Carlo Simi, Leone’s interiors are substantial, heavy, and overbearing sometimes, with compositional motifs running throughout. There is a weighty permanence throughout the production design of all of his movies that differs from the clapboard, transient feel of Hollywood westerns.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, 1966, Sergio Leone
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, 1966, Sergio Leone

The long torture scene in the desert is accessorized with Tuco’s pink parasol.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, 1966, Sergio Leone
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, 1966, Sergio Leone

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, 1966, Sergio Leone
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, 1966, Sergio Leone

Shot like most Spaghetti Westerns in Almeria, Spain, Sergio, unlike other directors did not make the landscapes try to appear like the American West. He shot them as disturbing, alien terrains.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, 1966, Sergio Leone
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, 1966, Sergio Leone

The ghost stagecoach appearing out of the desolation, carrying its cargo of the dead.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, 1966, Sergio Leone
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, 1966, Sergio Leone

Each scene in a Leone film just feels slightly (sometimes overtly) bizarre, as if things real and recognizable, are just somehow, slightly, disturbingly off. His choice of props only help to build this tone. Here, Blondie plays with a kitten before he gets up to kill a man.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, 1966, Sergio Leone
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, 1966, Sergio Leone

The iconic bathtub scene is one of the funniest moments in the film with Tuco telling the fallen assassin, “When you have to shoot, shoot. Don’t talk.” Eli Wallach, as he played the scene straight, said he never understood why everyone thought it was funny.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, 1966, Sergio Leone
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, 1966, Sergio Leone

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, 1966, Sergio Leone
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, 1966, Sergio Leone

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, 1966, Sergio Leone
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, 1966, Sergio Leone

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, 1966, Sergio Leone

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, 1966, Sergio Leone

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, 1966, Sergio Leone

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, 1966, Sergio Leone

Leone’s attention to details and historical accuracy was famous but these elements were rendered so large and melodramatic, that they felt unreal in his hands, enough so that he had to show source photographs to some skeptics.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, 1966, Sergio Leone
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, 1966, Sergio Leone

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, 1966, Sergio Leone
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, 1966, Sergio Leone

There was a degree of realism in his movies, as surrealistic as they were, that always seemed to be missing from the Hollywood westerns of the thirties, forties and the fifties.

-Quentin Tarantino

The introductory shot to the Ecstasy of Gold sequence. It took two weeks and scores of men to make all of the graves.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, 1966, Sergio Leone
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, 1966, Sergio Leone

The final showdown, a triangle of shooters in the circular plaza with the radiating spokes of graves.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, 1966, Sergio Leone
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, 1966, Sergio Leone

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, 1966, Sergio Leone
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, 1966, Sergio Leone

The main motif of the movie, the hangman’s noose, frames Tuco’s transformation from joy to anger in a slow reveal as the camera cranes upwards, letting both the viewer and Tuco discover the rope.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, 1966, Sergio Leone
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, 1966, Sergio Leone

Once Upon a Time in the West (C’era una volta il West) 1968

What they [Leone, Dario Argento, Bernardo Bertolucci during the writing of Once Upon a Time in the West] were doing was something that is very common now but in 1967 was very uncommon, which is films about films. And in fact, the French philosopher Jean Baudrillard has called Leone the first postmodernist film director for this reason.

-Sir Christopher Frayling

One of the greatest opening sequences , the long languid set up of the arrival of Harmonica at the train station sets the pace for the rest of the film with exquisitely framed compositions, three legendary western character actors and a thick palpable tension as we wait. Almost no dialogue, Morricone’s natural ambient sounds score a’la John Cage; Jack Elam and the fly, Woody Strode and the dripping water, the sea of railroad ties. Sublime.

The greatest scene he ever directed was the opening sequence to Once Upon a Time in the West. It’s like a haiku poem, it’s flawless. I mean it’s extraordinary filmmaking.

-James Woods

Once Upon a Time in the West, 1968, Sergio Leone

Once Upon a Time in the West, 1968, Sergio Leone

Once Upon a Time in the West, 1968, Sergio Leone
Once Upon a Time in the West, 1968, Sergio Leone
Once Upon a Time in the West, 1968, Sergio Leone

Once Upon a Time in the West, 1968, Sergio Leone

Once Upon a Time in the West, 1968, Sergio Leone

Once Upon a Time in the West, 1968, Sergio Leone

Once Upon a Time in the West, 1968, Sergio Leone

Once Upon a Time in the West, 1968, Sergio Leone

Once Upon a Time in the West, 1968, Sergio Leone

Once Upon a Time in the West, 1968, Sergio Leone

Once Upon a Time in the West, 1968, Sergio Leone

Once Upon a Time in the West, 1968, Sergio Leone

Once Upon a Time in the West, 1968, Sergio Leone

Once Upon a Time in the West, 1968, Sergio Leone

The famous mittens in Monument Valley filmed over and over again by John Ford. Shot by Leone, the landscape has never felt so enormous while at the same time, so much less majestic and picturesque than Ford’s treatments.

