LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – They are the oddest of couples: a sunny Hollywood storyteller with a strong sentimental streak and his director of photography, a master of shadows, beckoning him to the dark side.
Director Steven Spielberg dwells on beauty, said Janusz Kaminski, Spielberg’s director of photography, in a recent interview. Kaminski, for his part, sees beauty in the bleak and the ugly.
“He is very much interested in classical beauty,” said Kaminski, 42, who first teamed up with Spielberg on “Schindler’s List,” which won both men Oscars, for cinematography and directing, as well as best picture honors.
“I see beauty in bleakness,” said the camera director, who created the stark and at times startling black and white palette of the Holocaust drama.
Working with Spielberg, who he calls, “ultimate director,” Kaminski has cast the shadows that permeate the Hollywood director’s last seven movies, including “Catch Me If You Can,” a breezy new comedy which opens on Christmas Day.
The cameraman wants to present the audience with a “real” world, and he says Spielberg understands.
“He has just mellowed out so much,” Kaminski said, explaining that Spielberg has become more confident and tells better stories over the years.
And he added: “He is getting dirtier.”
Contrast the drug addicted hero played by Tom Cruise in “Minority Report” with the all-American, Indiana Jones played by Harrison Ford in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” an early Spielberg masterpiece.
Kaminski chose the strong lights that cast the dark shadows of “Minority Report” and also lit the acclaimed “Artificial Intelligence: A.I.”
“If it is required to go a little bit ugly, I’ll go ugly,” says Kaminski.
Directors of photography are often said to “paint with light.” They design the look of films and collaborate with the directors on shifting focus, jobs that requires technical skill and have tremendous artistic impact.
UGLINESS FOR THE SAKE OF BEAUTY
Kaminski describes “Catch Me If You Can,” as “champagne,” a bubbly, caper movie, although after his first viewing of the complete film, he agreed there was a somber side to it.
An FBI agent played by Tom Hanks tracks down a masterful con man played by Leonardo DiCaprio, and the two develop an unlikely friendship.
The FBI agent and the check forger are both lonely figures on a chase that takes them through a lush 1960s world that Kaminski calls “funky” and “quirky.”
But Kaminski also created the unflattering, bleached out look of the FBI office where Hanks’ character works.
“You get this naive character such as Tom Hanks’ in this kind of an ugly, ugly environment to emphasize his innocence, to emphasize his naiveté,” Kaminski said. “I’m attracted to ugliness for the sake of beauty.”
Kaminski grew up in Poland on a cultural diet of American music and films, like “The Graduate” and the dark comedy “Harold and Maude.”
However, he only took up film making as a profession at Columbia College in Chicago after immigrating to the United States when he was 21.
He credits growing up in Poland, dominated by the Soviet Union at the time, as tuning his artistic sensibility and interest in the beauty of bleakness.
Kaminski developed techniques that made the opening scene of “Saving Private Ryan,” the storming of the beaches at Normandy by U.S. troops in World War II, seem like an old newsreel rather than the slick Hollywood production it was.
He also won a cinematography Oscar for “Private Ryan.”
Kaminski wants to delve deeper into the dark side of human nature, and he says Spielberg may join him on that journey.
“He is beginning to be interested in erotic subject matter from the perspective of an adult,” Kaminski said, recalling how Pablo Picasso began his career painting realistic portraits before making his reputation with an abstract style that was openly sexual.
“I can’t wait for that moment with Steven,” said Kaminski.
“I said to Steven, let’s go and make a little tiny erotic movie… I think he is interested.” he paused, reflecting. “He may not be ready yet.”
Peter Henderson, Reuters