If you don’t know the name Bradford Young by now, you soon will. The 37-year old cinematographer had quite the year in 2014, lensing two of the holiday season’s most acclaimed films: Ava DuVernay’s “Selma” and J.C. Chandor’s “A Most Violent Year.”
I remember seeing his name on the 2011 Sundance smash “Pariah,” but the first time I really took notice of his work was in 2013’s “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints.” The film itself is a wonky, lovers-on-the-run murder ballad with a surplus of Malick-esque voiceover, but Young’s images stuck with me: of Casey Affleck’s mud-caked torso after he escapes from prison, of sun-kissed vistas rippling with shards of gleaming light, of the dank and darkened interior of a sinister watering hole where character actor Nate Parker is the proprietor. The images he creates feel natural and real while also possessing an undeniable propensity for myth and awe.
Young lent his considerable gifts for immediacy and texture to both “Selma” and “A Most Violent Year,” managing to make the civil rights movement seem as current and prescient as it has ever been, and effortlessly evoking the graffiti-strewn project walls, cramped offices, and barber shops of 1980’s New York City. Showing no signs of slowing down, Young also lensed Ed Zwick’s Bobby Fischer pic, “Pawn Sacrifice,” which premiered at TIFF in September, and his tactile, sensitive eye is quickly becoming one of the most signature looks in modern American film. For those who are still curious about Young, we have here a DP/30 interview with the up-and-coming cinematographer where he discusses his process, his influences, his craft, and more.
In the interview, Young comes across as soft-spoken, unpretentious, and even downright friendly. He’s got a subdued, but undeniably childlike enthusiasm for the things that excite him—things like Andrei Tarkovsky’s “Andrei Rublev” and the work of Gordon Willis—and one senses a real palpable intelligence watching him speak about his profession. Young grew up in the small, sleepy enclave of Louisville, Kentucky in a family of morticians and he recalls his first discernible influence being his family’s coffee table books: the sensation of observing moving images in a still frame was something that captivated him, and guided him for the rest of his life. He also discusses the first films that inspired him, most notably Spike Lee’s “School Daze” (he also reserves praise for Lee’s watershed “Do the Right Thing”).
In regards to “Selma,” Young seems grateful to have been able to tell such a story—and on such a large canvas—as he reserves abundant praise for DuVernay and the film’s admittedly stellar ensemble. Gordon Willis’ name is evoked once again again when Young is asked about the visual references for “A Most Violent Year”—not a surprise to anyone who’s seen the movie—and Young’s take on the film’s “patina” of darkness reflects his own very astute insight into his work. It’s a terrific watch and rest assured, Bradford Young is a name we will be seeing plenty more of in the coming years.
“Selma” and “A Most Violent Year” are still playing in theaters—do yourself a favor and see both if you can. And watch the video below. [Shadow & Act]