Monday, September 25, 2006

More on Nykvist

In the comments section of Alok's blog, I'd made a remark about how I remember the great cinematographer. I hasten to clarify that I've never met him; after all most of our encounters with those behind the camera remains with their work.

The only time I've ever seen Sven Nykvist was in the film made by the Swedish Film Institute called Directed By Andrei Tarkovsky (Directed by Michal Leszcylowski, who was his editor on Sacrifice). In this film, in the final sequence, a house burns down, utterly and completely. The crew had prepared and rehearsed for this; there were tracks, lots of people and much coordination required. During the take -- all of this was being documented by Leszcylowski -- Nykvist was showing signs of some distress. The house, in the meanwhile, had caught rather nicely and was beginning to burn. Soon, it became apparent that more than some minor thing had gone wrong; the film in the camera had got stuck and none of the apocalyptic destruction was being recorded.

Picture Nykvist: a giant of a man, hanging his head in shame while being berated by Tarkovsky, who is a whole head shorter than him.

This is how Tarkovsky recounts the incident:

"We had no technical or other problems during shooting, until one moment near the end, when all our efforts seemed on the point of coming to nothing. Suddenly, in the scene in which Alexander sets fire to his house-a single take lasting six and a half minutes-the camera broke down. We discovered it only after the entire building was ablaze, burning to the ground as we looked on. We couldn't put the fire out and we couldn't take a single 5hot; four expensive months of intense hard work for nothing. And then, in a matter of days, a new house had been built, identical to the first one. It seemed like a miracle, and it proved what people can do when they are driven by conviction-and not just people, but the producers themselves, the superpeople."

Am I being gleeful? Far from it. It would be simplistic to look at this in terms of ordinary human failing; but when you think of the perfection of the images in, say, Persona or Autumn Sonata, an incident like this one makes the achievement of that perfection more poignant.

I was pointed to this link by Praba Mahajan after she stumbled upon my blog. Thanks, Praba.

Do please go and read. I will quote from it later, since The U. of Calgary site is temporarily down.

1 comment:

Batul said...

Yes, I remember that incident so well in the film. It's just one of those things that leave you gasping for breath, specially when you've seen the film earlier, and know the final result.