Saturday, November 16, 2019

The Lighthouse (2019)

The Lighthouse / The Lighthouse.
    US © 2019 A24. PC: A24 / New Regency / RT Features. P: Rodrigo Teixeira, Jay Van Hoy, Robert Eggers, Lourenço Sant' Anna, Youree Henley.
    D: Robert Eggers. SC: Robert Eggers, Max Eggers. Cin: Jarin Blaschke – b&w – 1,19:1 – negative: 35 mm. PD: Craig Lathrop. M: Mark Korven. S: Damian Volpe – mono. ED: Louise Ford.
    C: Willem Dafoe (Thomas Wake), Robert Pattinson (Ephraim Winslow / Thomas Howard), Valeriia Karaman (mermaid).
    Loc: Leif Ericson Park in Cape Forchu, Nova Scotia, Canada.
    110 min
    Festival premiere: 19 May 2019 Cannes Film Festival: Quinzaine des Réalisateurs.
    US premiere: 18 Oct 2019.
    Finnish premiere: 15 Nov 2019 – 4K DCP released by Finnkino – Finnish / Swedish subtitles Topi Oksanen / Sophia Beckman.
    Viewed at 2K at Tennispalatsi 9, Helsinki, 16 Nov 2019.

IMDb: "Shot on 35 mm black and white Double-X 5222 film, all while augmenting the Panavision Millennium XL2 camera with vintage Baltar lenses from as early as 1918 to as late as 1938. This makes the aspect ratio approximately 1.19:1, which is practically square. To enhance the image and make it resemble early photography, a custom cyan filter made by Schneider Filters emulated the look and feel of orthochromatic film from the late 19th century."
    "Because it was shot on Double-X stock black and white, it requires much more light to get exposure, so they had to use about 15 to 20 times more light on set to actually see something on film. The crew put flickering 500 to 800 watt halogen bulbs in period-correct kerosene lamps that were only a few feet away from the actor's faces, resulting in the set being blindingly bright, so the actors could barely see eachother. Because of this, the crew would often wear sunglasses."
    "Eggers' preparation for The Lighthouse began with the creation of a look book, detailing and distilling the film's aesthetics through works of literature, music, historical documentation, including photographs of New England mariner life in the 1890s. Also paintings by Andrew Wyeth, an early 20th century realist who painted the land and people of rural Pennsylvania and Maine, and symbolist painters like Arnold Boecklin, Jean Delville, among others, whose allegorical and mythical subjects inspired some of the fantastical imagery in the film."
    "The design of the mermaid's genitals is based on shark labias. The mermaid labia was constructed entirely out of silicone."
    "According to Robert Eggers, the film was meant to include "a very juvenile shot of a lighthouse moving like an erect penis and a match-cut to an actual erect penis" (belonging to Pattinson), but it got cut after the premiere at the Cannes Film Festival."
    "Robert Eggers on the film's music: "I was looking for an aleatoric score with nods to ancient Greek music. I wanted to de-emphasize strings, and instead focus on glass and instruments you can blow into, including horns and pipes. It needed to sound like the sea. But I realized that we needed elements that would also harken back to an old movie score, so there's a nod to Bernard Herrmann." "
    "Composer Mark Korven centered the films score on brass instruments with some orchestral production including friction rubs, an effect achieved by dragging a wooden mallet with a rubber ball on its end across various surfaces, including wood and glass. Other instruments present in the score include a glass harmonica, designed to replicate the sound of music made by wine glasses and wet fingers, and a waterphone, or ocean harp, a stainless steel bowl with bronze rods around the rim that gives off a vibrant, ethereal sound when used with a friction mallet."
    "According to Robert Eggers, the two lead characters represent figures in Greek mythology: Wake represents Proteus, an old prophetic sea-god, who was called the "Old Man of the Sea". Winslow represents Prometheus, a Titan and trickster figure, who defies the gods (Wake's character) by stealing fire (represented by the light of the lighthouse)."
    "The final shot of seagulls swarming over Winslow's body and pecking at his insides as he lies helplessly on the rocks resembles that of the Greek mythological tale of "Prometheus": The Greek Gods took away the fire from humans as punishment for disobeying them. Then, the Titan Prometheus stole the fire back to give the valuable gift to mankind. The Gods were outraged by Prometheus' theft of fire, and so they punished Prometheus by chaining him helplessly to a rock, where each day an eagle was sent to eat Prometheus' liver, which would then grow back overnight to be eaten again the next day, forever.
" (IMDb)

Synopsis: "From Robert Eggers, the visionary filmmaker behind the modern horror masterpiece The Witch, comes this hypnotic and hallucinatory tale of two lighthouse keepers on a remote and mysterious New England island in the 1890s."
Director Robert Eggers: Robert Eggers is a Brooklyn-based writer and director. Eggers got his professional start directing and designing experimental and classical theatre in New York City. The Witch, his feature film debut as writer and director, won the Directing Award in U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, where it premiered to critical acclaim. It garnered two Independent Spirit Awards wins, for Best First Feature and Best First Screenplay."
Press release:
"Robert Pattinson shines in sublime maritime nightmare"
/// The Guardian
"un film d’horreur d’une radicalité folle"
/// Les Inrocks.
"a starkly-compelling Expressionist drama"
/// Screen Daily
"Robert Pattinson brilliert im majestätischen Psychotrip"
/// MoviePilot
"Robert Pattinson y Willem Dafoe viajan a la locura con “The Lighthouse”"
/// La Vanguardia
"The Lighthouse Might Be Even Trippier Than The Witch"
/// Vulture
"aussi fascinant que réussi
" /// Konbini

