Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Matthew Libatique has been killing it as a cinematographer, and his work is worth spotlighting during Asian Pacific American Heritage Month as it winds down

This is the first movie award show I've ever been to that's held inside a tent. You know you've arrived when your suit costs more than this tent.
Matthew Libatique accepts his trophy for Best Cinematography for Black Swan at the 2011 Film Independent Spirit Awards.
Matthew Libatique is another Asian American craftsman in the film industry whose body of work is always worth celebrating, whether during Asian Pacific American Heritage Month or any other month of the year. The Pinoy cinematographer shot most of Darren Aronofsky's films, including Black Swan and Requiem for a Dream. Yep, all those memorable close-ups of dilated pupils in Requiem were Libatique's handiwork.

Libatique bounces back and forth between indies and the mainstream. He lensed one of my favorite caper flicks, 2006's Inside Man, which is also one of the best joints by Libatique's filmmaking idol Spike Lee, and he shaped the vibrant look of the first two Iron Man movies. In 2010, when Jon Favreau decided not to return as director for Iron Man 3 (Shane Black, who directed Robert Downey Jr. in the wonderful Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, later ended up with the job), someone in the comments section of The Playlist wrote, "I say they give [the director's chair] to the DP, Matt Libatique."

This post almost didn't happen because of Blogger's stupid new restrictions on image size. Apparently on Blogger, you can no longer upload and post images in as large a size as you want, which ruins the point of posts like this one about Libatique's work, where I wanted to convey the boldness of his visuals through hi-def images. You can't convey that when you're confined to posting images that are merely the size of a USPS stamp.

So instead of following these inane restrictions, I'm working around them, and I found a better way to convey the awesomeness of his visuals: by simply posting the most interesting-looking footage of Libatique's work.

Libatique to American Cinematographer on the distinctive look he gave to Inside Man's interrogation scenes, which he photographed with Kodak Ektachrome 100D 5285 reversal film that was cross-processed and put through a bleach bypass: "Using a bleach bypass neutralizes the color temperature and creates more contrast than simply cross-processing. Basically, it unifies all the color. Spike wanted a look that would jump out and tell you you're somewhere else."

From American Cinematographer's 2006 article about Libatique's cinematography for Inside Man: "For example, when hostages are released, and at other moments of high tension in the film, Libatique encouraged [A-camera/Steadicam operator Stephen] Consentino to use progressively shorter shutter angles. 'You normally shoot with a 180-degree shutter, but we were going down to 90, 45 and even 22.5 degrees on the action scenes,' says the operator. The technique creates 'this feeling of frenetic action because it eliminates any motion blur that is normally in the shot. It gives you a very anxious feeling while you're watching the movie.'"

Libatique to American Cinematographer on shooting Black Swan in 16mm: "I think 16mm creates interesting texture, especially if you expose it correctly. Harris Savides [ASC] is probably the master of it; he's always pushing the negative so you can see it in a perfect way. One of my goals was to show the grain in a way that was craftsmanlike. I didn't want it to look underexposed; I wanted it to look like it was a choice, and I think that comes across."

Libatique to American Cinematographer on how he shaped his lighting philosophy for Black Swan: "Before we started the movie, Darren and I went to some stage plays in New York to see how theatrical-lighting designers dealt with live performance. In one off-Broadway play starring Scott Glenn, there was a scene where he walked up to a doorway and this fluorescent glow came on; I was struck by how simple and effective the lighting was, and I tried to apply that kind of approach to this movie."

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