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2004.05.07

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Oliver Wang

Told you it was good :) It's supposed to be released in September nation-wide though.

FIlmbrain

Yes Oliver, you were absolutely correct.

Great news about September, though the representative for the film told me that they had not worked out a distribution deal yet. Strange. But then again, as I mentioned, they all seem to have had quite a few drinks.

Matt

I envy you so much right now. I'm in love with Gondry, in love with Doyle and I don't doubt for a moment that I'd be in love with Ratanaruang if I'd seen Last Life.

However, I'm currently studying with the daughter of Chatrichalerm Yukol, who knows Ratanaruang and can probably get me a copy. I really want to see it. I've heard nothing by good things.

Filmbrain

I just found that it is already on DVD -- a Thai DVD site I found has it for about $10. Nice.

Never ordered from them, so I don't know how reliable they are.

https://www.ethaicd.com/show.php?pid=11791

Nicolas

"Who influences who?" was the last question asked during the Q&A of "Last Life In The Universe" at the TRIBECA film festival. One might argue that I myself may be influenced by this question, though I had somehow the same thought in mind, by the time the movie ended.

Let's be honest. The question is affirmative. Christopher Doyle and Pen-ek Ratanaruang were present for the Q&A (should I say M. Doyle and then M. Ratanaruang, since M. Doyle answered most of the questions and entertained the audience with stories about the shooting (especially one in which he said he came up with this idea of "switching the girls", since the movie was "going nowhere"!). So we knew who the "whos" were.

And what was the answer to the question? Or should I say, what did Christopher Doyle answer (him again)? Well... he didn't answer it, and mentioned briefly (this time it was a brief answer, how come?) that "people" were "free" to use him or not, that "when they use him, they know what to expect." I wasn't really satisfied by this answer, and since I didn't want to jump too quickly to conclusions, I visited the movie's web site: https://www.lastlifeintheuniverse.com

The most interesting things were the two interviews, one from the director (this time more talkative), one from M. Doyle. I encourage you to read these interviews, which are very informative. It turns out that one can not say M. Ratanaruang was free to choose C. Doyle, since his producer Wouter Barendrecht made that choice. The director himself was "warned" that his movie would become "like a Wong Kar Wai" movie. And here's the final piece on Doyle from the Director:
"He (Doyle) absolutely loved the house that Noi lives in, for example. You can see it in every image. No matter where Chris would put the camera in the house, it worked. He fell in love with the space in almost the same way that you fall in love with this woman: no matter which angle you look at her from you're going to see something very fresh."
Well. Let's just say that I'm concerned about this being just "an example": among how many others? Who influences who? One might say both, if you read the two interviews. The fact that there is mutual influence does not surprise or shock me. But one should ask: What kind of influence? A director gives (sorry for this truism) directions to the movie, which include or should I say influence every single aspects of the movie: and this is also valid for... guess what: Photography. As much as there should be discussions between the movie's director and the director of the photography, the final decision (choice?), as much as it could be influenced by these discussions, is up to the movie's director. It seems that in this peculiar case (but is it so peculiar, when you have people claiming they have no doubt the movie will be great if Chris Doyle did the photography), Chris Doyle was more like a free independent (wild) cell.

Don't misunderstand me. I liked the movie. I think Chris Doyle’s photography was superb. But I believe that diversity is the condition of survival of independent cinema, especially when it comes to what is basically called "World Cinema". As it shows, this movie will be appealing to international audiences and festivals, and will certainly remain unknown in Thailand. But what do we get from Thailand anyway? Nothing much. If you read the interview of Chris Doyle, he’s speaking about "Asian Cinema", but what does that mean? Does that include India, Iran? In his mind, certainly not.
So what is this "so-called" Asian Cinema, if not movies that have reached the very select club designated as the "World Cinema”, movies we (I also) often associate with countries such as Hong Kong, Taiwan, China, and now Thailand and Korea? So, yes, Doyle is certainly one of the most famous and talented figures of the "Asian" (World) Cinema, and therefore why not use him? If he is “in the movie”, one guesses you’ll get easy money from… France and Japan.

What about risk, if the producers of your movie want Chris to come and do the Photography?
What about diversity, if Asian Cinema is reproducing itself, like C. Doyle’s movies?
What about directing, if I feel comfortable when writing “C. Doyle’s movies”, C. Doyle being the Director of the Photography?
WHO influences WHO?