AA: This remarkable film inspires me to associate about lighthouses and the cinema. My favourite lighthouse is in the Suomenlinna sea fortress in Helsinki. Its lighthouse is also a church. The double symbolism of the light that saves: could there be a more beautiful and powerful image in the cinema?

The greatest lighthouse film is undoubtedly Jean Grémillon's Gardiens de phare (1929). No good prints survive in Europe, but fortunately there is a wonderful vintage print in the Komiya Collection in Japan. Gardiens de phare is essential Grémillon – he loved the sea. It's also essential Grand Guignol, like Robert Eggers's The Lighthouse.

A similar ambience with an expressionistic approach thrills us in William Wyler's A House Divided (1931) which is not a lighthouse film but like Gardiens de phare an oceanic drama based on a violent clash between father and son, Walter Huston playing the father in all-out monster mode in the spirit of the horror films of the production company Universal.

In coast pirate films lighthouses are manipulated to cause shipwrecks. In Alfred Hitchcock's Jamaica Inn instead of a lighthouse the manipulation takes place via coastal beacons. Siegfried Lenz's novel Das Feuerschiff (1960) belongs to the territory, filmed by Jerzy Skolimowski as The Lightship (1985). Also in this thriller there is a father / son clash.

Let's also remember Captain January: the 1924 film adaptation starring Baby Peggy (GCM 2004) and the 1936 version with Shirley Temple. As well as many others including Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island (2010). The Statue of Liberty (La Liberté éclairant le monde) was originally designed as a lighthouse. It soon lost its practical function but became one of the most powerful symbols in the world.

In Nordic countries there are films like Georg af Klercker's Fyrvaktarens dotter / The Lighthouse Keeper's Daughter (1918) (GCM 1986) and Teuvo Tulio's The Cross of Love (1946) in which the lighthouse keeper's daughter (Regina Linnanheimo) runs away with a shipwrecked businessman. There is also Asko Tolonen's Kesän maku / The Taste of Summer (1975) set on the southernmost island (and lighthouse) of Finland. Are there lighthouses in Ingmar Bergman's Fårö films and Tarkovsky's Sacrifice? I don't remember, but I think at least we hear foghorns. Let's end the digressions with the first internationally popular comedy duo of the cinema, the Danes Fyrtårnet och Bivognen / Fy & Bi / literally "the Lighthouse and the Sidecar".


The Lighthouse is a horror film and a nightmare film. The director-screenwriter Robert Eggers belongs to the talents of the new wave American horror film together with Ari Aster (Hereditary) and David Lowery (A Ghost Story). They are reinventing the genre.

The art and the craft are assured. The visual composition by the cinematographer Jarin Blasche is robust. It is based on the unusual Movietone (early sound) aspect ratio, launched by Fox Film Corporation for Sunrise in 1927. It became the industry standard for a while after Warner Bros. discontinued its Vitaphone sound-on-disc practice and before the Academy aspect ratio became the standard in 1932. Shot on 35 mm film, the black and white photography of The Lighthouse is intensive. Much of the film takes place in darkness. It is an eloquent darkness.

"You Want It Darker" was the title of Leonard Cohen's last album. The Lighthouse is the blackest film I know.

Mark Korven's innovative score is integrated with an ominous maritime sound design by Damian Volpe.

Shot on location in Nova Scotia, the sense of the place is compelling and the architecture of the lighthouse is stark, thanks to the art director Craig Lathrop. The mechanism and the structure of the lighthouse is dynamically displayed from the boiler room to the Fresnel lens.

We are among the elements: the ocean, the rocks, the wind and the fog. Nothing could be more concrete, and The Lighthouse is a naturalistic film in many ways, but it has also powerful dream sequences and hallucinations in which we enter the mythical dimension. A mermaid is a vividly sexual presence. She is no Little Mermaid. We learn about the myth that dead sailors can turn to seagulls. That myth has also been mentioned in discussions about The Birds, another relevant association.

The claustrophobia is efficiently conveyed. Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson give Oscar-worthy performances as a veteran seaman and a young lumberjack turned sailor. They eat lobsters, drink alcohol and dream of mermaids. Reality and fantasy are blurred. There is a breaking point for the younger man when he has had enough of bullying. Madness leads to violence in the isolated inferno.

During the opening sequences I was thinking about Béla Tarr (The Turin Horse). In Robert Eggers's account of the hard physical toil the physical is on the verge of turning metaphysical. The art and the craft are outstanding. The Lighthouse is a virtuoso achievement, but is it more than that? Time will tell.

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