[Right] with dir Gus Van Sant - "Milk"

Photo by Phil Bray [2008]

               

 HARRIS SAVIDES

Born: 28 September 1957, New York City, N.Y., USA.

Died: 9 October 2012, New York City, N.Y., USA.

Education: School of Visual Arts, New York City [SVA] [Film & Still Photography].

Career: Started his career as fashion photographer in Milan, Paris and New York. Became doph on commercials dir by Traktor [for Nike], Alfonso Cuarón [for PBS], Gus Van Sant, Rocky Morton [for Honda], David Kellogg [for Intel], Paul Hunter, David Fincher, a.o. Ph music videos [see below].

Was a member of the ASC since 1999.

Awards: MTV Video Music Award [1993] for 'Rain'; MTV Video Music Award [1994] for 'Everybody Hurts'; MTV Video Music Award [1998] for 'Criminal'; MVPA Award nom [2000] for 'I Try'; Independent Spirit Award nom [2002] & NYFCC Award [2003] for 'Gerry'; Independent Spirit Award nom [2003] & NYFCC Award [2003] for 'Elephant'; MTV Video Music Award nom [2005] for 'Speed of Sound'; Independent Spirit Award nom [2006] for 'Last Days'; BAFTA Film Award nom [2007] for 'American Gangster'; Independent Spirit Award nom [2008] for 'Milk'; Plus Camerimage 'Cinematographer-Director Duo Award' [2012; posthumously; with dir Gus Van Sant].


'I light a room and let the people inhabit it, as opposed to lighting the people,' says 'Birth' cinematographer Harris Savides, explaining his philosophy of illumination. 'It's more organic. You want to protect the people you're working with, and there's a constant battle between the best light for their face and the best light for the story. You don't want to get to the point where the audience notices the light.' The New York–based SVA graduate describes his latest partnership, with 'Birth' director Jonathan Glazer, as a product of trust and guesswork. 'It's kind of like the Wong Kar-wai process,' says Savides, who shot Wong's BMW short 'The Follow'. 'Jon's always trying to surprise himself - he told me afterwards that he'd improvised the whole thing. He showed me some films but was careful to say that we were not to take anything specific from it. I remember we watched Robert Bresson's 'Au hasard Balthazar'. Savides says that even though Glazer wanted the movie to be somber, he had trouble articulating the visual style. 'Finally, we saw one location photo - the lobby of the Waldorf-Astoria, dark marble and warm colors. And Jon just said, "That's it."' The otherworldly pall of 'Birth', Savides says, was achieved by lighting from overhead and through muslin, and 'we also had to underexpose the film quite a bit.'

After getting his start in the European fashion world, Savides shot a few visually striking movies and a string of iconic music videos. But he's best-known for his recent Gus Van Sant collaborations: 'Gerry', which pays tribute to the mystical powers of the long take, and 'Elephant', in which the signature shot - a spectral Steadicam glide from behind - deftly conflates an eerie horror movie trope and an empathetic documentary one. Savides also shot Van Sant's just completed Kurt Cobain movie, 'Last Days', and credits the director with inspiring his new 'story-based' approach. 'After working with Gus, I can't go back to just loving the visuals,' he says. 'On one level, I don't want the work to be photographic. But I'd also have trouble doing a comedy, where there's so much that needs to be delivered verbally. It's about having an opportunity to tell the story without words.' [From article by Dennis Lim in 'The Village Voice', 2004.]

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Obituary 'Harris Savides, Visual Poet, Dies at 55': Harris Savides, one of America's most respected cinematographers, who helped directors like Woody Allen, Ridley Scott, Noah Baumbach, Sofia Coppola, David Fincher and especially Gus Van Sant achieve the visual expressivity they sought, died on Tuesday in Manhattan. He was 55. The cause was brain cancer, said his wife, Medine.

