Discover more from Marquee Mixtape with Alec Rodriguez
Issue #1: Notes on EL CONDE Post-Screenings Q&A with Ed Lachman
"Sometimes ya just gotta make your day." —E.L.
Welcome to my hall of records known as the Marquee Mixtape — a place where I’ll be examining the extraordinary world of New York’s cinema treasures, rare movie events, and repertory screen gems with me, Alec Rodriguez💥
This has been a quirky, little side quest that I went deep into researching and developing for a personal project earlier this year. The first issue of this newsletter serves as the soft launch for the upcoming podcast of the same name. It’s been a place for me to offload my obsessions with podcasts and movies, and put into practice the producing and documentations skills I’ve developed in my career for this creative exercise.
The Marquee Mixtape podcast launches later this month with the goal to uplift and learn about the work of the experts and tastemakers who cultivate the repertory moviegoing community in NYC. Stay tuned!
In each issue of this newsletter you’ll get a peek into my personal micro-reports on the distinct film programming in NYC. Think of it like the disc 2 “supplements” DVD extras for the upcoming podcast.
Secure your tickets (it’s free.99) by subscribing to the newsletter if you haven’t already!
090723: The NY Premiere of Pablo Larraín’s EL CONDE
The Paris Theater had its grand re-opening last week and they’re currently celebrating with the truly jaw dropping film series: Big & Loud. I bookmarked the promo trailer for whenever I need a jolt of adrenaline in me.
The film series took an intermission last night to present the NY premiere of EL CONDE. There was a post-screening Q&A with the film’s cinematographer, Ed Lachman.
If you don’t recognize his name then you’ve likely seen one of his movies:
I’m Not There
The Virgin Suicides
EL CONDE blends political satire with gothic magical realism set in an alternate reality where the dictator Augusto Pinochet remained in power over Chile. It was a full house for a new movie release (on a Friday night!) and it was well received by the audience that me and my family got to sit with. It was also a treat to see a black and white film on the big screen with an excited audience.
John Vanco, cinema programmer for the the Netflix-owned Paris Theater, was on site to introduce the film and encourage folks to check out the new restorations of Patricio Guzmán’s THE BATTLE OF CHILE documentary triptych screening at several theaters in the city. This upcoming September 11th marks the 50th anniversary of the 1973 US-backed coup led by Pinochet and his army, which changed the history of Latin America and still haunts Chileans as seen in EL CONDE.
You can catch several of Guzmán’s works HERE as part of the Dreaming of Utopia series presented by Icarus Films and Cinema Tropical.
The post-screening Q&A with Ed Lachman was expertly moderated by The Wrap’s Chief Film Critic, Tomris Laffly.
Below are some of my takeaways from their conversation:
Ed Lachman admitted that Pablo was his direct source to learning about Chile’s history and culture that is tied to this movie. Lachman says Pablo explained it to him like this, “Chileans never could heal from Pinochet's reign because there was no justice to heal. Part of the Church resisted him, and another part of the Church went along with Pinochet. This is why he is forever. He died a multi-millionaire and he died a free man. Chileans never felt resolution for the crimes he committed.”
It hadn’t become more clear to me until last night the importance a cinematographer could be to a director other than to lead as the visual expert on a set or location. Ed Lachman seemed to have exclusive access to niche resources, gear, and personnel that director Pablo Larraín counted on to achieve his ideal preferences to shoot EL CONDE.
Lachman notes that the film was produced out of Netflix Mexico’s production offices and shot in Chile. Larraín convinced Netflix Mexico that he would shoot EL CONDE in native monochromatic rather than shoot in color first then transfer it to a monochromatic image. This was his intention to find a specific B/W look that is found when movies are shot with B/W film stock except they had to shoot their film digitally. Additional conceits (as Lachman put it) included shooting the movie primarily on a 15 ft telescopic camera crane to allow the filmmakers to find more angles. This would require a lightweight camera and the set was going to be built for the size of the crane to eliminate the need to take out walls for different shots.
These were the ambitious needs that Lachman was hired to deliver. It sounded like it took more than his decades of expertise and network to meet these requirements and he put it this way, “all the forces came together to get me the tools I needed.” Here’s how:
Lachman got in touch with the German camera manufacturer, Arriflex. He knew they had a large format monochromatic camera but inquired about a light weight camera. At first, they had nothing for him but 10 days before the shoot Arriflex called Ed back about a new light weight monochromatic camera that they were willing to loan out to him for EL CONDE. Larraín approved the cost immediately. B/W sensor: check.
Someone in LA tipped Lachman on this rare glass that was available for him to use: Archaic lenses from the 1930s that were originally made for B/W films which allowed him to not have to be reliant on diffusion. He also managed to acquire 60 year-old filters that were made for B/W films (not meant to be applied for color). B/W lenses: check.
Finally, Lachman had invented an exposure system called the EL Zone that is a digital application based on Ansel Adams’ B/W photography process. It just so happened that a monitor company called Small HD was about to release a new device so they licensed the EL Zone from Ed and applied his exposure system to it. Lachman used it for the first time on EL CONDE. B/W exposure system: check.
The Ansel Adams B/W process evaluates exposures so you can reach shadow details and highlights and place your negative where you can get the most detail. A way of analyzing where your exposure was.
Because of this setup, Lachman claimed that EL CONDE has incredible shadow detail and a subtlety of midrange that he and Pablo are very proud of. I was personally melting in my seat at the beauty of the gothic imagery.
There are some chilling vampiric flight scenes in the movie. The night flights were shot with blue screen backdrops but the day flights required a 160ft crane to perform '“real air-to-air photography” with the help of an acrobatic group from Colombia. Lachman also notes that the outdoor daytime flight scenes were shot on a sheep farm in Patagonia.
Towards the end of the Q&A, Lachman spoke on the differences between shooting on film and digital. He described the current state of shooting for celluloid as hearing the death knell to the coffin because of the extraordinary challenges to keep the filming process intact:
“There are not enough labs… The remaining labs don’t have the equipment like the Printer Light System…Most labs expect you to expose the negative then do a digital transfer. But the most important thing is to know where your exposure is, not just from the light meter but the film tells where your exposure is from a machine…Kodak in NYC doesn't have that machine. So if I shoots a film in New York then I’m going to send it to a lab in LA. There's one lab left there, FotoKem, that still has the equipment…Film loaders are harder to find…There aren't people who can repair the cameras like they used to, or they don't have the parts.”
Lachman stated that some movies should be shot on film. Some actors like the way they look on film versus digital.
All of EL CONDE’s production feats to achieve the highest quality monochromatic image on a digital sensor by using tools that were made for B/W celluloid filmmaking was an act of, “going against what the industry is pushing because that’s how they will make more money — by releasing new lenses and higher resolution cameras.” Lachman says, “But that isn't what image makers necessarily want. Everything shouldn't look like a photorealistic painting.” The crowd roared in agreement and that concluded the Q&A.
EL CONDE will be available on Netflix on September 15. It’s screening for one week only at The Paris Theater.
Thanks for reading Marquee Mixtape with Alec Rodriguez! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.