Over the past two decades we have watched Christopher Nolan’s riveting movies (eg. Inception, Dunkirk, Interstallar, Batman Begins, The Dark Night Rises, Tenet, etc) as much for the stunning visuals as for the intriguing plotlines. Nowhere is more apparent than in last year’s movie ‘Tenet’, part of which is set in Mumbai. In ‘Tenet’ the Sealink and Mahalakshmi Race Course area in Mumbai is shot in a unique way so that these places look as if they are part of a futuristic urban dystopia. The effect is breathtaking and the man behind these visuals – and behind the cinematography of all of Nolan’s landmark movies – is Hoyte van Hoytema. As this article explains “Hoyte van Hoytema’s decision to work with true auteurs has led to some of the best-looking films ever made, and his career is really just starting. His sensibilities are as definitive as his willingness to challenge the status quo, and he’s renowned for his ability to shoot characters in classical ways while still pushing stylistic boundaries.”
We find people like van Hoytema very interesting because they are taking same raw material (eg. equipment, visual setting) that is available to dozens of others but in their mind’s eye they are able to see the world very differently. That in a nutshell is the secret to outsized success in any profession. So how does van Hoytema do it? The article explains:
“I noticed something recently while watching Hoyte van Hoytema’s contributions to Interstellar for the hundredth time: The majority of the shots that capture the crew inside their ship are super shallow. And yet, Christopher Nolan’s love for shooting with as many practical elements as possible means that the set is real. Everything was built by hand. So, why didn’t Hoytema’s shots show that off? The answer explains why I love Interstellar — and Hoytema’s work — as much as I do.
While Interstellar’s story is massive in scope, it maintains a consistent focus on character. Literally. What better way is there to keep an audience’s attention trained on your characters than to keep everything behind and around them out of focus?…
When looking back through Hoytema’s filmography, you’ll find some of the most visually arresting shots in recent memory. It’s not enough to say that he creates iconic imagery. He’s accomplished something more difficult — you know his shots when you see them, but they never get in the way of the story.
Think about the scene in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy when two characters meet on an airport runway as a plane lands behind them. Hoytema’s insanely long lens keeps the two subjects pristinely clear while everything else remains out of focus. The opening shot of Her instantly establishes how the audience should feel only moments into the film. And then there’s the shot in The Fighter that follows a telephone cord all the way around a house, keeping only about an inch of it in focus the entire time. All of these scenes are filmmaking at their finest. They’re also all perfectly Hoytema.”
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