MICHAEL BELCHER’S 5 FAVOURITE FILMS – TEXT LUKE BATHER
Based in New York, the setting of a thousand films and a million music videos, Michael Belcher is a DP working to show cityscapes from a refreshing perspective. From his work with Danny Brown in the excellent video for Grown Up, to the gorgeous and immersive world of the Pretty Lights video for Around The Block, he constantly looks for new ways to view familiar subjects without letting it seem rehashed. We here at Word Is Cheap wanted to know what made him tick, and here’s what he had to say.
“Scarecrow” (1973) directed by Jerry Schatzberg
I’ve been thinking a lot about friendship lately. It’s so magical. How does it actually happen? People go on and on about love, but friendship is absolutely the burning sun of any love I’ve known. And in Scarecrow, you can witness the alchemy of friendship as the two main characters react to one another and change one another as they begin to trust one another. Pacino is fresh-faced and hilarious, and Hackman delivers a gold-standard drunken scene. Hats off to Jerry Schatzberg for sheparding a great script, and to Vilmos Zsigmond for framing the scenes beautifully and simply, letting many scenes play out in wide long takes where nothing distracts from the moment. It’s good, honest filmmaking, and the emotions land with the weight of reality.
“American Beauty” (1999) directed by Sam Mendes
American Beauty was the first film that made me seriously consider becoming a filmmaker. The satire just blew me away, the way it peeled the face off of society and pointed at the untidy truth of our desires and vulnerability. Being a teenager at the time, it was a huge relief to see those themes in the mainstream. And Conrad Hall’s contributions were incredible. He used so many visual devices (slow motion, zoom lenses, mixed formats, handheld, theatrical lighting, etc) to enrich the content without distracting the audience. The word Masterpiece definitely comes to mind. And it’s also worth mentioning Nathaniel Dorsky in this context, since he likely inspired the invention of the Ricky Fitts character. His body of work is also not to be missed.
“Silent Light” (2007) directed by Carlos Reygadas Barguín
Silent Light is one of my biggest visual inspirations. Part documentary. Part homage. Totally gorgeous. I honestly don’t know how Carlos Reygadas made this film. It’s full of powerful camera moves and daring exposures, and while some of the emotional beats are clunky, as documentary and fiction entangle, the film contains some of my very favorite on-screen moments.
“Hunger” (2008) directed by Steve McQueen
Hunger might be perfect. Holy shit. It is equally artful and accessible, and the historical significance hits like a sack of batteries. I love the formal discipline of the systematic camera movements, symmetrical compositions, and very long takes, because these things don’t detract from the realism. The formal rigor actually enhances the realism and helps the audience empathize with characters on both sides of the conflict. In this way, the filmmakers managed to push the medium forward without leaving the audience behind. That’s the dream.
“Pina” (2011) directed by Wim Wenders
Even though this documentary is tastefully made and technically interesting, I’m really only paying attention to the film’s subject: choreographer Pina Bausch. The film was my introduction to her work, and she’s so important to me that I put the film in my top 5 simply because it gives me access to her work. In terms of expressiveness and emotional specificity, her choreography makes language look completely inadequate. Every time I watch the film, I cry my eyes out – her movements and interactions reveal such deep truth. And the filmmaking does a great job of presenting her genius to a broader audience. Thank you Wim Wenders.