Famed cinematographer Edward Lachman has been injecting films with his audacious color palettes for decades. He’s one of the most skilled DPs of capturing mood through color. His use of color, along with his penchant for classical compositions, makes his films a marvel to behold. Lachman recently garnered his second Oscar nomination for his breathtaking work on Carol. Here’s a look back at a DP whose work I never tire of looking at.
In 1977, upon hearing that the island of Guadeloupe had been evacuated due to an impending volcano eruption, German director Werner Herzog did what Werner Herzog does: he went to the island to capture the calm before the storm. Herzog heard that there were a few settlers on the island who refused to leave, and Herzog became obsessed with finding them and telling their stories. Only two people traveled with Herzog to the island, Jörg Schmidt-Reitwein and Edward Lachman, two skilled DPs too young (or brazen, or stupid) to know how much danger they were in. La Soufrière doesn’t feature the immaculate compositions or skilled lighting of Lachman’s later work, but La Soufrière has a still beauty that is undeniable. Plus, any person crazy enough to go to the one place that everyone else has actively left deserves specific praise.
9. Erin Brockovich (2000)
Erin Brockovich was the last Steven Soderbergh film/TV project that Soderbergh did not shoot himself. And if you’re going to assume the role of DP, who better to lead off with than Edward Lachman? Lachman’s palette in Erin Brockovich is reminiscent of Lachman’s own work, but also signals the influence it would have on Soderbergh. The golden, overexposed day scenes are amusingly similar to the corn-soaked color of The Informant!, while Brockovich’s deep and dangerous blues are all over Soderbergh’s work, from Traffic to Magic Mike.
8. Light Sleeper (1992)
In Paul Schrader’s Light Sleeper, we get an early sense of Lachman’s moody blues and lavish greens. I love the way Lachman bathes a room in neon green as a way of inserting feeling into a scene.
7. Life During Wartime (2009)
Todd Solondz’s Life During Wartime contains a highly saturated palette that changes depending on which character is on screen. The film also tends to hold its tortured characters in silhouette, or hide them in shadow, as a way of displacing them from the damaged world they live in. That’s expert cinematography. Composition as mood.
6. Mildred Pierce (2011)
Edward Lachman does his best work with director Todd Haynes. There’s simply no denying it. It’s also no coincidence that the best work they’ve done together are for stories that take place in the past. And part of the reason is because Lachman knows how to seamlessly create the look of a period. Mildred Pierce is the post-Depression ‘30s. The HBO miniseries ran a somewhat laborious five hours, but this beauty was never hard to look at.
5. The Virgin Suicides (1999)
It just feels like a dream, doesn’t it? And that, perhaps, is the best thing I can think to say.
4. The Limey (1999)
There are no rules in The Limey. This is most prevalent in the way the film was cut, with scenes looping around once, twice, three times, lines are repeated, frames are seen multiple times, and so on. The movie plays like an anger-laced fever dream of revenge. But the abandonment of rules applies to the cinematography as well. The film can be curiously far away in one scene, and intensely close the next. It can be deliberately overexposed in flashback, but classically composed in the present. Watching The Limey is like unraveling a puzzle of madness, and I love that Lachman was along for the ride.
3. I’m Not There (2007)
Todd Haynes’ Bob Dylan biopic, I’m Not There, portrays Dylan in a variety of personas, based on how Dylan behaved at that point in his life. The film is an obscure, folk/disco injection of pop culture. But it’s also one of the most confident films I’ve seen in years. I’ll credit much of the film’s poise to Lachman’s style. Each segment in the film has an entirely different visual aesthetic, which makes I’m Not There feel like six different movies that are uniquely one in the same.
2. Carol (2015)
I could see this year’s Oscar for Best Cinematography going to any of the five nominees. The current frontrunner is Emmanuel Lubezki for The Revenant, but because Lubezki has won the past two Oscars for Cinematography, maybe the Academy will spread the wealth. Next up would probably be Roger Deakins, who delivered near career-best work with Sicario (it’s also his thirteenth nomination, with zero wins). But then there’s Edward Lachman’s quiet, still, absolutely flawless work for Carol. Shot on gritty and gorgeous 16mm, Carol, like Lachman and Todd Haynes’ other work, immediately places you in its period setting. Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett were born for Lachman’s colorful compositions.
1. Far from Heaven (2002)
I love the look of every Edward Lachman film I’ve seen, but this choice was a no brainer. I say this a lot in these cinematography posts, but you could literally pick damn near any frame from Far from Heaven, and it would be perfect. It was Todd Haynes’ intention to recreate the melodramatic, Technicolor look of Douglas Sirk’s work, and the result is one of the finest looking homages I’ve ever seen. Lachman’s use of color in Far from Heaven is astounding. It’s sexy and dangerous, evocative and beautiful. This is a film I never tire of putting on, because it is simply such a marvel to look at.
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