Christopher Doyle Interview Part 2: “Life of Pi” Oscar is an Insult to Cinematography

Christopher Doyle Interview Part 2: “Life of Pi” Oscar is an Insult to Cinematography
Christopher Doyle at the Doha Tribeca Film Festival on October 28, 2011.
(Courtesy AFP/Getty)

SHANGHAI — When we spoke to celebrated cinematographer Christopher Doyle in anticipation of his performances at the Beijing and Shanghai literary festivals, he enthused about Ai Weiwei as a leading man, delighted in taking the piss out of himself, and championed youth and experimentation. His positivity seemed limitless. Then we asked him about Chilean-born American cinematographer (and wizard lookalike) Claudio Miranda’s best cinematography Oscar for the effects-heavy “Life of Pi”.

Doyle’s first response was his idiosyncratic cackle.

“Do you want me to tell the truth? Ai yay yay yay. Okay. I’m trying to work out how to say this most politely, and no offense to – I don’t know him personally – but what a total fucking piece of shit. Let me be blunt. Ah, fuck. I don’t care, I’m sure he’s a wonderful guy and I’m sure he cares so much, but since 97 per cent of the film is not under his control, what the fuck are you talking about cinematography, sorry. I’m sorry. I have to be blunt and I don’t care, you can write it. I think it’s a fucking insult to cinematography.

“I’m sure he’s a wonderful person, I’m sure he cares so much. But what it says to the real world is it’s all about us, we have the money, we put the money in, and we control the image. And I say fuck you, wankers. Are you fucking kidding? That’s not cinematography. That’s control of the image by the powers that be, by the people that want to control the whole system because they’re all accounts. You’ve lost cinema. This is not cinema and it’s not cinematography. It’s not cinematography.

“Lincoln”! Oh! Let’s talk about patriotism. Do you not fucking realise the rest of the world just sits back laughing. Do you not realise that you poor old fuckers with your Academy bullshit, you’re just sitting back, holding onto straws. You’re holding onto straws. Let’s get on with it. I don’t give a fuck what you think about me. Some of us have to engage with the real world. And it happens not to be about the history of Mr Lincoln freeing the slaves – which was the most disgusting first three minutes of a film I’ve ever seen. Oh, Mr Lincoln, oh, but you undestand… stop fucking fluffing yourselves.

“I didn’t watch the Academy Awards but I’ve had a lot of feedback from people, including people from the ASC [the American Society of Cinematographers], by the way, and then you see, you give an award to a totally digitized image. I may be wrong, because I haven’t seen the film, because I don’t give a shit.”

We asked if he thought the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had a good conception of what cinematography is.

“Of course they have no fucking idea what cinematography is. The lunatics have taken over the asylum, but you know we have other asylums in other parts of the world and I live in one of  them, and I intend to continue to be a lunatic. So fuck you with your… this is the most, hello, the rest of the world just sits back and, when will you fucking connect with what it’s really about. It’s astonishing. The award is given to the technicians, to the producers, it’s not to the cinematographer. I think he should’ve actually, if it were me, I would’ve said fuck off. But of course it’s his career. Sorry. Personally, as you probably realised, I will say fuck off. If somebody manipulated my image that much, I wouldn’t even turn up. Because sorry, cinematography? Really?”

Of the five best cinematography nominees, three shot on 35mm filmBob Richardson for Django Unchained, Janusz Kaminski for “Lincoln”, and Seamus McGarvey for “Anna Karenina” – while Roger Deakins shot “Skyfall” in a digital format, and Miranda shot “Life of Pi” in digital 3-D. With more and more feature films shot digitally, and rising use of CGI, we asked if the direction film is heading requires a new conception of cintematography.

“I totally disagree,” Doyle said. “It has no relevance to the way film is going. It’s just these old people wanking. Do you know the average age of the people who vote? Sixty-five. Check it out. I may be wrong. It may have dropped to 64. [According to a 2012 report by the LA Times, the Academy is 94 percent white, 77 percent male, and has a median age of 62.] And they’re hanging on to life, the only three lifeboats that the Titanic had. Hey fucker, you’re really in deep shit, you’ve given over to the accountants, you’ve given over to patriotism, it’s corrupt.

“I’m not saying that there are not other corrupt regimes in the world, I’m not saying that people don’t advance their own interests, I’m just saying some of us have to look at it in a different way, and perhaps we have to engage in a certain way, or perhaps as I’m doing now, some of us have to speak out, and I don’t give a fuck about my fucking career. I don’t think it’s a career anyway. I happen to be doing what I’m doing. So fucking what. So what if I die poor. I don’t give a shit. But come on. Wow. When you give a cinematography prize to 99.7 percent…” He breaks off, cackling.

To fill a silence, we noted that “Life of Pi” does seem a strange choice for best cinematography.

“No it’s not a strange choice if you understand how fucked up people are and how lost they are. You bail out your bankers, support your rich people, you say Spielberg and Tarantino are the gods of cinema. Hey, good luck.”

We also asked Doyle for his opinion of Taiwanese director Ang Lee, one of the few great Chinese directors with whom he hasn’t worked. Uncharacteristically, Doyle bites his tongue, only alluding to an associate of Lee’s who “needs total control” and “would never have anything to do with somone like me.”

Behind all Doyles vitriole is an impassioned argument for the recognition of great cinematography, one he’s adamant needs to be made. “I think we’re in this incredible period of transition, and I notice that some of us have a voice – me, [“Slumdog Millionaire” and “Antichrist” cinematographer] Anthony Dod Mantle – and speak out, because we care.

Christopher Doyle speaks at the Glamour Bar inShanghai on March 10 at 5pm. Tickets 75RMB.

Read part one of our interview with Christopher Doyle here.

"The Life of Pi" trailer

Claudio Miranda's acceptance speech.