Once Upon a Time in the West, 1968, Sergio Leone
Once Upon a Time in the West, 1968, Sergio Leone

The way station is part stable, part saloon, part inn and is a baroque space, massively constructed. The alternating light and dark spots within the crowded heavy space gives this long scene a continual sense of unease.

Once Upon a Time in the West, 1968, Sergio Leone
Once Upon a Time in the West, 1968, Sergio Leone

The slaughtered family laid out on gingham picnic tables with wildflower garnish.

Once Upon a Time in the West, 1968, Sergio Leone
Once Upon a Time in the West, 1968, Sergio Leone

Jill (Claudia Cardinale) in front of Sweetwater Ranch. Designed and built by Carlo Simi, the massive structure, which still stands today in Almeria was made using lumber from Orson Welle’s failed Falstaff production. The formidable ranch does not even resemble a home at all. A Leone film is no place for a comforting, inviting homestead as in a typical western.

Once Upon a Time in the West, 1968, Sergio Leone
Once Upon a Time in the West, 1968, Sergio Leone

Jill shot through the lattice of the lace canopy which was a very unusual and original framing. Shots like this lent credence to the school that called Leone’s films ‘art westerns.’

Once Upon a Time in the West, 1968, Sergio Leone
Once Upon a Time in the West, 1968, Sergio Leone

Figures either appear magically out of landscapes like apparitions or are swallowed up by them.

Once Upon a Time in the West, 1968, Sergio Leone
Once Upon a Time in the West, 1968, Sergio Leone

The fight sequence in the unfinished town has the most obvious Dali references with the painted clocks and the cheeky High Noon reference.

Once Upon a Time in the West, 1968, Sergio Leone
Once Upon a Time in the West, 1968, Sergio Leone

Once Upon a Time in the West, 1968, Sergio Leone
Once Upon a Time in the West, 1968, Sergio Leone

The hanging bed in the pueblo for the lovemaking/rape scene is bizarre and to Leone’s credit, it somehow makes sense and the viewer never questions why anyone would construct such a thing.

Once Upon a Time in the West, 1968, Sergio Leone
Once Upon a Time in the West, 1968, Sergio Leone

Once Upon a Time in the West, 1968, Sergio Leone
Once Upon a Time in the West, 1968, Sergio Leone

One of the best sight gags in all of his movies, Jason Robard’s revolver in a boot.

Once Upon a Time in the West, 1968, Sergio Leone
Once Upon a Time in the West, 1968, Sergio Leone

We’d have wonderful long lunches. Charlie Bronson would say ‘Wait, wait a minute, what is this? Why don’t we get back on the set and get working.’ Hank Fonda  and I would say, ‘Relax, Charlie. Relax. You’ll never get it like this again.’ It was a great atmosphere there.

-Jason Robards

Crippled and stuck in his self-imposed prison inside a luxury train car, a gothic gold cage descends from the ceiling, allowing Morton (Gabriele Ferzetti) to move around.

Once Upon a Time in the West, 1968, Sergio Leone
Once Upon a Time in the West, 1968, Sergio Leone

The arresting, out of focus image of the ghostly figure appearing out of the haze of the desert is repeated throughout the three hour film. Teasing the viewer, the mystery of the lone haunting figure is finally revealed during the final duel between Harmonica and Frank as the image finally comes into focus. One of the best pay-offs in the history of cinema, Leone takes the ultimate western cliche, that of revenge, and makes it as melodramatic and as epic as only he can.

The function of the flashback is Freudian…[Y]ou have to let them wander like the imagination or like a dream.

-Sergio Lenoe

Once  Upon a Time in the West, 1968, Sergio Leone
Once Upon a Time in the West, 1968, Sergio Leone

There is a zoom shot into Charles Bronson’s eyes at the moment, the flashback of why he’s there on his mission, is told. That may be the biggest close-up of an actor’s eyes I have ever seen in my life. They completely fill the screen.

-John Carpenter

Once Upon a Time in the West, 1968, Sergio Leone
Once Upon a Time in the West, 1968, Sergio Leone

When I say give me a ‘Sergio Leone’, I’m implying the feel that I want. It’s not just an extreme close-up. It’s not just a frame.

-Quentin Tarantino

…the eyes are the most important element to me. Everything can be read in them…

-Sergio Leone

Duck, You Sucker (Giù la testa) 1971

You can’t shoot a film as if you were putting a salami into its skin. From a project like [Kurosawa’s] Ran or Once Upon a Time in America, you come away dry in the mouth, with your head in flames and your soul in shreds.

-Sergio Leone

The Clergy, American Big Business and Italian Upper Class rolling in the mud of a pig sty.

Duck, You Sucker, 1971, Sergio Leone
Duck, You Sucker, 1971, Sergio Leone

He had a huge canvas on which he worked, psychologically, historically, even in terms of the economic understanding of the development of America because you know that triptych, starting with Once Upon A Time in America, Duck, You Sucker, Once Upon A Time in The West…I mean there’s sort of the European- Marxist view of the founding of America at the hands of robber barons and organized crime. It’s not far from wrong by the way, if at all.