FIlmbrain

Nicolas --

I've been thinking about what you wrote. Clearly, you are a believer in the auteur theory of film -- that a film is a medium of personal expression for the director. The theory was first put forth in 1954 by Truffaut, and was brought to America by Andrew Sarris. Truffaut said "There are no good and bad movies, only good and bad directors." For a long time I supported the auteur theory, but now, as a screenwriter, I tend to waver. Would Citizen Kane, considered by many to be the greatest film ever made, have that reputation had it not been for Herman Mankiewicz's screenplay? I think not. And what of cinematographer Gregg Toland's groundbreaking ideas while making the film? Is it right to call Welles the 'auteur' of this film?

When you look at directors like Bergman or even Woody Allen, then you are coming closer to a true auteur. Both are writer/directors, and there films clearly are 'personal expressions'. But even so, consider the role of cinematographer Sven Nyqvist. There's a look, a feel that he brings to the films he's worked on. Think of Persona, The Silence, Through a Glass Darkly -- it would be wrong to deny the role that Nyqvist played in making these films great. Why else would Woody Allen hire him? Allen, strongly influenced by Bergman, must have wanted some of that "Sven Nyqvist feeling" on his Bergman-esque Another Woman.

I agree with you in that it was a bit surprising just how much Doyle was involved in non-cinematographic matters in this film. But the director did not 'have' to take his suggestions, did he? Maybe he lacked the confidence. He did mention that he didn't write a traditional screenplay for the film -- a lot seems to have been decided on during the shoot. But the fact of the matter is that the end result is brilliant.

Of course the producer wanted to use Doyle -- a producer cares about money, and how best to make sure the film makes a lot of it. The pairing of Doyle with Ratanaruang was hardly random -- given the type of story it is, Doyle is a logical choice. If he had written a screenplay that was an action shoot-em-up, perhaps another cinematographer would have been considered.

I agree with your overall concerns/questions about the homogenization of "Asian" cinema. However, I believe that there are enough independent voices out there that we needn't worry so much...yet! It's an unpleasant fact that films need money (a lot) to get made. And if somebody is going to write a check for half a million dollars, they want at least some assurance that their investment wasn't a waste. Look, Scorsese had to work with DiCaprio (and Harvey Weinstein!) in order to get funding for Gangs of New York. It's a pathetic situation, but true.

As for risk - again, the role of the producer is to minimize risk.

Diversity -- yes, something to be concerned about. However, after Pulp Fiction every white male indie director in America tried to be Tarantino -- most failed. While Asian films are perhaps being more and more influenced by Western ones, there's still enough uniqueness about them, keeping them interesting.

Directing -- this is the tough one. The DGA has recently changed their rules on allowing a director to use "a film by" in the credits or on the poster. Bravo for that! The bar should be set higher before being allowed to slap that on a film. A first time director, directing MY screenplay, should not be allowed to use 'a film by'. This has been an issue with the WGA for years -- there was nearly a writers strike in 2001 over the issue. Though writers are still not getting the credit they deserve, it's a start.

Do you oppose or find offensive the idea of filmmaking as a collective action?

Nicolas

Dear Filmbrain,

I wish you answered my question, which you haven’t. Who Influences Who?
You decided not, it is your right, since you’re the honorable owner of this blog.

First of all, you understand my comment as a reference, if not nostalgia for the “cinema d’auteur”. There is no such mention in my commentary, since I never used the word of “auteur”. It never (and I never said that in my commentary either) crossed my mind that filmmaking is not the result of collective action: it is obviously the result of a collective action, and we can figure that out easily by watching the end credits. I never discussed or questioned this point.

I don’t question the fact that you need money to produce a movie. I don’t have any issue with that. But when you claim that “a producer cares about money, and how best to make sure the film makes a lot of it”, you’re not talking about the Executive producer, whose task is to find money in order to produce the movie. When I cited the director, he’s talking about the Executive producer, and he’s the one who will decide to choose Doyle as a joker who will get his finance by French and Japanese productions. There’s no evidence that this executive producer, even though it would be more difficult, wouldn’t get the money without Doyle in the crew.

As for risk, I was talking about the director, not the producer. But this would be another topic, and I don’t want to develop it here.

Since you brought all the “big names” to reply to my modest commentary (I was mostly focusing on “Last life In the Universe”), let me finish with this quote form Ingmar Bergman himself.

