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“An Iconic Evita” : American Cinematographer

Madonna - American Cinematographer / January 1997

The Technicolor ENR system, as students of cinematography will know, was pioneered by Vittorio Storaro, ASC, AIC, and is named after Ernesto N. Rico, the technician who helped develop the process at Technicolor Rome. In a “normal” Eastman Color Print process, a latent image is developed both in silver metal and in dye (cyan, magenta and yellow) in the color developer solution. While the dyes must be retained for image projection, a main focus of the remainder of the process is to remove the silver image from everything but the optical soundtrack. This is accomplished through common bleaching and fixing baths. Normally, 100 percent of the silver is removed from the picture area.

In the Technicolor ENR process, a proprietary black-and-white developing bath is used at the appropriate stage of the process so that a portion of the silver can be retained in an image-wise manner, to the taste of the individual cinematographer. As Technicolor London’s Bob Crowdey explains, “[The color positive] is basically put through a milder solution of pan developer. This greatly affects the shadow areas, making them more black. Cinematographers worldwide have always tried to get the blackest of black shadows; ENR gives the shadows a slight sheen, where a good shadow in normal developing has a sort of matte finish. It’s a bit like when you’ve just gotten your shoes polished and they’re nice and shiny. As a result, the rods in the viewer’s eye will pick out this deep, deep shadow. ENR literally makes things more contrasty.

“With standard developing, the silver is removed completely from the finished print,” Crowdey continues. “If you think
of normal print developing as 0 percent [silver], and complete bleach-bypass [which Khondji experimented with on Seven] as 100 percent, I would say that on Evita Darius was about 38 percent towards a bleach bypass. The ENR work is most noticeable in night scenes or in scenes involving large crowds. In Evita, it really enhances the depth and the contrast in crowds, and it also affects scenes involving ticker-tape, flags, bunting, things like that. For scenes in which military personnel are wearing dark uniforms, the ENR really makes their costumes zing out, creating contrast against their white bandoliers and other accoutrements. In essence, the result of the ENR is a more contrasty look, with a very slight desaturation in color, mainly in the pastel colors.”

Notes Khondji, “I’ve used a color process on every movie I’ve done since my second picture. They have different names depending on the lab. I’ve used similar processes on Before the Rain (ENR, Technicolor London), Stealing Beauty (ENR, Rome) and Evita (ENR, London), and some different ones on Delicatessen, The City of Lost Children and Seven. It’s the only way for me to really increase the contrast and play with the colors before moving on to digital postproduction. Most directors of photography go 100 percent when they use a color process, so it looks like black-and-white, but I don’t like to do that. ENR works on a scale of infrared, which affects the depth and thickness of the blacks. You vary the degree of infrared according to the picture. It’s a process you can adapt to the type of film and visual style you’re doing.”

To ensure the proper balance for the film, Khondji and his cohorts at Technicolor London conducted a series of “straddle tests,” many of which focused upon Madonna (with special regard to her facial tones, hairstyles and clothing) and the film’s military costumes. Says Khondji, “I also had meetings with the production designer, Brian Morris; the costume designer, Penny Rose; the chief makeup artist, Sarah Monzani; and the chief hairstylist, Martin Samuel. They knew I was going to use a color process, and I explained to them how it would bring more contrast to the costumes, and how dark colors become almost black. If you want dark colors to survive, they have to be a little bit lighter, and the whites should be systematically off-white.”