Filmmakers Under the Influence: Eskil Vogt

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The director of BLIND gives insight into the layers of inspiration behind an incredible movie. 

Cinema is a lively and never-ending conversation that blossoms across time and space, which is part of what makes it such a dynamic and enduring art form. In this new post series, some of our favorite independent film directors will walk us through their movies with en eye towards the rich tapestry of their cinematic catalysts. It’s like DVD commentary (remember that?) but interactive! Welcome to Filmmakers Under the Influence. 

 

We’re thrilled to continue the series with a list from Eskil Vogt, the director of Blind, a tender and startlingly complex portrait of a woman coping with the loss of her sight that the Village Voice calls “a haunting puzzle of a movie, one to pick at, to un-peel, to see a second time through eyes that have adjusted to it”. It also won the 2014 Screenwriting Award for World Cinema at the Sundance Film Festival (Vogt wrote the film, as well).

 

Movies are never made in a vacuum, and Vogt was generous enough to walk us through the amazing moments of his film that were shaped by his own “mental queue” of movies seen over the years. Without further ado, we’ll let Eskil tell (and show) you in his own words:
Providence (1977), directed by Alain Resnais
During the writing of Blind I didn’t have many other films in mind. I felt in many ways I was exploring something that hadn’t really been done before, but there was one exception. When I had moments of doubt I would think about Providence and how in that film, Resnais had pulled off something similar to what I was aiming at. The biggest inspiration was how he managed to make the exploration of an aging, drunk writer’s creative process (played by John Gielgud) cinematic and fun. One of the things he does so well in that film is changing the sets and some characters from one moment to the next to fit the writer’s shifting moods and jumbled ideas.
Fandor recommended viewing: these two films also featuring the great John Gielgud.

 

See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989), directed by Arthur Hiller
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While making the film I tried to remind myself to not be too respectful and distanced in my portrayal of blindness. So to remind me of the slapstick potential of sightlessness, I re-watched the old Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder comedy about a blind man and a deaf guy on the run together after witnessing a murder. It maybe hasn’t really stood the test of time, but it has some great scenes. The blind Pryor has a wonderful moment, screaming in a packed subway “I’m not white? Why didn’t you tell me this before!”, but it is actually the deaf Wilder who has the funniest scenes, like when he breaks into a house, sneaking around, careful not to make a sound and totally oblivious to the the burglar alarm sounding from the moment he entered. It was very gratifying that the blind people who have watched my film (with audio description) really respond to the gallows humor – some said they recognize it in themselves as a way to cope with the loss of sight.
Recommended Fandor viewing: Black and White Trypps #4, which features Richard Pryor like you’ve never seen him before. Also, we have an absolutely incredible slapstick collection, if you don’t mind us boasting, and it’s bursting with sad clowns that really pack a wallop with each laugh.   

 


When I had written Blind I was struggling to convey to some people the way I wanted the movie to be both serious, funny, tender and cruel – changing from poetry to slapstick from one scene to the next. I then found I could talk to them about Woody Allen and they would get it. He is the master of such seamless changes tone and he never took it further than in Stardust Memories.
Recommended Fandor viewing: The Clowns, since this particular offering of Allen’s is so Fellini-esque and the film veers between comic levity and serious documentary so elegantly. 

 

Alfred Hitchcock and Robert Bresson.

When I started working with my Director of Photography, Thimios Bakatakis, I wanted to show him an idea of the precision I was looking for in filming the blind woman’s movements inside her apartment. I wanted to focus on her gestures, her hand movements, eliminating unnecessary information in the frame. To convey what I was after we watched a few Hitchcock scenes together (especially the quiet, beautiful suspense scene of Marnie stealing from her workplace) and some Bresson, especially L’argent. Thimios immediately got what I was after. Hitchcock and Bresson are more stylistically similar than one would think: both have a poetry in their shots that come from an almost unequalled precision of intent and storytelling, there is nothing superfluous in either’s style.
Recommended Fandor viewing: more films with the cinematography of Thimios Bakatakis! Specifically, Dogtooth and Keep the Lights On. Or, any of these early Hitchcock films.

 

Mask (1985), directed by Peter Bogdanovich
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As I was developing the character of Einar, one scene from Mask by Peter Bogdanovich popped up in my head. I hadn’t seen Mask in ages, but the moment of the blind Laura Dern touching the boy’s deformed face just fit perfectly with Einar’s longing for tenderness and tied seemingly separate strands of the film together. I was very happy when we could afford the rights to a little glimpse of this and make this scene happen.
Recommended Fandor viewing: BlindWhat are you waiting for?

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