TIM SIDELL'S 5 FAVOURITE FILMS - TEXT LUKE TIERNEY
Although Tim works across a vast number of moving image industries it is his music video work that has really caught the eye at Word Is Cheap. Who can forget the Jamie-James Medina x King Krule Alfred Hitchcock classic as well as the experimental Alt-J 'Every Other Freckle'. Tim has a touch of the smooth and contemporary especially if you're into breaking new ground making him a favourite for London's cool kids.
The alternative love to be individual and this is easily the most diverse list of favourites we've seen yet on DOPs Favourite Films. A list that inspires and surprises made for both film buffs and enthusiasts alike. Of course Bladerunner has made the top 5 but it is backed up by foreign classics and modern outings. Prepare to learn from the man who can't do things by halves, Mr. Tim Sidell.
"Stalker" (1979) directed by Andrei Tarkovsky
I was blown away during my first Tarkovksy outing (Andrei Rubliev) despite seeing it widescreen on VHS on a small TV (a vertical resolution of a whopping 100 lines...). I then saw Stalker. I was immediately struck by Takovsky's approach to science fiction: nothing happens within the world of the film that would not be possible under the normal laws of physics and there are no special or visual effects, and yet the sense of an alien presence is palpable. The protagonist pleads with his subjects to abide by the obscure rules of the world they enter just as Tarkovksy asks the viewer to also believe them. The intelligence with which he credits his audience is astounding.
The cinematography is on another level, though I don't find it possible to separate the work of Tarkovksy and the DoP's work in any of his films. The film starts in grainy black and white which amplifies the ruin and lack of hope in the setting's industrial landscape. This sequence culminates in perhaps the most incredible tracking shot portrait I have seen: as three men sit on a motorised railway cart and the sound design becomes progressively warped, Tarkovsky introduces us to his characters with intense detail and humanity that each appears to have endured a journey just in those few minutes. Once they arrive, the zone is revealed in colour though somehow the change is barely noticeable. The wetness and weirdness is beautifully captured and the choreography of the characters' and the camera's movement is quietly disorientating.
Tarkovsky took the philiosphical content of the original book (Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky) so much further in Stalker and his vision throughout this film is breathtaking - the precision and craft in the long tracking shots perhaps even more so.
"Dead Man" (1995) directed by Jim Jarmusch
Robby Muller is one of my favourite cinematographers and the films of Wim Venders and Jim Jarmusch that were shot by Muller are among my favourites in each case. With Wenders this would be Paris, Texas and with Jarmusch the incredible and beautiful Down By Law might just be beaten by Deadman.
The film begins with William Blake (Johnny Depp) on a train that could be on it's way through purgatory. He is utterly incongruous in his surroundings and the adventure that follows. The creativity and individuality of all HoDs is staggering and their seamless collaboration - under the direction of Jarmusch - even more so. This film is wonderfully imaginative, defining of style and defying of genre. In addition to Muller's contribution, the production design (Bob Ziembicki) and costume design (Marit Allen) stand out alongside Neil Young's incredibly atmospheric score. The casting also: Depp is carried through the film's progressively spiritual world by "Nobody" (Gary Farmer) while other characters are played by Crispin Glover, Lance Henriksen, John Hurt, Billy Bob Thornton, Robert Mitchum, Iggy Pop and Gabriel Byrne.
This film is on my list because of it's individuality, distinction and tone. There is black humour throughout and this is supported by a surrealism in the story which in turn is stunningly portrayed by Muller's black and white photography. The camera floats beside Blake like his own spirit ready to depart and is somehow always in the right place, moving in the right way and on the right lens such that there is never any undue awareness of it's presence. Muller and Jarmusch are completely in control yet hardly present.
"Come & See" (1985) directed by Elem Klimov
Early on in this incredible film, a naively proud Belarussian teenager marches up and down the wooden floors of his family's home, desperately hoping to go to war to fight for his country. We go on to share his experience of the Nazi invasion of Belarus - almost through his eyes - which is devastating. The horrors that the boy witnesses gradually erode his soul and humanity: his fervour at the outset is overridden by disbelief, futility and ultimately absence until there is nothing left but a carcass of a person. It's like a portrait of an individual - and by extension a whole nation - beaten down irretrievably. The film is a tour de force, but the stand out element to me would be the series of harrowing frontal close ups that capture the boy's transformation. The boy (and sometimes the girl he shares part of this journey with) stare back at us, but somehow through and beyond us. This kind of subjectivity would often be approached through over-the-shoulder shots, but here we are confronted face to face like a mirror which elicits our own reflection.
Elem Klimov was beyond uncompromising as a director and his actors and extras suffered in the making of the film, and this reads: the 35mm print itself feels wet, sodden and broken just as the subjects within it. The 4:3 aspect ratio creates an intimacy with the boy which perfectly counters the scale of war. The subjective sound design makes the film even more punishing.
"Elephant" (2003) directed by Gus Van Sant
A decade ago (when I was drawing, painting and making video installations) I was convinced that every piece of work would have it's own ideal form which I just needed to find. Elephant is the ideal form of it's starting point - an impression of what might have happened in that US High School when two teenagers entered in combat kit with automatic weapons. It's an exquisite and beautifully shot piece by one of my favourite directors and perhaps my favourite cinematographer, the late Harris Savides. The film's long unbroken steadicam takes brilliantly realise the individual students' subjective viewpoints and the elliptical structure establishes multiplicity. The film never dares to offer answers or explanation, but instead proposes questions and hands over to the viewer to reflect on them. Harris Savides' lens choices; camera placement & movement, handling of exposure and colour - his total visual language - is sublime and he works effortlessly and seamlessly with Gus Van Sant. Pure, gorgeous cinema.
"Bladerunner" (1982) directed by Ridley Scott
Not an uncommon choice for a cinematographer, but if asked to site the one film that got me hooked it would have to be Bladerunner. The film defined what I thought cinema should be and to a point, still does. Perhaps more of a triumph of production design than narrative, the atmosphere and detail of the world Ridley Scott created was so much more complete than anything else I'd seen.
Unlike Tarkovksy's Stalker, Bladerunner concentrates less on the philosophical questioning of the book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and instead on the visualisation of Philip K Dick's wild imagination. The use of miniatures and visual effects is breathtaking and their integration with live action - shot brilliantly by Jordan Cronenweth - still stuns. But perhaps more than anything, it's the techniques used to create atmosphere that make the film so distinctive and iconic. In every scene art dept and lighting combine to develop some sort of additional visual treatment that completes the dystopian vision by making the incredible production design feel not just lived in, but no longer lived in. Whether through lighting, haze, rain, frost or translucent layers, there is a layer of filth and detritus that makes the futurism familiar and the world all the more captivating.