-James Woods

A little al fresco dining between Rod Steiger and James Coburn.

Duck, You Sucker, 1971, Sergio Leone
Duck, You Sucker, 1971, Sergio Leone

At one point, James Coburn slips away from Steiger, leaving only his mule and hat behind as a taunt.

Duck, You Sucker, 1971, Sergio Leone
Duck, You Sucker, 1971, Sergio Leone

These humorous and surreal moments come effortlessly and often in Duck, You Sucker.

Duck, You Sucker, 1971, Sergio Leone
Duck, You Sucker, 1971, Sergio Leone

Duck, You Sucker, 1971, Sergio Leone
Duck, You Sucker, 1971, Sergio Leone

I think a case can easily be made that Morricone and Leone may be the greatest composer-director collaboration in the history of film. Even as wonderful as the Hitchcock- Bernard Herrman collaboration was, it almost even isn’t comparable to how important Morricone was to Leone and Leone was to Morricone. You can’t even imagine the movies without Morricone’s music.

-Quentin Tarantino

James Coburn’s Irish partisan Sean tends to exit scenes with big bangs.

Duck, You Sucker, 1971, Sergio Leone
Duck, You Sucker, 1971, Sergio Leone

The [John] Ford film I like most of all…is also the least sentimental, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance…Ford finally, at the age of almost sixty-five, finally understood what pessimism is all about. In fact, with that film Ford succeeded in eating up all his previous words about the West…Because Liberty Valance shows the conflict between political forces and the single, solitary hero of the West…He loved the West and with that film at last he understood it.

-Sergio Leone

A hundred years from now, Leone will be one of the great, you know, he’ll be unequivocally up there with the greatest of them all.

On my deathbed, when someone says, ‘What was the greatest artistic experience you’ve ever had?’, it was working with Sergio Leone. There’s no doubt about it. It was the Everest of my life, you know. I never got a chance to tell him that because I was too young or confused or too shy to call him up and sort of say it. One of the reasons I wanted to do this interview was to say it so someone could hear it.

-James Woods


Leica Sighting | Vicky Christina Barcelona

A silver Leica M7, with a 35mm summilux; Vicky Cristina Barcelona, 2008, Woody Allen.

Where’s that damn lens hood?

Penelope Cruz and a silver Leica M7, with a 35mm summilux; Vicky Cristina Barcelona, 2008, Woody Allen

Penelope Cruz and a silver Leica M7, with a 35mm summilux; Vicky Cristina Barcelona, 2008, Woody Allen

Scarlett Johansson with the same silver Leica M7, with a 35mm summilux; Vicky Cristina Barcelona, 2008, Woody Allen

Scarlett Johansson with the same silver Leica M7, with a 35mm summilux; Vicky Cristina Barcelona, 2008, Woody Allen


Dennis Hopper, 1936 – 2010
Paul Newman, 1964 © Dennis Hopper

Paul Newman, 1964 © Dennis Hopper

I was a compulsive shooter back then. I was very shy, and it was a lot easier for me to communicate if I had a camera between me and other people.

-Dennis Hopper

Paris Woman, 1994 © Dennis Hopper

Paris Woman, 1994 © Dennis Hopper

I had been taking photographs because I hoped to be able to direct movies. That’s why I never cropped any of the photographs; they are all full-frame.

-Dennis Hopper

Jane Fonda, 1967 © Dennis Hopper

Jane Fonda, 1967 © Dennis Hopper

Like all artists I want to cheat death a little and contribute something to the next generation.

-Dennis Hopper

Bill Cosby (Chateau Marmont), 1965 © Dennis Hopper

Bill Cosby (Chateau Marmont), 1965 © Dennis Hopper

… but I was trying to go another way from the movie business. And I was taking pictures in black-and-white. Everyone else was using color. I was using Tri-X because I could shoot at night, and get shots by holding it real still, with just streetlights and so on. So these were things that I was playing with. But at the same time, a lot of my ideas were glamour ideas, because I wanted people to look good. So my portraits were about them in natural light, looking good, and looking in some way that had something to do with the reality of their world.

-Dennis Hopper

Jefferson Airplane, 1965 © Dennis Hopper

Jefferson Airplane, 1965 © Dennis Hopper

There are moments that I`ve had some real brilliance, you know. But I think they are moments. And sometimes, in a career, moments are enough. I never felt I played the great part. I never felt that I directed the great movie. And I can`t say that it`s anybody`s fault but my own.

-Dennis Hopper

Robert Rauschenberg, 1966 © Dennis Hopper

Robert Rauschenberg, 1966 © Dennis Hopper

You know, the history of California art doesn’t start until about 1961, and that’s when these photographs start. I mean, we have no history out here.

-Dennis Hopper

Brian Jones, 1965 © Dennis Hopper

Brian Jones, 1965 © Dennis Hopper

Most of the guys who were heavy on drugs and stuff — the rockers, and all that — we’re all out playing golf and we’re all sober. It is weird.