A onetime fashion photographer who later shot music videos for the likes of Madonna and Michael Jackson, Mr. Savides began working in feature films in the mid-1990s. He soon took a turn toward the subtle, sublimating the visual flash of runway shows and rock 'n' roll to serve the sensibility of auteur directors. Known as a lighting expert and someone with a gift for talking and listening to directors, he became one of Hollywood's most sought-after collaborators.

"He was a complete rule-breaker," said Scott Rudin, who produced two of Mr. Savides's films with Mr. Baumbach. "He'd light anything to make a scene work, never paid attention to conventional wisdom and did not know from self-doubt."

From the shadowy, noirish affects of Mr. Fincher's thriller 'The Game' to the languid naturalism of Mr. Van Sant's 'Elephant'; from the bleached-out Los Angeles of Ms. Coppola's alienated movie-star study 'Somewhere' to the same city's suffocating, smoggy greenery in 'Greenberg'; from the muted colors of Harlem in Mr. Scott's violent 'American Gangster' to the burnished Greenwich Village in Mr. Allen's 'Whatever Works', Mr. Savides helped directors achieve their imaginings - and underscore their essential character.

"He made the films totally what they should have been," Mr. Baumbach said in an interview Thursday. "We would sit together and I'd talk about how I imagined the movie looking and feeling. In 'Margot', I said I wanted a feeling of being indoors in a house with a lot of windows when you've been inside for a while and the sun has gone down and you realize you're sitting in a dark room. It wasn't necessarily a scene in the movie, just a feeling for the movie. And he'd go off and do tests, and when I looked at the tests, it was as though the feeling had been translated into pictures."

The only child of immigrants from Cyprus, Mr. Savides [pronounced suh-VEE-dis] was born on Sept. 28, 1957, in Manhattan and grew up in the Bronx. His father, Savas, was a short-order cook; his mother, Eleni, did clerical work for a publisher. Young Harris attended public and private schools in New York and a military academy in Virginia - his high school career was "checkered," his wife said - and studied at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan.

Mr. Savides met Mr. Van Sant in the mid-1990s, when they made a Levi's commercial together. Mr. Van Sant said in an interview on Thursday that he had been struck by Mr. Savides's willingness "to think along with me" and to help him confound the expectations of moviegoers.

Mr. Van Sant said that Mr. Savides had eschewed a strong visual style of his own, though he had preferences: "He liked the blacks to be not fully black, to have a milky, filmy quality, and he liked the light part of an image not to be fully blown out, not just gone complete white, so if someone was wearing a white dress in a window, there would still be details in the dress. He would say the word 'creamy'. He liked a creamy image."

In addition to his wife, the former Medine Chenet, whom he met at a Manhattan dance club in 1979 and married in 1983, Mr. Savides is survived by their daughter, Sophie.

Mr. Savides often said that as he got older he grew less interested in effects that drew attention to the photography in a film and away from the narrative. "I'm always wary of the fact of making things too beautiful and too photographic," he said to the online magazine Cine-Fils in 2009, adding, "Some of the most beautiful movies I've seen haven't been very good." [From article by Bruce Weber in 'The New York Times', October 12, 2012.]



 FILMS

1993

Cindy Crawford: The Next Challenge Workout [Peter Care] c/V; 60m; + co-c.op; 2uc (+ scenic painter & graphic des): Doug Aitken

1994

Heaven's Prisoners [Phil Joanou] c; uwph: Pete Romano; aph: Phil Bowen & Phil Pastuhov

1994

Se7en [David Fincher] s35/c; addph; ph: Darius Khondji; + small part

1996

The Game [David Fincher] s35/c; 2uc: Jeff Cronenweth; aph: Dylan Gross; + small part

1997

Illuminata [John Turturro] c

1998

The Yards [James Gray] p/c

2000

The Follow [Wong Kar-wai] s35/c; short/6m; ep of internet film series 'The Hire' for carmaker BMW

