Christopher Doyle Interview

I came across this Fall 2005 Filmmaker interview with Christopher Doyle when he was in the NYC area, shooting M. Night Shyamalan's Lady In The Water. First, the introduction:

Save for Gregg Toland and perhaps Vittorio Storaro, no cinematographer in history has achieved the kind of iconic status as the kind currently enjoyed by Chris Doyle. An Australian by birth, Doyle has lived in Asia for nearly 30 years, and his work has largely defined the look of new Asian cinema. Best known for his collaborations with Wong Kar-wai on such films as Chungking Express, Happy Together and In the Mood for Love (which won him the Technical Grand Prize at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival), Doyle is equally comfortable with a handheld camera as he is with meticulously composed, static imagery. Yet despite the variation in technique, Doyle still manages to leave an indelible authorial stamp on every one of his films, even though it's nearly impossible to say why Zhang Yimou's archly formal Hero and Wong's hyperactive Fallen Angels both feel like a Chris Doyle shot movie except for the fact that his mastery is apparent in every shot. He's also directed one feature, 1999's Away With Words.

As befits the title of the article (The Wild Man), Christopher Doyle minces no words when it comes to his thoughts on Asian Cinema and the state of US independent films. An excerpt:

FILMMAKER: You are currently working on a U.S. film. Is there a fundamental difference in the process of filmmaking between the U.S. and Asia?

DOYLE: No. I think the real difference is the level of energy. In Asia now it's like the Australian new wave, the cinema novo in Brazil, the French new wave. Why? Because there was this confluence of intent and economics, and all those elements sort of matched up at that time. What is strange in the west is - well, not strange I guess - is that people are lost. Let's be honest. [laughs] People are lost, whether you blame 9/11 or whether you blame the lack of education in schools. Whatever you blame it on, it doesn't matter. Whereas in Asia, people are finding their voice. It's been a long journey, you know. Everyone in China is on a roll, [laughs] there's no question.

And, he was just getting started:

FILMMAKER: Do you feel like you're in hostile territory right now?

DOYLE: You know, I was in Kazakhstan two weeks ago, and that was nothing. This is hostile territory, this is bullshit. I dont know if it should be said so bluntly, but [laughs] every people gets the government they deserve. Sorry, that’s a reality. The present climate in most of the western world is of course anti-artist, because the function of an artist is to open people's eyes, and that's not the function of a Texas oil-based meritocracy. Hello! And every single person in the real world looks at this, and that's why we make our films the way we do. Because you don't have the freedom, you don't have the integrity, you have to remake everything we've done anyway. I go to see Martin Scorsese, and I say, Don't you think I should tell you about the lenses? And he says, What do you mean? And I said, Well, you're remaking my film, which is Infernal Affairs. Infernal Affairs was probably written in one week, we shot it in a month and you're going to remake it! Ha ha, good luck! What the fuck is this about? I mean, come on. In other words, if you read The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, then you'd actually have a very clear idea [laughs] about what's really happening in the U.S. right now. So what do we do? You tell me.

FILMMAKER: Don't you think these bloated Hollywood films are an easy target? Do you watch any American independent film?

DOYLE: Does anybody? Hello! Come on. Come on, you can't be so naive that you don't know that the only thing they do in the U.S. is look at the box office. It's not a film industry anymore, it's an accounting department. [laughs] There's only two departments in American cinema - the insurance department and the accounting department. There are no filmmakers anymore.

FILMMAKER: You don't think so?

DOYLE: No, absolutely not.

FILMMAKER: There are no more filmmakers in America?

DOYLE: Uh-uh. If Martin Scorsese can make a piece of shit called The Aviator and then go on to remake a Hong Kong film, don't you think he's lost the plot? Think it through. "I need my Oscar, I need my fucking Oscar!" Are you crazy? There's not a single person in the Oscar voting department who's under 65 years old. They don't even know how to get online. They have no idea what the real world is about. They have no visual experience anymore. They have preoccupations. So why the fuck would a great filmmaker need to suck the dick of the Academy with a piece of shit called The Aviator? And now he has to remake our film? I mean this is bullshit. This is total bullshit. I love Marty, I think he's a great person. And the other one is Tarantino. Oh yeah, let's appropriate everything. Are you lost? Yes, you are lost.

Some parting words of advice:

DOYLE: I mean, I go to NYU, and all the teachers are there, and then they're interpreting what I say. I say, "Just do it. "And the teachers say, "What he really means is if you really work hard within the system, then you'll get somewhere." [laughs] So what can we do? Well, there's a lot we can do that is not expensive. You could send a DVD to your friends, it could be online, and you could be in all these film festivals. And just with a digital camera. In other words, you could even make a film with your bloody phone now, you know what I mean? [laughs] Isn't that fantastic in a certain way? It's so strange that young people are actually hedging their bets instead of just going out there and starting to do stuff. The only way that any of us became so-called filmmakers is by not hedging the bets, and trying, and then seeing if something works. Don't worry. Yeah, people can steal your ideas, but they're not going to steal your heart. [laughs] What are you going to do? Are you going to wait?
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- December 23, 2005 9:59 AM // Film , Politics