-Dennis Hopper

Tuesday Weld, 1965 © Dennis Hopper

Tuesday Weld, 1965 © Dennis Hopper

The high points have not been that many, but I’m a compulsive creator so I don’t think of the children first, I think of the work. Let’s see, I guess, Easy Rider, Blue Velvet, a couple of photographs here, a couple of paintings . . . those are the things that I would be proud of and yet they ’re so minimal in this vast body of crap — most of the 150 films I’ve been in — this river of shit that I’ve tried to make gold out of. Very honestly.

-Dennis Hopper

Jean Tinguely, 1963 © Dennis Hopper

Jean Tinguely, 1963 © Dennis Hopper

Then I had Easy Rider, and I couldn’t get another movie, so I lived in Mexico City for a couple of years. I lived in Paris for a couple of years. I didn’t take any photographs, and then I went to Japan and saw a Nikon used. I bought it, and I just started, like an alcoholic. I shot 300 rolls of film. That was the beginning of me starting again, and then I went digital.

-Dennis Hopper

Biker Couple, 1961 © Dennis Hopper

Biker Couple, 1961 © Dennis Hopper

I’d love to be in a Coen Brothers film, or something by Curtis Hanson — did you see 8 Mile? a terrific little movie — but I’ve never worked for Lucas or Spielberg. You could name most of the directors in Hollywood I’ve never worked for. I am not offered any of the roles that Jack Nicholson gets or Warren Beatty gets, or any of these people get, and never have been and never will. So when you ask me about playing villains and would I like to play other things, I think, God, I’m just lucky if I get a villain part every once in a while.

-Dennis Hopper

Biker, 1961 © Dennis Hopper

Biker, 1961 © Dennis Hopper

I think of that with my photographs. I think of them as ‘found’ paintings because I don’t crop them, I don’t manipulate them or anything. So they’re like ‘found’ objects to me.

-Dennis Hopper

Bruce Conner (in tub), Toni Basil, Teri Garr and Ann Marshall, 1964 © Dennis Hopper

Bruce Conner (in tub), Toni Basil, Teri Garr and Ann Marshall, 1964 © Dennis Hopper

When it first started, it was inferior and the inks weren’t archival. As soon as the inks became archival, I went digital. To me, it’s like the difference between developing something in chemical or being able to spray the light. It’s like painting with light, and the computer is reading the light. When a digital photograph looks right, it looks like it was painted.

-Dennis Hopper

Claes Oldenburg (Portrait with Cake Slices), 1965 © Dennis Hopper

Claes Oldenburg (Portrait with Cake Slices), 1965 © Dennis Hopper

I started out shooting flat, on walls, so that it had no depth of field, because I was being photographed all the time as an actor. And if you notice, there aren’t a lot of photographs [in the show] of actors — Dean Stockwell, Paul Newman. I thought I was an imposition to the actors who were being photographed all the time. I really wanted the flat-on-painter kind of surface. I did that for a long time. Then the artists. I really started taking photographs of artists. They wanted me to take photographs. They wanted posters and things. I was hanging out with them. I photographed the ones I thought were going to make it. I wasn’t really working as an actor during this period, and I thought, Well, if I’m not going to be able to work as an actor, I might as well be able make something that’s going to be credible. So I took photographs of Martin Luther King and Selma, Montgomery, as history, and selecting artists that I thought would make it. I met most of the Pop artists before they ever had shows.

-Dennis Hopper

Andy Warhol and members of the Factory (Gregory Markopoulos, Taylor Mead, Gerard Malanga & Jack Smith), 1963 © Dennis Hopper

Andy Warhol and members of the Factory (Gregory Markopoulos, Taylor Mead, Gerard Malanga & Jack Smith), 1963 © Dennis Hopper

I didn’t use a light meter; I just read the light off my hands. So the light varies, and there are some dark images. Also, I’m sort of a nervous person with the camera, so I will just shoot arbitrarily until I can focus and compose something, and then I make a shot. So generally, in those proof sheets, there are only three or four really concentrated efforts to take a photograph. It’s not like a professional kind of person who sets it up so every photograph looks really cool.

-Dennis Hopper

Ed Ruscha, 1964 © Dennis Hopper

Ed Ruscha, 1964 © Dennis Hopper

Well, I was a compulsive creator, so it became my creative outlet. I was using Tri-X film — which nobody else was using at the time — because I wanted to get as much natural light as possible and be able to shoot everything in natural light without flashes. I was a product of the movie business …

-Dennis Hopper

Irving Blum and Peggy Moffitt, 1964 © Dennis Hopper

Irving Blum and Peggy Moffitt, 1964 © Dennis Hopper

I was doing something that I thought could have some impact someday. In many ways, it’s really these photographs that kept me going creatively.

-Dennis Hopper

Self-portrait at porn stand, 1962, © Dennis Hopper

Self-portrait at porn stand, 1962, © Dennis Hopper

I am just a middle-class farm boy from Dodge City and my grandparents were wheat farmers. I thought painting, acting, directing and photography were all part of being an artist. I have made my money that way. And I have had some fun. It’s not been a bad life.

