In a recent feature, Vulture sat down with Janusz Kaminski to discuss some of the best images he’s created for Steven Spielberg movies.
While I’m far from a Spielberg enthusiast, I also don’t subscribe to the school that sees him as the single responsible party for all things bad about American films. And, in truth, for the past decade Spielberg has given us some if the most compelling movies. Munich, Minority Report, A.I., War of the Worlds, and Lincoln all stand as adventurous and textured stories. They are muscular, consumable endeavors that also have a heart reminiscent of far smaller films. With the exceptions of E.T. and Jaws, I’d say with confidence that Spielberg has made far more interesting films in the past wo decades than in his first two.
It’s not a coincidence that in 1993 Spielberg began collaborating with brilliant cinematographer Janusz Kaminski. Kaminski’s euro-vibe blend of dramatic shadows, reflective foreground elements, and fearless practical lights added a dimension of authenticity that had been missing from most of Spielberg’s oeuvre. The cartoonish framing that plagued the director’s 80s movies would be replaced by thoughtful, significant, and meaningful frames from Schindler’s List on. Just a quick comparison of paused images in two like-minded films – one shot by Kaminski and one by another cinematographer – and the differences will be immediately apparent. Try American Gangster and Munich, for instance. Kaminski likely will – and probably should – win the Oscar for Best Cinematography. It would be his third.
In The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, perhaps an even greater example of Kaminski’s genius, the cinematographer quite literally went inside the mind of paralyzed man to tell a story entirely through point of view. An achievement in direction, that film, like Spielberg’s best, was made possible only because of the skill of its “pure cinema” approach. Here’s a wonderful sequence: