Thursday, September 21, 2006

Noted in passing...Sven Nykvist

Someone once said that in the process of filmmaking "if the film is the baby, the director the mother, the screenwriter the father, then the cinematographer is the midwife." The Swedish cinematographer Sven Nykvist, who has died aged 83, helped bring about the birth of a number of masterpieces, most of them by Ingmar Bergman, his most intimate collaborator.

For many years, Nykvist and Bergman resisted colour, considering it a source of superficial beauty. In 1964 Bergman responded to the critical reaction to his "morbid" films by making a farce, Now About These Women, in colour to bring out the prettiness of the ornate sets and flamboyant 1920s costumes. But neither man was satisfied with the result, citing its lack of atmosphere and excessive lighting.

It was back to stunning black-and-white with the powerful close-ups in Persona (1966) and the haunting images of Hour of the Wolf (1967), before embarking on their second colour film, A Passion (1969), which used more muted tones. But it was with Cries and Whispers (1972) - for which Nykvist won an Academy Award - that the real breakthrough came.

In the 1970s Nykvist took advantage of the easing of union regulations in the US which allowed Europeans to work in the American film industry, and by the mid-80s he was filming more in Hollywood than elsewhere. He shot four films for Bergman-lover Woody Allen, the best being Crimes and Misdemeanours (1989), although Nykvist was unhappy with Allen's need for a "dark look". As Nykvist said, "the actors' faces look like tomatoes!"

Other American films which benefited from his skills were Louis Malle's Pretty Baby (1978), Bob Rafelson's The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981), Phil Kaufmann's The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988) and fellow Swede Lasse Hallstrom's What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993).



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