Friday, May 7, 2010

William Lubtchansky, 1937-2010

The great cinematographer William Lubtchansky has passed away at the age of 72. He has had a long and fertile career working with Godard, Rivette, Straub/Huillet, Garrel, Varda, Otar Iosseliani, and countless others. In particular, Lubtchansky worked on multiple films for Godard and Rivette, including some of the former's most radical, adventurous work. Lubtchansky was the cinematographer for many of Godard's late 70s forays into video, and for the elegant 1990 masterpiece Nouvelle vague. He collaborated with Rivette over the course of several decades, shooting many of the great director's most enduring works, including almost all the films Rivette has made in recent years.

Below is a small tribute to some of the images left behind by this remarkable cinematographer, all from his work with Godard and Rivette, the two directors most closely associated (in my mind, anyway) with this genius behind the camera. Admire, especially, the muted but somehow eerily beautiful quality of light in these images, which are never flashy or glossy but always striking in more subtle ways.

Numéro deux (Godard, 1975)

Duelle (Rivette, 1976)

Noroît (Rivette, 1976)

Ici et ailleurs (Godard, 1976)

Comment ça va? (Godard, 1978)

Sauve qui peut (la vie) (Godard, 1980)

Le Pont du Nord (Rivette, 1981)

Merry-Go-Round (Rivette, 1981)

Love on the Ground (Rivette, 1984)

Nouvelle vague (Godard, 1990)

La belle noiseuse (Rivette, 1991)

Joan the Maid I: The Battles (Rivette, 1994)

Secret défense (Rivette, 1998)

The History of Marie and Julien (Rivette, 2003)

Don't Touch the Axe (Rivette, 2007)


DavidEhrenstein said...

This is an incredible loss.

I've been thinking about him lately as he appears in the remarkable documentary reconstruction L'Enfer de l'Henri-Georges Clouzot. He was one of the cmaera operators on that great doomed project.

For my money Lubtchansky is one of the all-time greats -- right up there with Gianni Di Venanzo James Wong Howe and Greg Toland. Duelle is my particular fave in that he shows precisely how to make a film noir in color -- with the most amazing light-and-shadow ever.

The Blind Owl said...

This is a very nice tribute to Lubtchansky; one of the most distinguished cinematographers in contemporary French cinema, and perhaps the only one with the distinction of having worked back-to-back with five of my favourite filmmakers.

You've chosen images from many of the same films that I offered in my own (wordless) tribute; though yours is a much nicer selection.

Ed Howard said...

David, he's definitely one of the greatest. There's something about his work that's so stunning in a quiet way, very direct and unpretentious but with a real sense for natural beauty. Duelle is brilliant, and is probably the first film I thought of, along with Nouvelle vague, when I heard the news.

Linden, I just saw your tribute as well, it's a great selection. Hard to pick "bad" images from this fantastic DP.

Carson Lund said...

This is an awesome collection of images!

Sam Juliano said...

An incalcuable loss of one of cinema's greatest artists, even if his incomparable output was behind him. I must commend you here on a fantastic screen cap thread that conveys the essence here much more (of course) than anything you could have ever written. Is he the greatest French cinematographer of all-time? Not quite, but I'd agree he pushes reasonably close, and for those who revere Rivette in particular, his work here, as Ed showcases, is magnificent and profound. Among the more contemporary French lensmen, I'd rank only Ghislain Cloquet and Leonce-Henri Burel (both of whom worked with Bresson on his masterpieces) ahead of him, and among the pantheon of French DPs, only Rudolf Mate, Jules Kruger, Christian Matras, Henri Ducae and Raoul Coutard would be higher. But hey, he's unquestionably an iconic figure, and well deserves this extravagent testimonial.

Just Another Film Buff said...

Wow, remarkable. I haven't seen any of Rivette's works. But these images from Godard's films are so striking that I want to watch them once more.

R.I.P indeed.

Allan Fish said...

Dear old Sam, can't resist turning it into a list (you forgot Claude Renoir, BTW). Lubtchansky's special talent was not merely for his striking composition, but rather that you were never really drawn to any of his particular shots or images, they just fomed part of the fabric, adding to the sense that what we were watching was not a film at all, but his camera was merely a tunnel into the film maker's vision. And, while he did fine work for other artists, there's hardly a great cinematographer whose work hasn't been defined by his work with one director. And, as with Dëcae for Melville, Vierny for Resnais, Matras for Ophuls and Almendros for Rohmer, for Lubtchansky it has to be Rivette. A match made in not so much heaven but that other world Rivette seemed to have the sole key to.

As for greatest French DP,just to please Sam, it has to be Burel. His work for Bresson merely the final layer if icing on a cake where he worked for Gance on J'Accuse, La Roue and Napoleon, Feyder on Visages d'Enfants and Volkoff on Casanova.

Sam Juliano said...

Allan, can't you come to any thread anywhere, even at a place of commemorance without your usual strain of contentiouness?

What LIST are you talking about? I offered no numerical rankings, only gave the names of those in French cinema who possessed the artistry of Lubtchansky. I also think that Burel was the greatest ever, and never indicated otherwise, only choosing to name him with his comparable peers, and I was not asking you or anyone else to answer any quiz questions, or at least not to make definitive judgements at my expense.

I did not forget Claude Renoir. I just don't think him the equal of Lubtchansky, Cloquet, Borel, Mate, Matres, et al.

Ed Howard said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone. When something like this happens, it's a good opportunity to celebrate the images and films he left behind. I won't rank him against any other French DPs, I'll only say that he's among the very best cinematographers, for sure.

Sam Juliano said...

Ed, I completely agree, as that was really the underpinning of my original comment, and the reason why I asked Allan to call me yesterday afternoon from the UK, so I could gleefully urge him "in person" to add something meaningful to this conversation, and pay his respects, not suspecting that he would ultimately come here and compromise my attempt to celebrate Mr. Lubtchansky, by ribbing me for naming the short list of great French cinematographers to illustrate just how high Lubtchansky stands in the cinema history pantheon. Hence when the esteemed Mr. Ehrenstein asserted in his own comment here that Lubtchansky "is one of the all-time greats--right up there with Gianni Di Venanzo, James Wong Howe and Greg Toland" I didn't see that as an act of 'list compilation' but as a valid point of reference in assessing just how extraordinary his work stands in the overall evaluation of his peers.
The supreme reverence (and solidarity) with you on the loss of this titan of cinema can be perhaps be best evidenced by the fact that for an entire year now of Wonders in the Dark's nearly two-year existence, we have featured as our site header a magical noctural composition from Rivette's DUEL, a film both you and Mr. Ehrenstein insightfully celebrate here. There is no greater testament to his artistry that we could possibly showcase.

But the bottom line is that this is a loving post, imbued with the skills and appreciation of great cinema that has always been the site's primary concern, and I salute you on that.