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“An Iconic Evita” : American Cinematographer

Madonna - American Cinematographer / January 1997

Khondji admits, “When I received the script I didn’t know it was a musical; I thought it was just going to be a normal dramatic film. I liked the script, but when I found out it was going to be a musical I hesitated. I didn’t really want to do a musical at the time, but I wanted to work with Alan and our first meeting went really well. Alan gave me the energy and passion to do the project. He spoke about this woman with great enthusiasm, and his office was completely wallpapered with photos of Evita. He was totally possessed by the music, which he played for me. There was something really dark and moody about it; it was really beautiful. I have a tendency to prefer the dark side of things. Even with Stealing Beauty, I was looking for the more dramatic elements in the story.”

Asked if they had drawn inspiration from any previous musical films, both men expressed their admiration for Bob Fosse’s Cabaret (1971), which was photographed by Geoffrey Unsworth, BSC, who earned an Academy Award for his atmospheric efforts. “That was a complete film, and not just a musical film,” notes Parker. “I’ve always said, in perverse jest, that the reason I get all of the musicals nowadays is that Bob Fosse is no longer with us. I really admire what he accomplished.” Parker also notes that West Side Story’s “powerful marriage of film and music” made a lasting impression upon him when he saw the picture in his youth.

Khondji says that he forms many of his visual strategies for a project during his initial contact with both the script and the director. “That’s when I get a lot of my ideas about color schemes and imagery. Alan told me he wanted Evita to be not only a glamorous musical, but also gritty and real. He wanted a lot of dust, and a feeling for the Pampas and the little Argentine towns in the Twenties and Thirties. That was what excited me the most, because I’m never interested in shooting something that’s too polished and slick. Alan wanted the film to be Parkerized,’ which is a term we came up with to describe the look. That concept led me to my plan in terms of color and contrast.”

The duo briefly considered shooting the film in 65mm, but Parker rejected the notion because he “couldn’t see any great advantage to it. I shoot really fast, and we were also using two cameras all the time. I didn’t want the process to be cumbersome or slow, because the most important thing when I’m shooting a film is momentum. The best this film will look is a print from the original negative with digital sound, and I was never convinced that 65mm would be any better than that technically.”

Parker and Khondji eventually agreed that anamorphic would be the best format for the film, for a variety of reasons. The cinematographer explains, “There are lots of flat landscapes in the film, as well as large gatherings of people. This movie was not going to be shot in Super 35, like the one I’m doing now [Alien 4: Resurrection], or some films I’d done before [Seven, Stealing Beauty]. I really like to change things around from picture to picture — the light, the glass, the lenses, the format.

“If you shoot in true anamorphic, it’s not going to look the same as Super 35,” he points out. “I think it’s beautiful the way you lose depth of field in anamorphic; it makes the backgrounds look a bit like water. With Super 35 you have more depth of field, and the image is dryer. I would tend to use Super 35 if I wanted to do a more modern picture, or a more dynamic picture, and still keep the 2.35:1 ratio. It was a very good format for Seven, but true anamorphic works better for period films, classical films, or for smaller pictures that don’t have a hard, modern look.”

Despite these sound arguments in support of anamorphic, Parker still had his reservations. “I agonized about going anamorphic because I’m a real traditionalist, and I love the 1.85:1 ratio,” he says. “I’ve always avoided ‘scope because it’s harder to compose for really well. When it’s done right, it can be wonderful — particularly when the film is gigantic and the canvas is very wide. I must say that when I looked at Evita in its finished form, I couldn’t understand why I’d worried so much, because 1.85 might have diminished what we achieved.”