2000

Finding Forrester [Gus Van Sant] p/c

2000

Chop Suey [Bruce Weber] b&w-c; doc/98m; co-addph; ph: Lance Acord, Douglas Cooper, Jim Fealy & Jeff Preiss

2001

Gerry [Gus Van Sant] J-D-C Scope/c

2002

Elephant [Gus Van Sant] c; time-lapse ph: Eric Alan Edwards

2003

Birth [Jonathan Glazer] c

2004

Last Days [Gus Van Sant] c

2005

Zodiac [David Fincher] HD (Thomson VIPER)+s35-to-35mm scope (+ D-Cinema)/c; uncred addph: Claudio Miranda

2006

Margot at the Wedding [Noah Baumbach] c; uwph: David Knox

[Right] with Ridley Scott - "American Gangster" - photo by David Lee

2006

American Gangster [Ridley Scott] 35mm (+ D-Cinema)/c; uncred 2uc (+ 2ud): Alexander Witt

2007

The Key to Reserva/La clave reserva [Martin Scorsese] c; comm short/9m20s; addph: Ellen Kuras; for Freixenet Group

2008

Milk [Gus Van Sant] s35+16mm-to-35mm/c

[Left] with Woody Allen - "Whatever Works" - photo by Jessica Miglio

2008

Whatever Works [Woody Allen] c

2009

Greenberg [Noah Baumbach] s35 (+ D-Cinema)/c

[Left] with Sofia Coppola - "Somewhere" - photo by Franco Biciocchi

2009

Somewhere [Sofia Coppola] s35-to-35mm (+ D-Cinema)/c; uwph: Pete Romano

2009

Restless [Gus Van Sant] 35mm (+ D-Cinema)/c

2010

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close [Stephen Daldry] announced as doph, but became ill several weeks before shooting started; film was ph by Chris Menges in 2011

2010

George Harrison: Living in the Material World [Martin Scorsese; doc] co-c.op; ph: Robert Richardson & Martin Kenzie; filming started late 2007; premiered in 2-parts on HBO-tv (2011)

2012

The Bling Ring [Sofia Coppola] RED-to-35mm (+ D-Cinema)/c; cph: Christopher Blauvelt (finished film after H. Savides became ill and had to leave partway through shooting); 2uc: Jason McCormick


 TELEVISION

1991

The Investigator [Matthew Tabak] tvm/23m; ep of Showtime-tv series '30-Minute Movie'

1992

Lake Consequence [Rafael Eisenman] tvm

1995

Robbie Robertson: Going Home [Findlay Bunting] mus special/70m; addph: Jeff Cronenweth


 MUSIC VIDEOS [Selection]

1992

Goin' Out West [a: Tom Waits; d: Jesse Dylan]

1993

Everybody Hurts [a: R.E.M.; d: Jake Scott]

1993

Rain [a: Madonna; d: Mark Romanek]

1994

Closer [a: Nine Inch Nails; d: Mark Romanek]

1995

Bedtime Story [a: Madonna; d: Mark Romanek]

1995

Scream [a: Michael & Janet Jackson; d: Mark Romanek]

1995

Like a Rolling Stone [a: The Rolling Stones; d: Michel Gondry]

1997

Criminal [a: Fiona Apple; d: Mark Romanek]

1999

Little Trouble Girl [a: Sonic Youth; d: Mark Romanek] shot on High-8 Video

1999

I Try [a: Macy Gray; d: Mark Romanek]

2001

I Might Be Wrong [a: Radiohead; d: Sophie Muller]

2005

Speed of Sound [a: Coldplay; d: Mark Romanek]

2007

Desecration Smile [a: Red Hot Chili Peppers; d: Gus Van Sant]


 MISCELLANEOUS

1979

Don't Go in the House [Joseph Ellison] co-prod asst; ph: Oliver Wood

1980

Fist of Fear, Touch of Death [Matthew Mallinson; doc] key grip; ph: John Hazard