A feature story of CCC's talk by Christopher Doyle
Two of the photos Chris gave CCC from
his photography showing and talk
Setting the Mood
The Aussie cinematographer who has lent his style to directors as far-flung as Wong Kar-wai and Gus Van Sant flips out over filmmaking, art and inspiring the people of Beijing.
Christopher Doyle is a behind-the-scene guy and you wouldn't necessarily recognize him even when you come face to face with him in some of his favourite bars in Beijing. But you certainly wouldn't miss his hyperactive, colourful and atmospheric camera work in Wong Kar-wai's In the Mood for Love and Chunking Express, Zhang Yimou's Hero and Chen Kaige's Temptress Moon, whose images linger in one's mind long after the movies. He's worked so much with the giants of Asian cinema and won so many awards in Hong Kong and Taiwan film festivals that he identified himself as an Asian filmmaker and claimed to be a "Chinese with a skin disease."
Beijing director Zhang Yuan's new movie, Lu Cha (Green Tea) -starring Jiang Wen and Zhao Wei-has had Doyle in the capital since May. Despite his busy shooting schedule, he found time to attend his old buddy Cui Jian's rock talk on May 30, coming away extremely impressed with the event's concept. Doyle was taken not only by the fact that there are people in Beijing who care deeply enough about art to attend such an event, but also by the idea that artists can play a part in demystifying their art.
"Chinese art is especially relevant these days," said Doyle. "The key is to have a space where artists can communicate with ordinary people." Acting on his new realization, Doyle decided to hold Space of a Film-part art talk, part party-atop an island in Shi Cha Hai, an upcoming happening guaranteed to shake up the otherwise peaceful Hou Hai 'hood. Doyle will discuss his work, show a few clips from his films and exhibit some of his photographs. "I'll only talk for two minutes," he pledged, "then we'll party."
The lack of channels of communication between audience and artist has long frustrated Doyle, and it is his goal to use "Space of a Film" to reduce this distance and let the people in on the process of producing art.
"People tend to take fame for granted," he observed, and was quick to point out that fame doesn't come overnight. "While it's natural that people tend to look at the result instead of the process, there are many difficulties and obstacles along the way." And the audience's misunderstanding is not the only source of problems. Artists, too, occasionally hold the wrong attitude. "Some famous artists, when approached, say things like, 'if you want to interview me, you'll have to pay me for my time,' which is very discouraging to the up-and-comers. I'd like to use this talk to encourage young people to realize that anybody can be an artist."
Doyle also pointed out that art does not come easily. "You have to work from the very beginning," which is how 'Super' Chris-a name he calls himself -got to where he is today. A self-trained cinematographer and accomplished photographer, Doyle slowly worked his way up to international recognition. He attributes his silver-screen success to his rich pre-industry experiences and the relationships that developed among those whom he worked with. He left his hometown of Sydney at 18 to be a sailor and found odd jobs in Israel, Thailand and India, finally picking up a camera in his late 20s while living in Taiwan. His passion for film is matched only by his love of Hong Kong, where he spent 20 years making movies-and quite a name for himself.
Doyle' first real film gig came when his friend, director Edward Yang, asked him to help out on his feature debut That Day, On the Beach (1983). Doyle then worked on eight of Wong Kar-wai's films, including Chungking Express (1994), Fallen Angels (1995) and In the Mood for Love (2000). He's made a few forays into Hollywood-the most prominent of which was Gus Van Sant's poorly received 1998 remake of the classic horror film Psycho.
The process of achieving fame, he said, is like coming up with an original idea that can only evolve over an extended period of time. An idea comes about as a result of one's life experiences, money, love and people-and drinking, he didn't hesitate to add. In the Mood for Love was a perfect example of this, he said, as it inspired copycats who were unable to capture the essence of the original. "Creative ideas are born as a solution to a situation. For example, we Australians invented the screw top so we could drink beer faster. Ideas are all about people."
Art too, he adds, is about people and is influenced by social context. "China is moving into a wonderful period in its history," the old China hand in him observed. "What's happening to China is amazing. It's easy for Chinese artists, but at the same time, it's easy for young people to get lost. Today's Chinese youth are living in a wealthy and comfortable environment. With 'Space of a Film', I hope to inspire people to look beyond this."
Doyle insists that Asia in general is experiencing an exciting period, pointing to the fact that instead of Asian filmmakers looking westward for ideas, the opposite is occurring. The positive energy that abounds in the East is attracting Western filmmakers who have run out of original ideas and can do little more than produce sequels. "Why do you think Quentin Tarantino is making his movie in Beijing? He knows the energy is here." Doyle first noticed that Western filmmakers were paying attention to Asian movies when he finished shooting Ashes of Time (1994) in Hong Kong. But that was almost 10 years ago, and Doyle doesn't see the Asian culture boom lasting forever. In order to maintain its character in the face of financial temptation and Hollywood interference, he stresses, it is imperative that the Asian film industry does not sell out or lose its sense of self.
Christopher Doyle talks like he shoots, jumping from one topic to another while constantly cracking jokes through our one-hour conversation. But the mood changed when he was asked about his dream project. "I want to make a movie as pure and music-like as Blue, which was created while the director, Derek Jarman, was losing his eyesight and could only see in blue because of his medication." While previously joking about poultry farming and happily hyping his July event, Doyle shed tears at the beauty of his dream film. Has he done anything that resembled Blue in any way? "The first image from any of my films feels like Blue." And the rest? "I don't know. I always fall asleep after a few minutes."