Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Robert Elswit Talks Working With PTA; Songs From "Vice" Revealed

PTA's long-time cinematographer Robert Elswit did an interview with to discuss his upcoming work in the two prominently Los Angeles-set movies Nightcrawler (which looks phenomenal) and Inherent Vice. Elswit talks quite a bit about the process of working with PTA over the years, including his more free-form inclinations as of late. Then the interview turns much more directly about Vice (Thanks, Timothy):
HITFIX: Let's talk a bit about Inherent Vice. The design elements are so striking and it all just sort of pops.
ROBERT ELSWIT: It's very vivid.
HITFIX: Given that the film is obviously part of a certain tradition, did you look at things like The Long Goodbye to help inform any of the visual language you were working with? 
RE: We did. We looked at a whole bunch of Altman movies, a whole bunch of old LA, lots of photos from that era, a lot of music, a lot of books that were inter-reference sources. More than anything else there were these marvelous sort of Kodachromes and Ektachromes that these little music groups that lived in Topanga and the other canyons — you know, the Joni Mitchell era of the singer/songwriter, album books — we got a bunch of them. And Mark Bridges is a wonderful costume designer, so we kind of went through a lot of that to find wardrobe for all these people. We looked at the kind of photographs that people took in the '60s and '70s living in Laurel Canyon, living in Malibu Canyon and living up in that canyon along the beach that you drive up, just past Sunset. What is it…
HITFIX: Topanga?
RE: Topanga, yeah. Topanga Canyon. It's kind of the people who lived in that world in the '70s. I went to the place that Pynchon lived in Hermosa Beach — that's [Gordita] Beach in the movie — and in those days it was a very low-rent neighborhood. It was a lot like Venice only not quite as charming. It has a hill that leads down into the water and there are lots of these kind of lovely old homes from the '20s and '30s that have all been torn down, all been turned into condos and apartments and very, very expensive homes. But back in the '70s it was people who worked at the airport, a lot of stewardesses, a lot of flight attendants, a lot of maintenance personnel, pilots who weren't married. And it was an absolute party town with a mix of hedonistic hippies and surfers and airline people. I went to Venice High and Santa Monica High and when I graduated, when I was in college, I would go at least once a month to some party at some stewardess's apartment in someplace in Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach. It was a crazy, crazy time back then. And that's when Pynchon went there. That's when he wrote the book, about that period, about that place, and that was kind of the inspiration.
So Paul and I spent a lot of time driving around in those areas trying to find what little was left. Venice has kind of changed a little more in its character than Hermosa Beach. Hermosa Beach could have been bulldozed. Everything south of the airport is just completely changed. I mean there's just nothing left. Not what it used to be when I was younger. But he found a little bit of it and also to feel what it was like to live that sort of weird, hedonistic, kind of crazy lifestyle back in those days.
HITFIX: It sounds like an electric experience. And again, it's a unique world to capture on film. It's kind of anthropological or something.
RE: Altman, I think, came the closest to finding all of that when he made California Split and, you know, even his homage to Philip Marlowe when he made The Long Goodbye. Pynchon's book is really a riff on Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, except it's a stylistic orgy in which nothing pays off dramatically. They don't really solve the mystery. A lot of remarkable events happen but you don't really get any closer to what's really beneath it. Just figuring out what to adapt from that book was a really complicated process for Paul. It was really living on the edge for him.
A source close to the production told us recently that Elswit used a device called panaflasher on Vice, which helps capture a retro old-school look by flashing the film stock with small leaks of light.  If you own the DVD of The Long Goodbye, you can find a special feature with cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond talking about inventing and using that technology specifically for that film.

In other news, The Film Stage did a round-up of all the songs that can be heard in Inherent Vice. While we don't yet have details on when the soundtrack album for the film will arrive, this is PTA's most pop-song-laden soundtrack since Boogie Nights, and could probably justify its own record alongside the album of Jonny Greenwood's score.
1. "Dreamin' On A Cloud" by The Tornadoes
2. "Rhythm of the Rain" by The Cascades
3. "Vitamin C" by CAN
4. "Soup" by CAN
5. "Simba" by Les Baxter
6. "Spooks" by Radiohead
7. "Burning Bridges" by Jack Scott
8. "The Throwaway Age" by Bob Irwin
9. "Gilligan's Island Theme" by Sherwood Schwartz and George Wyle
10. "Harvest" by Neil Young
11. "Here Comes the Ho-Dads" by The Markettts
12. "Electricity" by Cliff Adams
13. "Never My Love" by The Association
14. "Les Fleur" by Minnie Riperton
15. "Journey Through the Past" by Neil Young
16. "Sukiyaki" by KYU Sakamoto
17. "Adam-12 (Themes and Cues") by Frank Comstock
18. "(What A) Wonderful World" by Sam Cooke
19. "Amethyst" by Jonny Greenwood
20. "Any Day Now" by Chuck Jackson
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IV (theatrical premiere): 65 days

Find more information about the film on our Inherent Vice page. 
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  1. Did RE mispronounce "Gordita Beach"? Or is it called "Goleta Beach" in the movie?

    1. I think it was a typo. Its changed to "Gordita" now.

  2. Thanks for that note re: The Long Goodbye, which I just got from the library. I normally skip extra features but I will definitely be watching that interview.

  3. Can't believe he's using Can songs. That is going to be amazing!

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