Saturday, October 13, 2007

Shooting Kinski #12 (Philippe Rousselot)

The key to the cinematic puzzle that is THE MOON IN THE GUTTER is in its incredibly evocative and daring look, much of which is owed to the astonishing work of cinematographer Philippe Rousselot.
Rousselot was born in Lorraine, France in 1945, just as the most devastating war of the century was coming to an end. Rousselot became interested in photography at a very early age, and he got his big break in his early twenties when he was hired by legendary Eric Rohmer as an assistant camera-man on MY NIGHT AT MAUDS (1969).
After his first successful collaboration with the brilliant Rohmer, Rousselot quickly graduated into one of France's busiest cinematographers of the early seventies. He would work a handful of times with director Guy Gilles as well as Diane Kurys, but his big leap into acclaim came when he met a like minded French director by the name of Jean-Jacques Beineix around 1979.
Beineix had seen, and been impressed, with much of Rousselot's work in the seventies and hired him on for his breakthrough film, the still controversial DIVA, in 1981. Beineix was just a year younger than Rousselot when they shot DIVA, and the two quickly found out they had many common ideas and thoughts towards cinema and its place in popular culture. Both were interested in a pure visual cinema, one that would alienate many and prove massively influential to others. The dizzying and wildly electric DIVA would set the film world on fire and would make the unknown Beineix one of the most talked about new directors of the eighties. His work would quickly ripple into a group of audacious younger filmmakers, including perhaps most notably Leos Carax and Luc Besson.
Rousselot was honored with a much deserved Cesar for his eye popping photography on DIVA, as well as an NSFC award. The acclaim given to both Rousselot and Beneix would soon give way to derision with their follow up work, which would place some of the innovative ideas they had begun on DIVA on a much more intense canvas.
Rousselot's work on THE MOON IN THE GUTTER was one of the only things that critics didn't attempt typically attack upon the film's release. In fact Rousselot's brave and unforgettable photography would garner him another Cesar nomination, although it didn't garner him another win. The look of THE MOON IN THE GUTTER would quickly sink its teeth into popular culture, although it isn't typically credited with doing so. Many films, ranging from Besson's SUBWAY (1985) to Carax's LES AMANTS DU PONT NEUF (1981), to advertisements and music videos owe much to the innovative look that Rousselot and Beneix delivered on THE MOON IN THE GUTTER. DIVA might be more fondly remembered and highly regarded today, but it is THE MOON IN THE GUTTER where one kind truly find the beautiful blood soaked genius of Philippe Rousselot.

His photography of Kinski in the film is particularly breathtaking. Kinski never looked as powerful or as alien as she did in Beineix's film, and Rousselot's photography of her is searing and hypnotic. Kinski doesn't just leap off the screen under the eye of Beneix and Rousselot, she absolutely devours it.
The monumental savaging that THE MOON IN THE GUTTER received soured things between Beineix and Rousselot and the two would not work together on the director's follow up film, the legendary BETTY BLUE (1986). Rousselot would go back to work as a cinematographer for hire and his credits immediately following THE MOON IN THE GUTTER are mostly not noteworthy.

Rousselot would meet director John Boorman a couple of years after THE MOON IN THE GUTTER, and the intense DELIVERANCE director began a collaboration with him that included THE EMERALD FOREST (1985) and HOPE AND GLORY (1987), which would garner Rousselot his first Oscar nomination. He would later finally win one for the 1992's A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT, a film about as far away from THE MOON IN THE GUTTER as possible.
Rousselot would never work with Beineix, or photograph Kinski, again. Starting with the Boorman collaborations he has often worked in Hollywood in big budget productions that don't even hint at the beautiful depth his work with Beineix held, even though one shouldn't dismiss his work with directors's ranging from Milos Foreman and Neil Jordan. Although one of his most forgotten works, THE MOON IN THE GUTTER is the most incredible film Rousselot ever shot and Nastassja Kinski proved to be his greatest subject. Recalling the film's catchphrase, "Try Another World", Rousselot's shooting of Nastassja is indeed one of the most different and distant worlds ever presented in cinema.


Rogue Spy 007 said...

I loved Hope and Glory and some of the other films he's worked on. He's definitely a brilliant cinematographer. It's great when someone has the talent and insight to capture the essence and beauty of someone like Nastassja.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks Keith...he has done some incredible work...this one is my favorite...