-Dennis Hopper


Ellen von Unwerth | Jean Seberg

For more than twenty-five years, Ellen Von Unwerth has celebrated movies through her fashion photography. Her photographs are generally straightforward, without special effects of the allusion to a more complicated narrative; she simply uses characters from noted films as the protagonists of her fashion essays, such as the piece for the October 1990 issue of Vogue (available here, wm) in which models are used to reincarnate Jean Seberg and Jean-Paul Belmondo in Jean-Luc Godard’s New Wave counterculture film Breathless (1959). Von Unwerth’s fashion essay concentrates on the breezy life of the doomed lovers as they tool around Paris riding a motor scooter, smoke at cafés, and snuggle in bed. Von Unwerth exploits readers’ identification with the characters in the film, especially the generation that came of age in the 1960s, when European culture and bohemian antiestablishment lifestyle were the vogue. More specifically, the New Wave French films radically changed the way movies were made. They were consonant with the disjunctive and nonlinear literature of the time. Their off-beat characters (often based on American movie gangsters) and the details of their behavior and dress helped create an identity for members of the American couterculture.

-Susan Kismaric & Eva Respini, Fashioning Fiction

<i>Jean Seberg</i> with Christy Turlington, October, 1990 Vogue, Ellen von Unwerth

Jean Seberg with Christy Turlington, October, 1990 Vogue, Ellen von Unwerth

<i>Jean Seberg</i> with Christy Turlington, October, 1990 Vogue, Ellen von Unwerth

Jean Seberg with Christy Turlington, October, 1990 Vogue, Ellen von Unwerth

<i>Jean Seberg</i> with Christy Turlington, October, 1990 Vogue, Ellen von Unwerth

Jean Seberg with Christy Turlington, October, 1990 Vogue, Ellen von Unwerth

<i>Jean Seberg</i> with Christy Turlington, October, 1990 Vogue, Ellen von Unwerth

Jean Seberg with Christy Turlington, October, 1990 Vogue, Ellen von Unwerth

<i>Jean Seberg</i> with Christy Turlington, October, 1990 Vogue, Ellen von Unwerth

Jean Seberg with Christy Turlington, October, 1990 Vogue, Ellen von Unwerth

<i>Jean Seberg</i> with Christy Turlington, October, 1990 Vogue, Ellen von Unwerth

Jean Seberg with Christy Turlington, October, 1990 Vogue, Ellen von Unwerth

<i>Jean Seberg</i> with Christy Turlington, October, 1990 Vogue, Ellen von Unwerth

Jean Seberg with Christy Turlington, October, 1990 Vogue, Ellen von Unwerth

<i>Jean Seberg</i> with Christy Turlington, October, 1990 Vogue, Ellen von Unwerth

Jean Seberg with Christy Turlington, October, 1990 Vogue, Ellen von Unwerth

<i>Jean Seberg</i> with Christy Turlington, October, 1990 Vogue, Ellen von Unwerth

Jean Seberg with Christy Turlington, October, 1990 Vogue, Ellen von Unwerth

<i>Jean Seberg</i> with Christy Turlington, October, 1990 Vogue, Ellen von Unwerth

Jean Seberg with Christy Turlington, October, 1990 Vogue, Ellen von Unwerth


Portrait | Nicky Katt

A few years ago, I got a great assignment from Metro.Pop Magazine in Los Angeles. The job was to shoot Nicky Katt in Hollywood and the art direction I received was to just “show up and do what you do.” It’s rare to get that kind of freedom shooting editorial, especially since I am a black and white, natural light shooter.

And plus I knew Nicky Katt’s work. It was only after recently talking to a friend about him that I realized Nicky is a cinemaphile’s actor. You really have to be a nerd about American cinema to know who he is. I know that he’s been on TV but I’ve always known him for his small but memorable roles in independent films. Think about it. You might know him as:

  • the smart ass hit man in The Limey
  • the Nazi in a 50s greaser uniform in Dazed and Confused
  • the guy with the tongue boil in Planet Terror
  • one of them cops in Insomnia
  • the rocker dude in the van in School of Rock
  • the tough in the bar inSecondhand Lions
  • the cynical tough in SubUria

I showed up at the house on Fairfax and we got along instantly because we somehow started chatting about Monte Hellman films. It turns out Nicky was collaborating with Monte on a screenplay. Much to the annoyance of the writer, we wouldn’t stop talking about Two Lane Blacktop and Cockfighter.

The challenge for this shoot was the fact that Nicky was obsessed with Sam Peckinpah and recently saw this interview with him where he wore his sunglasses the entire time. So I sat Nicky in this big chair by the fireplace with the dog and his sunglasses and his glass of bourbon and I started taking meter readings. The room was so dark that I had to push my meager 400 speed film to 1600 just to shoot wide open. I couldn’t even focus as the viewfinder for the Mamiya is pretty dark. I literally had to lock in on the wall of the fireplace behind him and walk my camera backwards to put him in the focal plane.

After suffering some anxiety about pushing my film three stops and my inability to focus, I picked up my film a couple of days later from the lab and it all turned out fine. Not stellar images but I really enjoyed that afternoon.