"For me, two things about a cameraman are fundamental.
The first is that he shall be technically absolutely
perfect, and at the same time first-class on lighting.
The second, that he must be first-class at operating
his own camera. I don't want any camera operators on
my films. The cameraman and I come to an agreement
about what is to be included in the image. We also go
through everything to do with lighting and atmosphere
in advance. And then the cameraman does everything in
the way we've agreed on. For me a film's
suggestiveness lies in a combination of rhythm and
faces, tensions and relaxations of tension. For me,
the lighting of the image decides everything....But
the light in the images is something I hardly think
can ever be attributed to just one of us. Perhaps I
can put it like this: the impulse comes from me, and
the enormously careful, subtle, and technically clever
execution is all Sven Nykvist's work."—Ingmar Bergman,
Bergman on Bergman, 1968

So let me ask you this: In Last Life Of The Universe, where is the impulse, or if impulse there is, whose impulse is it? Pen-Ek Ratanaruang or Christopher Doyle?
Then (again), who influences who?


FIlmbrain

If I was wrong in calling you an auteur-ist, then I am sorry. However, your arguments are very similar to those that often appear on the "A Film By" Yahoo group, which is dedicated to auteur theory.

If you accept that film is a collective process, what is it exactly you are after?

I think your fundamental question (who influences who?) cannot be answered -- at least not easily. Some directors walk onto a set with everything planned out -- down to the minutest detail. Others wing it as they go along. Ratanaruang seems to be (from all indications) in the latter category.

We'll never know wherein the impulse lies. Ratanaruang did not seem to mind too much what Doyle was saying, he even went so far as to say it was Doyle’s idea to switch actors.

Perhaps Last Life in the Universe was merely a happy accident?

If Doyle believed that he had contributed so much, don't you think he might have asked for a co-director credit? I don't know.

As for risk of the director (sorry I misunderstood your original point) -- this too is a difficult question. Should a director compromise his/her vision to make an extra dollar. Of course not. Sadly, however, that is often the case. At the same time though, a director should do more than produce a masturbatory exercise.

I just purchased Ratanaruang's previous film Mon-rak Transistor. I think I need to see more of his work in order to better answer your question.

But for the sake of discussion -- if we agree that Doyle influenced Ratanaruang MORE than the other way around -- how does that change your feeling towards the film, or how you look at it? What struck me more than the cinematography was the acting. Both of the leads exercised such restraint -- their characters weren't given a wide range of emotion. This, clearly, is the work of the director, is it not?

Would you have been curious about this had you not had the luxury of hearing the director and Doyle speak?

I have to ask -- do you find yourself asking this question about other films? Can't the same question be asked about Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind? Is the reason we like the film Gondry or Kaufman?

Matt

"Is the reason we like the film Gondry or Kaufman?"

Gondry.

Brian L

It's good to know you're up on Thai films--haha!

What are you talking about?

There are many good Thai films--just because you don't know about them doesn't mean they don't exist.

Brian L

^^^^^
(referencing this quote):


>As it shows, this movie will be appealing to international audiences and festivals, and will certainly remain unknown in Thailand. But what do we get from Thailand anyway? Nothing much.>

FIlmbrain

I'll be sure to alert Nicolas to your comment.

nic

Brian,
I think I've been misunderstood.
When I say "What do we get from Thailand anyway?", I was not referring to the films or the productions from Thailand, but to this particular movie. I just had the impression I didn't really get much of a grasp of the Thai culture and the Thai people when seeing this movie.

filmfan

I recently saw Last Life here at the Melbourne International Film Festival and absolutely loved it. It's a beautifully realised film that has a gorgeous dreamlike quality.

I think that all the main players involved are responsible for the standard it sets. Chris Doyle basically said as much at the Q&A that happened after the screening here. He did come across as rather brash and loud (and just a little mad ... as well as drunk) but looking beyond that he had some interesting things to say. He did seem to suggest that it was the to and fro between him and a director that led to him doing his best work and that it was this creative disagreement and compromise that created what he thought were the best films. Clearly this sort of process occurred during filming Last Life. He also credited the writer, Prabda Yoon and even the location as being heavily responsible for the end result.

As someone involved in a creative pursuit (professional photography) and knowing people working within the film industry, I see the question, "who influences who" as perhaps the wrong question to ask as it is never that simple. All the people involved in a project (especially one as large as film-making) bring something to the project and contribute to the end result. In a collaborative environment everyone contributes and at the same time everyone learns from the others involved. I recall both Pen-ek Ratanaruang and Chris Doyle saying that they had learnt a lot from each other working on the film and were keen to do more work together.

