Interview With Roger Deakins About Shooting The Coens' 'The Man Who Wasn't There'

Roger Deakins is a man who needs no introduction. Arguably the most renowned cinematographer currently working, Deakins has burned vivid and unforgettable images into our cinema-going minds, having worked with some of the most respected directors of our time—including Martin Scorsese, John Sayles, Bob Rafelson, Norman Jewison and many others. He’s also lensed some of Joel and Ethan Coen’s best pictures, summoning indelible imagery from the nightmarish, Kafka-esque apartment complexes of “Barton Fink," the sleazy, delirious L.A. daydream of “The Big Lebowski” and the godless Texas frontier of “No Country for Old Men.” He was also behind the cameras for one of the brother’s most sadly overlooked efforts, “The Man Who Wasn’t There," a gorgeous, sullen, 1950’s-era drama about a taciturn barber who gets mixed up in some real bad business. The movie doesn’t traffic in the splashy violence or broad comedy that characterizes some of the Coens' other pictures, but it is a subdued and compelling film, made all the more watchable by Deakins’ inky, alluring and staggeringly beautiful black-and-white cinematography. For those curious viewers desiring a deeper look into the film’s visual conception, here is a fascinating in-depth interview with Mr. Deakins himself about his work on the film.

Deakins touches on a number of interesting topics here: the virtues of black-and-white photography, the process of successfully transporting an audience into the past and the peculiar rituals of working with Joel and Ethan Coen. He also discusses the “seamless” nature of his preferred working method, and how shots that call attention to themselves can sometimes distract from the film as a whole as the audience watches. Listening to Deakins talk about his craft is almost intoxicating—he’s a calm, articulate and deeply thoughtful man who has a frighteningly preternatural understanding of both the art of photography and how said art services a cinematic narrative. All of Deakins’ collaborations with the Coens—even purportedly minor films like “The Ladykillers” and “A Serious Man”—feel like fully lived-in and fleshed-out worlds, each with their own distinct rhythms and set of rules. “The Man Who Wasn’t There” is one of Deakins’ most visually evocative pictures—a brooding melting pot of commie-era paranoia, shadowy Chandlerian noir and typical pitch-black Coen humor, with dashes of domestic melodrama and even a little sci-fi thrown in for good measure. This interview goes deep into Deakins’ mastery of his craft and it’s both absorbing and deeply informative.

Deakins recently wrapped principal photography on Angelina Jolie’s WWII drama “Unbroken”—a project that the Coens have actually done a few rewrites on—which now has a December 25th release date.


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