Nicky Katt, shot with a Mamiya Pro II, 85mm, Agfa APX 400, for Metro.Pop Magazine © Doug Kim

Nicky Katt, shot with a Mamiya Pro II, 85mm, Agfa APX 400, for Metro.Pop Magazine © Doug Kim

Nicky Katt, shot with a Leica M6 TTL 0.58, 50mm summicron, Agfa APX 400, for Metro.Pop Magazine © Doug Kim

Nicky Katt, shot with a Leica M6 TTL 0.58, 50mm summicron, Agfa APX 400, for Metro.Pop Magazine © Doug Kim

Nicky Katt, shot with a Leica M6 TTL 0.58, 50mm summicron, Agfa APX 400, for Metro.Pop Magazine © Doug Kim

Nicky Katt, shot with a Leica M6 TTL 0.58, 50mm summicron, Agfa APX 400, for Metro.Pop Magazine © Doug Kim


Akira Kurosawa | Group Compositions in Seven Samurai

Kurosawa was one of the 20th century’s master auteurs and perhaps my favorite director. His pairing with Toshiro Mifune over 16 films constitute one of the, if not the, most productive actor-director collaboration in the history of cinema. And the greatest of these is Seven Samurai, one of the best films ever made and one that I continually revisit.

Kurosawa said he studied the master as often as he could, meaning John Ford. And though he said this in reference to Ford’s composition and framing, I believe that he far surpassed Ford in this respect. Kurosawa’s compositions imbue his stories with such power and dynamism that even his noirs or domestic scenes seem gigantic.

All of his films contain his usual bravura compositions, but it is with his ensemble films like Seven Samurai and High and Low that you get to see Kurosawa craft such classic fluid group compositions, sometimes composed of dozens of actors, never crowded or confusing, always clear and focused, the menagerie acting like a visual chorus.

Though he was more known for his telephoto lens work, Seven Samurai marks the transition point where Kurosawa moves away from the wide angle lens in favor of the foreshortening and flattening effect of the long lens. This film then has some amazing cinematography by the great Asakazu Nakai using both lenses. Kurosawa and Nakai show their complete mastery of the dynamic wide-angle compositions as the camera is not locked down but moves from one composition to another, all so breathtaking that they form a dynamic texture that propels the narrative over three hours.

If you’ve never seen this movie, watch as each character progresses and reacts and moves in the scene as individuals choreographed in these organic group portraits. This is throwaway virtuoso filmmaking at it’s best. Throwaway because the point of a scene or a shot is never the camera or the composition but always the characters and the drama. Everything is controlled, deliberate and manufactured to be in service of the story.

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

The term ‘giant’ is used too often to describe artists. But in the case of Akira Kurosawa, we have one of the rare instances where the term fits.

-Martin Scorsese

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

In this three image sequence below, the still frames are taken from the scene where the samurai meet the village patriarch for the first time. There were three shots of incredibly complexity. Pans and dolly moves around the room were blocked so skillfully that no actor’s face was ever occluded, the camera moving from perfect composition to perfect composition, each actor facing a different direction, each face and pose in character, each character processing the conversation a different way.

This is what makes Kurosawa a master. These complex, staged moves are barely noticeable to the viewer, the camera never intrudes on the story, the virtuoso hand never makes itself felt.

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

You see an absolutely brilliant film later, as an adult, and you walk out thinking about what to have for dinner. Whereas something like Jaws winds up having a huge effect on me. If only my parents had been taking me to Kurosawa films when I was eight, but no.

-Ann Patchett

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Good Westerns are liked by everyone. Since humans are weak, they want to see good people and great heroes. Westerns have been done over and over again, and in the process a kind of grammar has evolved. I have learned much from this grammar of the Western.

-Akira Kurosawa

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Being a kid growing up with Kurosawa films and watching Sergio Leone movies just made me love what it could do to you, and how it could influence you – make you dream.

-Antoine Fuqua

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Man is a genius when he is dreaming.

-Akira Kurosawa

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

In a mad world, only the mad are sane.

-Akira Kurosawa

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Movie directors, or should I say people who create things, are very greedy and they can never be satisfied, … That’s why they can keep on working. I’ve been able to work for so long because I think next time, I’ll make something good.

-Akira Kurosawa

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

With a good script, a good director can produce a masterpiece. With the same script, a mediocre director can produce a passable film. But with a bad script even a good director can’t possibly make a good film. For truly cinematic expression, the camera and the microphone must be able to cross both fire and water. The script must be something that has the power to do this.

-Akira Kurosawa

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

In all my films, there`s three or maybe four minutes of real cinema.

-Akira Kurosawa

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Human beings share the same common problems. A film can only be understood if it depicts these properly.

-Akira Kurosawa

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa 1954


Marc Riboud | Gong Li

Rather than a profession, photography has always been a passion for me, a passion closer to an obsession.

