Ed Lachman Q&A: ‘Carol’ cinematographer
"Carol" cinematographer Ed Lachman just won the New York Film Critics Circle award. He also picked up this prize in 2002 for “Far From Heaven," his first collaboration with "Carol" director Todd Haynes. That film emulated the style and tone of the Douglas Sirk melodramas “All That Heaven Allows” (1955) and “Written on the Wind” (1956) while making overt the buried subtext of racial and sexual tensions from those films. Comparisons between "Far From Heaven" and "Carol" are inevitable: both examine homosexuality during the 1950s, when the very mention of the word “gay” was still very much a taboo. However, “Far From Heaven” took place in 1957 in the suburbs while "Carol" is set in post-war New York, 1952 to be exact, which called for a different visual approach entirely, as Lachman explains in our audio interview.
“We have to make a distinction that this is not a Sirkian world,” he expains. Whereas “Far From Heaven” had “a very mannered look,” Lachman says that for “Carol,” “we approached kind of a naturalistic look. It wasn’t the high gloss of the ‘50s. Sirk was using beauty as a form of repression: the studio lighting and the colors had a certain artificiality, the movement had an independence from the characters to create psychological states. It was an expressionistic look at the world. It was a world of artifice. And this was totally different.”
In the post-war and pre-Eisenhower era, says Lachman, “there was an uncertain, unstable time in America’s imagination. There was the Cold War, there was paranoia about the Soviet Union taking over Eastern Bloc Countries, and in this great insecurity in America, you created McCarthyism.” All of those elements lend “Carol” a much darker tone which needs to be expressed visually.
Lachman and Haynes looked to photographers of the time to examine, “how they saw the world through a photojournalistic approach.” In the film, Therese (Rooney Mara), the young shopgirl who falls in love with a married woman (Cate Blanchett), is a budding photographer in the vein of Vivian Maier. “The evolution of her experience with the camera becomes her emotional state,” says Lachman. “As she becomes more in focus with who she is herself, she’s able to photograph things outside of herself. We used Vivian Maier as an example in the sense that early on, Therese is looking at things as abstractions, and she sees herself in shadows and reflections. Only later as she able to embrace her affection and love towards Carol is she able to photograph things outside of herself.”
Besides this NYFCC win, Lachman’s work with Haynes has reaped awards recognition in the past: he received an Oscar nomination for his work on “Far From Heaven” and an Emmy bid for “Mildred Pierce.” And he currently sits in fifth place on our Experts' chart of Best Cinematography Oscar contenders.