What I’ve Got: The Cinematography of Harris Savides

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In the 1990s music video boom – – wherein onetime music video directors David Fincher, Jonathan Glazer, Spike Jonze, Chris Cunningham, & Michel Gondry employed visual language that would later transcend beyond on the silver screen – one cinematographer stood out from the rest. The late Harris Savides, a onetime fashion photographer, worked with the best directors of the bunch and managed to flex visual chops in his work for Madonna and Michael Jackson. Thanks to his unique visual panache, Savides was one of the rare cinematographers to break out from lensing music videos & land coveted positions photographing major motion pictures. 

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In one such film, Jonathan Glazer’s BIRTH, Savides opted to lens a wintery Upper West Side with a painterly, Van Gogh-like “creamy” quality.

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 As quoted by director Gus Van Sant in an interview with the New York Times, “Savides 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. Otherwise there was no way to tell whether it was Harris.”

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In a critical scene in BIRTH, Savides chooses to let the camera linger on Kidman’s face for nearly three uninterrupted minutes. Rather than attempting to “wow” the audience with his one-take (a la the work of Emmanuel Lubezki), Savies simply lets the camera sit on Kidman’s face. The result is truly spellbinding. 

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