“Carol” is definitely a far cry from Todd Haynes’ Douglas Sirk-inspired “Far From Heaven.” It’s a completely different aesthetic, of course: the difference between expressionism and naturalism, the difference between Hollywood artifice and more delicate photography. Which is why Haynes’ long-time DP Ed Lachman, who earlier today won Best Cinematography from the New York Film Critics Circle, chose to shoot the gorgeous Patricia Highsmith-adapted love story starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara on Super 16 film.
“I wanted to reference the visual language of the time, not Hollywood movies, but the use of color by photojournalists,” explained Lachman. “And many of those photographers were women that experimented with color photography: Ruth Orkin, Esther Bubley, Vivian Maier, Helen Levitt.
“Each time period has different eyes to what they consider the color palette, when you look at the way people dress or the paint that they use for their homes or the furniture. So we thought that film structure and using color negative would capture the feeling of that world. And there’s a grayness to the color, which fit the story.
“What I also liked about it was that Rooney’s character is a budding photographer. Today, the digital world is so smooth and clean; we wanted a soft, soiled, indeterminate feeling in the world that the characters found themselves in. At that time, we weren’t in the high-gloss world of the later ’50s where Douglas Sirk used beauty as a form of repression. But we were between the War and Eisenhower: an uncertain, unstable time in America. These are subtleties that you play with. The colors lent themselves to magenta and green, secondary colors, not primary.”
Lachman is so passionate about film, in fact, that when Technicolor recently closed down its lab in New York City and was going to junk the photo-chemical equipment, the cinematographer arranged with his key grip to have it sent to his warehouse, where it could continue as a vital film processing and printing rig. Whereas the digital pixel is fixed on one plane, film is etched by light and Lachman wants to continue that tradition.
“Carol” is about the isolation of desire and romantic imagination: “the unsettling of the amorous mind,” according to Haynes, in describing the semi-autobiographical Highsmith novel, “The Price of Salt.” Lachman found it an interesting twist on the author’s fascination with the criminal mind. “This is the one book that she didn’t write as a thriller. The crime here was their love. And Todd wrote me his impressions before we started the film (“Flung Out of Space: Thoughts on a Visual Criteria for ‘Carol'”):
“‘The best love stories reside on the side of the lover, steeped in their over-productive and active minds. If we are rooted in one point of view, it’s Therese’s, at least until the end of the film. But the camera need not overstate this. The film needs eyes, fingers to be more instructive than aggressive angles, moods or lighting…’
For Lachman, it’s all about combining the representational with the psychological, which he discovered in the works of street photographer Saul Leiter. “Carol” arguably represents his most beautiful cinematic expression to date.