-Marc Riboud

CHINA—Chinese actress Gong Li during the filming of To Live by Zhang Yimou, November 1993. © Marc Riboud / Magnum Photos

CHINA—Chinese actress Gong Li during the filming of To Live by Zhang Yimou, November 1993. © Marc Riboud / Magnum Photos


Mary Ellen Mark | Seen Behind The Scenes

Mary Ellen Mark’s latest book from Phaidon, Seen Behind the Scene: Forty Years of Photographing On Set, is a beautiful volume, full of genuine, candid moments, posed portraits and a great insider’s peak at the process behind some of the most iconic films since the late sixties.

Whether Mark is shooting portraits of people on the fringe or documenting issues, she brings a lushness and striking empathy to her subjects. Combine this velvety touch with the make-believe machinations of a movie set and legendary figures of cinema, and the results are a surreal anthropologic study of cinematic artists where there is no line between performance and reality.

It’s like looking behind the curtain and seeing nothing but towering giants.

Dustin Hoffman sneaks up on Lawrence Olivier on the set of John Schlesinger’s Marathon Man (1976) in New York’s Central Park. Mary Ellen Mark

Dustin Hoffman sneaks up on Lawrence Olivier on the set of John Schlesinger’s Marathon Man (1976) in New York’s Central Park. Mary Ellen Mark

The levity of the photos belies the tension of the scene being shot, in which Babe (Hoffman) frog-marches Szell (Olivier) to the reservoir pump house in the film’s climax. Mary Ellen Mark

The levity of the photos belies the tension of the scene being shot, in which Babe (Hoffman) frog-marches Szell (Olivier) to the reservoir pump house in the film’s climax. Mary Ellen Mark

It’s all changed so much. When I first started to photograph, it was really based on individuality. Much more. When I look at photographs now, I think sometimes it’s hard to tell actually who took the photograph.

-Mary Ellen Mark

Photos from Mary Ellen Mark’s Seen Behind the Scene: Forty Years of Photographing on Set, published by Phaidon Press Dustin Hoffman in “Tootsie” in the dressing room

Photos from Mary Ellen Mark’s Seen Behind the Scene: Forty Years of Photographing on Set, published by Phaidon Press Dustin Hoffman in “Tootsie” in the dressing room

Now there is a big emphasis on advertising so it requires a lot of studio work. When I first started to work on film sets, you didn’t need to do any studio shots.

-Mary Ellen Mark

Mary Ellen Mark, pictured above in 1976 on the Philippines set of Apocalypse Now, has a new book out: Seen Behind the Scene (Phaidon Press) collects forty years of her on-set photography from a wide range of movies.

Mary Ellen Mark, pictured above in 1976 on the Philippines set of Apocalypse Now, has a new book out: Seen Behind the Scene (Phaidon Press) collects forty years of her on-set photography from a wide range of movies. Photo by Dean Tavoularis

I was on that set almost a month [Apocalypse Now], and it was such a luxury. It took away a lot of the pressure to get the material I needed. I can’t stand having my picture taken now. You see a picture of yourself as a young woman and think, ‘I wish I still looked like that.’

-Mary Ellen Mar, New York Times interview

Jack Nicholson, Stockard Channing and Warren Beatty on the set of "The Fortune" in 1974, Mary Ellen Mark

Jack Nicholson, Stockard Channing and Warren Beatty on the set of "The Fortune" in 1974, Mary Ellen Mark

I could never have thought of that pose [above]. I’m not a conceptual photographer. If I’d asked them to do it, it never would have happened. I think I snapped off two frames, and that was it. It was over.

-Mary Ellen Mark, New York Times interview

Nicole Kidman in costume on set, Australia, Kununurra, Australia, 2007. Mary Ellen Mark

Nicole Kidman in costume on set, Australia, Kununurra, Australia, 2007. Mary Ellen Mark

You used to have much more freedom. You used to really be able to wander the set much, much more. And I work a lot on Tim Burton’s films and when I do go on his set, he does give me a lot of freedom. But I think that often when the film company hires you now, they really just want studio photographs so they can use them for what they call their ‘one sheets’ for advertising.

-Mary Ellen Mark

Marlon Brando on the set of "Apocalypse Now" in 1976, Mary Ellen Mark

Marlon Brando on the set of "Apocalypse Now" in 1976, Mary Ellen Mark

On Marlon Brando:

I first worked with him in ‘The Missouri Breaks.’ The rule was, before you took his picture, you had to ask his permission. It was so frightening. And if he said no, you felt like a fool. On ‘Apocalypse’ it was easier, but I knew the idea had to be his. So I brought a jar of bugs, set them down.

-Mary Ellen Mark, New York Times interview

Sean Penn in his dressing room for the Broadway play Slab Boys, Manhattan, 1983. Mary Ellen Mark

Sean Penn in his dressing room for the Broadway play Slab Boys, Manhattan, 1983. Mary Ellen Mark

‘I asked him if I could come to his dressing room with him, and he said fine, and I took that picture. He was — a kid.’ Later Mr. Penn refused to cooperate on the set of “The Falcon and the Snowman” (1985). ‘I begged him, but he wasn’t in the mood, and it was a terrible situation because it’s your fault. You have to come back with that photograph.’

-Mary Ellen Mark, New York Times interview

Director Federico Fellini surveys the elaborate set of Satyricon (1969) in Rome, including the house where the movie’s two protagonists, Encopio and Ascilto, live. Mary Ellen Mark

Director Federico Fellini surveys the elaborate set of Satyricon (1969) in Rome, including the house where the movie’s two protagonists, Encopio and Ascilto, live. Mary Ellen Mark

With directors who love still pictures, you still have access. They don’t mind you being there. And you learn how not to be intrusive. You just take cues of where you can be that’s not going to be disturbing.

-Mary Ellen Mark

Gregory Peck with two young extras, Old Gringo, Mexico City, Mexico. Mary Ellen Mark, 1988

Gregory Peck with two young extras, Old Gringo, Mexico City, Mexico. Mary Ellen Mark, 1988

Regarding the contributions written by the filmmakers in this book and the absence of writing by herself:

I always felt as a photographer, what is really interesting about my photographs are the subjects and not myself.

-Mary Ellen Mark

Jessica Lange and Dustin Hoffman on Set, Tootsie, Hurley, New York. Mary Ellen Mark, 1982

Jessica Lange and Dustin Hoffman on Set, Tootsie, Hurley, New York. Mary Ellen Mark, 1982

Readying the horses for the next take, Fellini's Satyricon, Rome, Italy. Mary Ellen Mark, 1969

Readying the horses for the next take, Fellini's Satyricon, Rome, Italy. Mary Ellen Mark, 1969

I just think it’s important to be direct and honest with people about why you’re photographing them and what you’re doing. After all, you are taking some of their soul.

-Mary Ellen Mark

Tim Burton prepares for a scene with Paul Giamatti (in orangutan costume) in his remake of Planet of the Apes (2001). Mary Ellen Mark

Tim Burton prepares for a scene with Paul Giamatti (in orangutan costume) in his remake of Planet of the Apes (2001). Mary Ellen Mark

The Cast of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Posing for their photograph on location at the Oregon State Hospital, Salem, Oregon. Mary Ellen Mark, 1974

The Cast of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Posing for their photograph on location at the Oregon State Hospital, Salem, Oregon. Mary Ellen Mark, 1974

Alejandro González Iñárritu directs Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt in a small Moroccan village for a scene of Babel (2006). Mary Ellen Mark

Alejandro González Iñárritu directs Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt in a small Moroccan village for a scene of Babel (2006). Mary Ellen Mark

Regarding the absence of any images from Arthur Penn’s “Alice’s Restaurant” in the book:

That was the first film that I worked on. And I looked at the pictures and I didn’t really think that I did as well as I should have on that film. It was the first one. I wanted these pictures to all be of a certain level. Although it was a wonderful film to work on, I almost wished it had happened a bit later when I was more experienced.

-Mary Ellen Mark

Cinematographer Billy Williams checks Katharine Hepburn’s light in the woods of New Hampshire on the set of On Golden Pond (1981), directed by Mark Rydell. Mary Ellen Mark

Cinematographer Billy Williams checks Katharine Hepburn’s light in the woods of New Hampshire on the set of On Golden Pond (1981), directed by Mark Rydell. Mary Ellen Mark

Director Francis Ford Coppola shelters himself from the driving rain that added to the troubles of an already beleaguered shoot for Apocalypse Now (1979). Mary Ellen Mark

Director Francis Ford Coppola shelters himself from the driving rain that added to the troubles of an already beleaguered shoot for Apocalypse Now (1979). Mary Ellen Mark

Reality is always extraordinary.

-Mary Ellen Mark

Jack Nicholson, Candice Bergen, and Art Garfunkel “French-kissing” on the set of Mike Nichols’s Carnal Knowledge (1971), in Vancouver, Canada. Mary Ellen Mark

Jack Nicholson, Candice Bergen, and Art Garfunkel “French-kissing” on the set of Mike Nichols’s Carnal Knowledge (1971), in Vancouver, Canada. Mary Ellen Mark

The obsessions we have are pretty much the same our whole lives. Mine are people, the human condition, life.

-Mary Ellen Mark

Melanie Griffith with her then boyfriend, Don Johnson, on Sanibel Island, Florida, during a break in filming of Night Moves (1975), directed by Arthur Penn. Mary Ellen Mark

Melanie Griffith with her then boyfriend, Don Johnson, on Sanibel Island, Florida, during a break in filming of Night Moves (1975), directed by Arthur Penn. Mary Ellen Mark

She was an innocent 15-year-old who was madly in love with Don Johnson. She was just a little kid with a little baby voice, but her mom trusted me. Now everything has to become this big production. I could never get a picture of that intimate morning now.

-Mary Ellen Mark, New York Times interview

Johnny Depp and Gunpowder, his character’s horse, in Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow (1999), Surrey, England. Mary Ellen Mark

Johnny Depp and Gunpowder, his character’s horse, in Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow (1999), Surrey, England. Mary Ellen Mark

People like Johnny Depp – he’s amazing, and he’s really cooperative – can make the picture for you, but you have to be able to move very quickly. You have to be on top of things, always, and know when to try to catch a picture.

-Mary Ellen Mark