The eye of the tiger

Christo­pher Doyle is the Mick Jag­ger of cam­era­men, as fa­mous for his wild­man an­tics as for his beau­ti­ful cin­e­matog­ra­phy. He talks to Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film -

NOT many cin­e­matog­ra­phers have a pub­lic per­sona. Proper film buffs will perk up when names such as James Wong Howe, Gregg Toland or Gor­don Wil­lis ap­pear on screen, but few would recog­nise any of th­ese direc­tors of pho­tog­ra­phy if they turned up on their doorsteps. Christo­pher Doyle is an ex­cep­tion to this un­happy pat­tern of ob­scu­rity.

Famed for his prodi­gious booz­ing and his en­thu­si­asm for the flesh­pots, Doyle, a 44-year-old Aus­tralian, long res­i­dent in Hong Kong, has shot such films as Wong Kar-Wai’s In the Mood for Love, Chen Kaige’s Temptress Moon, Phillip Noyce’s Rab­bit-Proof Fence and, now, Gus Van Sant’s Para­noid Park. He is known for knock­ing to­gether im­pro­vised stilts, at­tach­ing the cam­era to elas­tic and, more im­por­tantly, for pro­duc­ing images of lu­mi­nous beauty. It is, how­ever, im­pos­si­ble to talk to him with­out en­coun­ter­ing Chris the Rev­eller.

There is no Thai mas­sage here, he says, glanc­ing gloomily round the foyer of the Ed­in­burgh Sher­a­ton. There is one across the road though. Maybe we should go there and talk. Heh, heh, heh! Stringy in his limbs and slightly bat­tered round the edges, Doyle is to­day suf­fer­ing from a pretty nasty cold.

Though he once sug­gested he would like to be­come the Mick Jag­ger of cin­e­matog­ra­phy, he now looks more like the gui­tarist of Mick’s fa­mous band. One won­ders if, like the Stones, Chris has now, against all his worst in­stincts, be­come part of the es­tab­lish­ment. He is, af­ter all, the most fa­mous light­ing cam­era­man in the world. Hav­ing es­tab­lished his name dur­ing a long part­ner­ship with Wong Kar-Wai, Doyle finds him­self at the top of ev­ery di­rec­tor’s wish list.

“Michael Mann and David Fincher have both asked me to work with them,” he says. “But I was talk­ing to Har­ris Sa­vides, who worked with Fincher on Zo­diac. He said to me: ‘He [Fincher] knows ex­actly what he wants. Why does he even need a cin­e­matog­ra­pher?’ What’s the point of that? I wouldn’t rule out work­ing with Mann or Fincher if we had some kind of rap­port. I don’t go on blind dates. Do you? At least you want to meet them on­line. Heh heh!”

Then Chris goes on to be­rate those cin­e­matog­ra­phers who take work on telly just to sup­port their ex­trav­a­gant life­styles. It’s all about money, ap­par­ently. But, for all his des­per­ate at­tempts to seem like a cin­e­matic tramp, Doyle must have tons of loot. Two years ago, he shot The Lady in the Wa­ter for M Night Shya­malan. Such jobs do not pay in bot­tle tops.

“Mm­mmm!” he pon­ders. “Well, talk to my land­lord. Why am I six months be­hind in my rent?” I hon­estly can’t imag­ine.

“Look, I don’t talk about such things. I don’t want to go there, be­cause I think you live the way you de­serve. The choices you make, whether any­one knows about them, you have to make for your­self. There are cer­tain im­pli­ca­tions to the choices I have made that res­onate fi­nan­cially. I don’t own any­thing, for ex­am­ple. Well, a few books. That’s it. Hunger is a very creative force.”

All very puz­zling. One is tempted to view Doyle, for all his prodi­gious gifts, as an ir­re­spon­si­ble teenager. That would, how­ever, be un­fair. He has al­ways been as­sid­u­ous in sup­port­ing younger cam­er­ap­er­sons and makes fre­quent trips to Ire­land to work on avant-garde in­stal­la­tions.

A glance at the hyp­notic Para­noid Park, a tale of skate­board­ers in Port­land, Ore­gon, con­firms that he still has a very sin­gu­lar eye. There is, in short, sub­stance to the bo­hemian pos­tur­ing. But I still can’t be­lieve he goes hun­gry that of­ten.

“Well, if I am­preach­ing a cer­tain gospel, I have to live by it. I have to live the way I talk.”

Sweet­ness and light: cin­e­matog­ra­pher Chris Doyle on the set of Para­noid Park

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