Director, cinematographer and author Jon Fauer, ASC, was working on the second edition of The Arricam Book in March 2003 when Arri CEO Volker Bahnemann suggested Fauer shoot a 10-minute DVD of interviews for inclusion with the book. This modest proposal set Fauer off on a journey during which the anticipated 10-minute short snowballed into 200 hours of interviews with some of the most respected directors of photography in the business.
Fauer ultimately pared this footage down to feature length for Cinematographer Style, a celebration of the theory and practice of cinematography as seen through the eyes of its most accomplished artists. Having interviewed 110 directors of photography from 15 countries, Fauer showcases fascinating observations from an astonishing collection of masters. His approach is straightforward; Cinematographer Style comprises only interview footage — there are no cutaways or inserts, no archival footage or clips, just 110 cameramen giving their perspectives on the craft. Fauer organizes the material beautifully, giving it dramatic momentum as he moves through starting out in the industry and developing a style and covers the influence of technology on the work. The result is a film that serves as a perfect complement to Visions of Light (1992), the gold standard of documentaries about cinematography.
As one might expect, the cinematography in Cinematographer Style is top-notch; although the movie consists solely of talking heads, the beautiful 35mm photography by Fauer, Brian Heller, Jeff Laszlo and David Morgan keeps it from becoming static or visually monotonous. (The energy and knowledge of the interviewees is obviously key here as well.) There is a remarkable consistency to the look of the film in spite of the fact it took more than four years to complete and was shot all over the world at the mercy of the interviewees’ schedules. The tone stays consistent as well, thanks to Fauer and editor Matthew Blute’s impeccable structure. The diversity of opinions and approaches is enormous, but the movie never seems cluttered or choppy. It is a smooth, pleasurable ride on which the viewer learns there are as many ways of shooting a film as there are men and women who do it.
One minor complaint: Although the cinematographers all introduce themselves at the beginning of the film, it would have been good to see their names onscreen at the start of their actual interviews; it’s easy to forget who is who after the barrage of names at the outset. The only other arguable drawback to the piece is the absence of clips from the cinematographers’ work, although this problem is somewhat nullified by the popularity of the films under discussion. Most viewers will probably be very familiar with Deliverance, The Godfather and the other classics upon which the cinematographers comment.
Also, the exclusion of outside footage adds to the sense of purity that characterizes the entire project and allows for more time with the cinematographers themselves. This, ultimately, is the greatest reward and legacy of Cinematographer Style, for where else can one find such a wealth of insights from such a variety of film artists? The DVD is, unfortunately, bereft of supplements, but it is petty to complain when the main presentation is so enlightening.