Last Friday, as I compiled, wrote and posted my list of My 11 Favorite Cinematographers, a harsh truth was confirmed: there really are no notable female cinematographers currently (or previously) working in film. While that’s a bold (and not entirely accurate) statement, the real question I’m driving at is: why are there no female cinematographers?
First off, let me make it very clear that I have no intention of answering that question, simply because I’m unqualified to. Fact is, stats don’t lie, and according to the Center for the Study of Women in TV and Film, of the highest grossing 250 films in any given year, only 2 percent of them are shot by women. That’s five movies. Another haunting figure: how many women have won an Academy Award for Best Cinematography? None. A woman would have to be nominated first in order to win, which has never happened.
So, why are there hardly any female cinematographers? Probably the same reason there aren’t many female directors, editors, film musicians, and so on. What’s the reason? Hell if I know. Hollywood misogyny, lack of awareness, absence of opportunity. Again, I’m no expert, I can only attest that it is a shame to hear a female’s name being called on Oscar night for categories limited to costume design, makeup, and female acting.
Let’s not run wild here, though. I don’t mean for this post to turn into a feminist-inspired bash on the film industry (although, I wouldn’t mind doing that someday). Instead let’s focus on the female exceptions to the craft of cinematography, of which there are several, sure, but not nearly enough.
|Alberti (right) with Darren Aronofsky|
If you’ve seen the first 10 minutes of Darren Aronofksy’s The Wrestler, then you know Alberti deserves to be here. Tracking Randy “The Ram” Robinson as he signs autographs, drives his shitty van and attempts to get into his locked trailer, we stare intently at the screen, begging for the camera to pan around and get a full look at Mickey Rourke’s bruised and battered face. It’s a marvelous little trick that arouses our curiosity to no end (and that helped earn Alberti her second Indie Spirit Award for cinematography). The rest of the film is shot with that same timid inquisitiveness, resulting in digital cinematic bliss.
When We Were Kings (1996)
Velvet Goldmine (1998)
We Don’t Live Here Anymore (2004)
Taxi to the Dark Side (2007)
The Wrestler (2008)
Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer (2010)
Arguably the most well-known female cinematographer ever (and the one whose gotten closest to an Oscar nomination) is Ellen Kuras. While her frequent work with Spike Lee (most notably on the gorgeous He Got Game, which I have previously said is one of Lee’s most technically flawless films), drew my attention years ago, and her use of Super-8 film stock in the flashback sequences for Ted Demme’s Blow is ingenious, her magnum opus has got to be Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Eternal Sunshine is a ballsy, unique film with a ballsy, unique script, that is executed with ballsy, unique vision. Nothing about the movie is normal. It breaks barriers and sets new limits. All of you who hailed Eternal Sunshine as the best film of the 2000s should most definitely give credit to Kuras. She made the thing fly.
|Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind|
He Got Game - a still of which opens the blog post (1998)
Summer of Sam (1999)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
The Ballad of Jack and Rose (2005)
Away We Go (2009)
Public Speaking (2010)
Rain Kathy Li
Rain Kathy Li has put in notable digital work, shooting the "Porte de Choisy" segment of Paris, je t’aime (the one where Barbet Schroeder tries to sell beauty products to a tough Chinatown salon owner – it isn’t a particularly good segment, but it’s fun as hell to look at), Gus Van Sant’s Paranoid Park, and the frenzied indie Uncertainty. Shame there isn’t more to add.
Paris, je t’aime – "Porte de Choisy" segment (2007)
Paranoid Park (co-shot with Christopher Doyle) (2007)
The cinematographer who shot Ed Harris’ Pollock deserves to mentioned on most any list discussing worthy DPs, as it is one of the few films to actually nail the look of what artistic inspiration feels like. Watching Harris frantically (but with perfect control) paint a giant mural in his apartment is a remarkable cinematic feat. It’s the fluid combination of music, acting and cinematography that makes the scene so iconic. If you’ve seen Pollock, you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, then check it out. This scene alone makes the film worthy of your time.
Menace II Society (1993)
Dead Presidents (1995)
Trees Lounge (1996)
Three Seasons (1999)
The Soul of a Man (2003)
Amy Vincent has a way of stylizing a film to suit its standards, rather than hers. To clarify: many cinematographers have their own unique look that makes them identifiable, others are capable of shifting their style to give every film the look it needs. Take, for instance, the warm eeriness of the Deep South in Eve’s Bayou, the cold emptiness of The Caveman’s Valentine and the harsh urbanism of Hustle & Flow. Also worth noting is Vincent’s work on Black Snake Moan, a film that only deserves to be remembered for its raw, inspired look.
|Hustle & Flow|
Eve’s Bayou (1997)
The Caveman’s Valentine (2001)
Hustle & Flow (2005)
This Film is Not Yet Rated (2006)
Black Snake Moan (2006)
Aussie Mandy Walker is arguably the second-closest female to be nominated for an Oscar, for shooting Baz Luhrmann’s God-awful-but-stunning Australia. Other prominent work includes shooting Ray Lawrence’s exquisite Lantana and Catherine Hardwicke’s moody Red Riding Hood (another bad film that looks great).
Shattered Glass (2003)
Red Riding Hood (2011)
Honestly, not a whole hell of a lot. You can try going off this list provided by Wikipedia, but most of the work done by those cinematographers are of rare films few have seen.
Brianne Murphy has a number of credits on IMDb, she’s even won a Scientific and Engineering Oscar for the concept, design and manufacture of the MISI Camera Insert Car and Process Trailer, whatever the hell that means. But notable feature film credits are nonexistent.
Alexandra Pelosi (daughter of Nancy) has shot many of her documentaries, none of which have garnered commercial success. Ditto Ellen Spiro, whose many documentaries have never received wide distribution.
Now-revered female directors Debra Granik (who directed Down to the Bone and Winter’s Bone) and Lynne Ramsay (who made Ratcatcher, Morvern Callar and We Need to Talk About Kevin) both got their start shooting short films, but have since hired DPs to shoot their features.
In short, I’m not sure why there aren’t more female cinematographers, or more females in the film business in general, I just know that the percentage of female DPs is staggering to the point of embarrassment. The same could be said for the lack of minorities in the business as well, but at the risk of having this post become an unhinged rant, I’ll leave you with the names above. Names of women who have proven they’re as good as their male counterparts. I just hope we start seeing more of them.
My original list of My 11 Favorite Cinematographers