JANE EYRE and shooting the classics

I loved Cary Fukunaga’s recent take on the classic JANE EYRE. (He’s pictured above with his Director of Photography Adriano Goldman.) And in addition to the deft direction, Moira Buffini’s adaptation is searingly concise and dramatic – it never feels like a stuffed-to-the-gills adaptation. But what I really want to talk about here is the cinematography, which is revelatory. The last two ‘classic’ films I’ve seen, this and Jane Campion’s BRIGHT STAR (not classic literature but based on Andrew Motion’s biography of John Keats) have both blown me away in terms of visual approach. (See my post from fall ’10 on BRIGHT STAR here.) Both eschew traditional coverage and framing in service of something more dynamic – a fluid, organic camera approach that plays mightily with depth of field, creative frames, and in short, ways of seeing. (Or, the DP and crew are not just there to document or illuminate the actors. The camera absolutely dances with performance – enhancing, contrasting, participating, rejecting — story.) The effect? Something that feels more modern, more present, more emotionally important – it’s not homework, it’s art.

Past interpretations of classics have not been so lucky.  Joe Wright’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (2005) looked pretty much like you’d expect: locked down tight on the tripod, heads and shoulders, the camera only swooping around when there’s a cliff to soar over or a dancing couple to circle. I watched the trailer for Douglas McGrath’s EMMA (1996), and it feels very dated. The score is ‘of the time;’ the aesthetics are very “Upstairs Downstairs.” Even though EMMA brought something fresh in terms of content and performance, filmmakers remaking classics now are pushing even harder. And there’s an energy and vitality to the classics when the camera begins to behave in ways other than expected.

Fukunaga’s DP, a Brazilian talent named Adriano Goldman, often frame characters from behind. We peak through curtains, or from above. The camera speeds along a scraggy landscape filled with small and stubborn bushes that look nothing like an American impression of lush and garden-filled England. Focus is soft; it floats in and out.  Light is dappled, and often does not illuminate the protagonist. We can barely see them? Bravo!

Trailer here:

EMMA trailer here: