Director of photography Edward Lachman, ASC arms The Limey with an impressive visual edge.
In The Limey, a British career criminal named Wilson (Terence Stamp) arrives in Los Angeles to avenge the mysterious death of his daughter, Jenny (Melissa George). Recently released from his latest stint in prison, this no-nonsense bloke has few leads, but quickly finds trouble in the form of a drug-money-laundering operation fronted by corrupt recording impresario Terry Valentine (Peter Fonda), who was romancing Jenny at the time of her demise. Immediately unwelcome, Wilson is met with plenty of grievous bodily injury at the hands of Valentine's bodyguardsbut doles out his own brand of brutal vengeance when necessary.
Written by Lem Dobbs (Kafka) and directed by Steven Soderbergh (sex, lies and videotape; Kafka; Out of Sight), The Limey is a vivid piece of pulp fiction that features an inventive non-linear storytelling approach and expert cinematography by Edward Lachman, ASC.
Lachman studied fine art in Paris, and learned his craft while doing documentary and feature work with such directors as Jean-Luc Godard, Werner Herzog and Wim Wenders, and later assisted and operated for such cameramen as Sven Nykvist, ASC, Vittorio Storaro, ASC, AIC and Robby Müller, NSC.
Based in New York City for the early part of his career, Lachman compiled a diverse list of feature credits, including The Lords of Flatbush, Union City, Desperately Seeking Susan (see AC July 1985), True Stories (which earned him an Independent Spirit Award nomination), Less Than Zero, Making Mr. Right, Mississippi Masala, Light Sleeper (another Spirit Award nomination), London Kills Me, My New Gun, Touch, Mi Familia, Selena (AC May '97) and Why Do Fools Fall in Love?. The cinematographer recently completed the Universal Pictures drama Erin Brockovich, also directed by Soderbergh, which stars Albert Finney and Julia Roberts.
Introducing The Limey for a packed cast-and-crew screening held at the DGA Theater last March, Soderbergh described the picture as "one of the fastest films I've made, and one of my best experiences." Asked how the speed of the production impacted his contribution to the film, Lachman replies, "Principal photography took about 32 days. Again, when you're forced into certain shooting situationssuch as sometimes using just available lightyou have to cover the action in a more expedient way. We often shot with two cameras, shooting in one direction and then quickly moving into another. I'd done that before, on London Kills Me and parts of Selena, and I think it helps the energy for the acting. In this case, it gave Steven more freedom to deal with the actors, because the performances dictated what the cameras were doing, instead of the other way around. Working that way also gave the actors much more of a feeling of performing in real time and with each other, because the action wasn't being cut up into so many pieces. It also helped keep up the momentum of shooting, because we could cover two angles from each direction with each take, which helped matching in the editing process, especially when there was any improvisation.
"The hardest part of shooting that way is keeping focus, so I had the camera assistant use a sort of 'zone' system in which we laid out a series marks around the area where the actors would be, rather than setting specific marks for them to hit."
The cinematographer notes, "Although he had full backing from Artisan Entertainment, Steven wanted to keep The Limey within the realm of a smaller-sized independent film. We studied and discussed how independent films from both Europe and the U.S. were made in the 1970s, [focusing on films] such as Bob Rafelson's Five Easy Pieces.
"What we found was a much more freewheeling, pick-up-the-camera-and-shoot feel, which contributed to our shooting in a much looser way. About 80 to 90 percent of The Limey was done handheld, even though one may not always notice that it is handheld. Only about five percent or less was done with a tripod. If the camera could instead be put on a table or chair, we'd do that. We made a series of these pads we called 'Tootsie rolls,' using rolled-up sound blankets to cushion and position the camera on these surfaces. We even used them to pan the camera sometimes, just sliding them along a flat surface."
Lachman used Moviecam Compacts on The Limey, generally fitted with his personal set of Series II and III Cooke Speed Panchro primes. "Those lenses were made 30 years ago, which contributed to the look of the film," the cinematographer attests. "The Cookes don't have the contrast, definition, or multicoatings that a modern lens like a Primo has. They're softer and more forgiving, so we didn't use any diffusion. Steven also liked the lens flares we'd sometimes get with them. At night, though, I'd use Zeiss Superspeeds.
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