There is no reason why, in a collaborative relationship such as that which existed between Ratanaruang and Doyle and where the film is developed while shooting, that a DOP cannot suggest a device such as switching actresses to achieve something that the film-makers are aiming for but which is proving elusive. This is not blasphemous as some appear to think. True, it is outside of his technical job description but making a film (especially lower budget films) requires a group effort at problem solving. Everyone on set is seeking to achieve an end result and it is rarely a case of everyone sitting around waiting patiently for the director to come up with a solution. Those outside of the film industry often seem to presume that the director is some sort of godlike creator who alone determines what the film will be. More often in the real world, suggestions will be made by others such as DOP's and actors that significantly alter the end product.

Having said all of that, Chris Doyle is renowned for being particularly influential as a DOP. His own attempt at directing is evidence of his inclination toward controlling more of the film process, perhaps. He clearly has a very distinct idea as to how things should be done and will argue strongly for them. Pen-ek Ratanaruang commented on this at the Q&A but said he ultimately thought it a good thing. He said it would be much worse to have someone who passively accepts all that is asked of him and has insufficient interest in the project to form his own view of how it might be realised. Ultimately, Pen-ek Ratanaruang is the director and the final decision is his, whether he listens to suggestions or not.

For another point of view on Doyle's influence have a look at this
https://www.bfi.org.uk/sightandsound/2004_08/lastlife.php

I actually don't think that the frequent use of Doyle as a cinematographer homogenizes 'Asian cinema'. He certainly has a distinctive style and it is ineveitable that an artist develops a 'way of seeing' but if you look at the work that he has done and read what he has had to say I think that he approaches each film as a separate entity and attempts to use the technical means at his disposal to further the director's goals in making the film.

I did not think that Last Life looked like a Wong Kar Wai film except in so far as there were some beautifully framed shots (the same could be said of numerous other films shot by other good cinematographers) and it was an 'Asian film'. To conclude from that much that it is 'like a Wong Kar Wai film' gives too much weight to these superficial similarities and to ignore the significant differences.

Pete

wow, this filmfan makes a crapload of sense, lemme try to add a little.

my favorite thing Doyle said about "Last Life in the Universe" was during a Q&A in Thailand (I think the day after the Dod Mantle-moderated "Chris Doyle Day") that there was an incredible amount of trust on the set. That Ratanaruang never once sits behind the monitor, but always directs the actors standing next to the cameraman. That's trust.
I also think the talkshop earlier got too caught up in way too many wrongly-framed arguments. I don't think the whole "is it Asian or is it international" argument is relevant at all, that's a dated concern from the 5th Generation days of film criticism. The world is a much smaller place since ten years ago, and the concerns over self-exoticism has been so beaten to death and played out that the simple criticisms of trans-continental cinema no longer applies, the filmmakers, as well as their producers, are much more sophisticated now.

as to the whole diversity argument, just this year I have seen quite a few films that I've never seen before, both studio and arthouse, Hollywood and not. Five Obstructions, I'm Not Scared, The Twilight Samurai (yeah I'm kinda aware that this is a re-release) and Last Life in the Universe first spring to mind. Of course there will be observable trends, but I have never seen any sign of any dying cinema--perhaps in specific genres and trends, but the world is a big enough place, and certainly still vital enough for good pictures.
I've DPed before too (as well as "autuered" if anyone still buys that--I mean even Truffaut admitted that was bullshit), and if DPs really do what they're supposed to do i.e. being in charge of the look of the film, then he should definitely do whatever he can to make his film as visual as possible. If it's adding another light, sure. If it's placing an object in the fore/background, sure. If it's changing the colors of certain props or costumes, then why not? If it's putting another character into the frame, then go ahead. I don't see that as "crossing the line". I don't even believe in a line, only the payroll office should be concerend over the "line." It's a film, the crews has to constantly communicate amongst themselves in order to get anything done, so obviously there's gonna be "influencing." I think FilmBrain got too caught up in a lot of buzzwords that critics love to toss in, even though his dated ideas of autuerism or cultural specificity have prevented him from truly appreciating the movie. Don't try so hard to figure out who did what for whom - you're not writing a research paper, you're watching a movie. Try to figure out how it has/hasn't moved you and why, then figure out how you can make use of the experience, to make it meaningful.

Filmbrain

I think I'm less concerned about the various arguments then you think. My first thought about a film, in all cases, is to consider how it affected me emotionally. The lengthy argument above was more in response to my friend N, who was more than a bit concerned about the role of the DP vs. the director and the whole "internationalism" of the film.

Great post -- thanks for the comments.

eh

so what was doyle saying about switching actors? i wish i knew what was being said in Q&A period

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