At one of the many crossroads earlier in my life, I entertained the notion of following a path to cinematography, influenced by the wonderful work of legendary lensman such as Haskell Wexler, Conrad Hall, Freddie Young, Vilmos Zsigmond, Gordon Willis and Sven Nyvist. I even subscribed to ‘American Cinematograper’, which proved a source of inspiration for my own, less ambitious super 8 and 16mm epics.
Often cited as one of the most influential cinematographers of all time is the Englishman Roger Deakins. ‘Sight & Sound’ listed him as one of the greatest artists of light and shade in movie history. His first dramatic feature as DP was ANOTHER TIME, ANOTHER PLACE in 1983, directed by his former schoolmate Michael Radford, who he teamed up with again the following year, appropriately to shoot the film version of George Orwell’s NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR. Roger used a bleach bypass process where silver is retained in the print to give it a washed out look reflecting The celebrated author’s bleak vision. Such ingenuity would be the hallmark of his illustrious career.
In 1991 he shot BARTON FINK, the first of 12 collaborations with Joel and Ethan Coen. Three years later he received the first of his 15 Academy Award nominations was for THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION. Roger achieved a degree of notoriety, as much for his acclaimed body of work as for his surprising lack of success at the Oscars. It would take until his last two noms to win the converted gold statue, consecutively, for BLADE RUNNER 2049 in 2019 and again this year for the Sam Mendes helmed (their fourth collaboration) war film 1917, renowned for its continuous ‘single’ tracking shot – actually ‘two takes’ with a blackout just over an hour into the film, when the main protagonist Lance Corporal Will Scholfield is knocked unconscious, separating afternoon to dusk then night to dawn. He is also credited with being the Camera A Operator.
Among his many other accolades, Roger has received ten BAFTA nominations, winning five, including his Academy winning films and the Coen’s THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE (2001), NO COUNTER FOR OLD MEN (2007) and TRUE GRIT (2010) and has won five American Society of Cinematographer Awards.
I was very pleased to catch Roger at the Corinthia Hotel in London as he left for the Royal Albert Hall to attend this year’s BAFTA Awards in early February.