director and producer
What does the element of light represent for you?
The first thing that comes to mind is the light of the soul. The vital essence that belongs to some people who exude the positive charisma of aware beings, in the widest sense of the term, and dazzle with their presence.
Then naturally, my mind thinks of the cinema.
The importance of colour temperature and of the choice of lights to convey an emotion, to create a particular atmosphere in the scene of a film. Light, metaphor of life and all that is beneficial since the time of Ancient Greece, is my favourite physical phenomenon. Talking to you about it now, I feel as though I could immerse myself in the blinding white light of Los Angeles and in the warm light of Rome where I live. One evening, while admiring the Roman sunset from Piazza Farnese, a friend told me how the Emperor Hadrian, despite his widespread travels, claimed that the loveliest light belonged to the Eternal City and that the light further south was liked less by the emperor as it made man aggressive. Today, science has shown that the brighter the light, either natural or artificial, the more intensely emotions are felt, both positive and negative. This would explain the passionate nature of people from the South. I love the South, its intense light and strong emotions. The element of light is essential and of vital importance for my well-being. I couldn’t live in a house without light.
Apart from the element of light, visible and measurable, there is, however, another kind of light invisible to the eye. The same light that permeates or is lacking in those human beings I spoke of before, also belongs to environments, houses and places in relation to who has passed through them, who lived there and dwells there now. Some houses have seemed gloomy to me, dark, but at second glance it wasn’t the case. The light was there, but the spiritual light was missing.
What do you associate the term illumination with?
With an environment, a modelling studio, a set and my home; with any place or situation that you desire to give personality to through the use of light, and that you wish to attach to a sensation or an emotion.
Spiritually and psychologically speaking, I associate the term illumination with the acquisition of awareness and intuition but also with the Jungian identification, the unveiling of one’s unconscious that leads to self-knowledge.
Tell us in what measure and form light has an influence in your life, ideas and emotions.
As I already hinted, light is a vital element for me. Only rarely have I avoided the light or shut myself in my home with the shutters closed. Light is fundamental for my well-being but also for my creativity. The predominant colour in my home is white and my living room is flooded with light at an almost disturbing level. On more than one occasion my guests have asked me to soften it, so I keep a supply of candles of all shapes and sizes, I turn off all the artificial lights and light up dozens of candles everywhere. I have always paid a great deal of attention to the element of light and not just in my work. It is extremely important to me both from a physical and spiritual point of view.
How much does light or the metaphor of illumination influence your work as a stylist?
As Jean Cocteau said, “Cinema is the form of modern writing whose ink is light”.
Light and its use define the genre of a film. Furthermore, in a film the light is used to direct the eye of the spectator towards a certain actor, an object or any other detail or action in a scene. The quantity of light, its adjustment, whether it is direct and strong or soft and delicate, its colour temperature and its position within an environment, create atmosphere, the mood of a scene.
In addition, light is essential for creating the psychology of the characters. It can be warm, cold, dream-like, sensual, invasive or soft. Light, calibrated to the emotions of the characters, reflects them, making them clear to the spectator. Light is fundamental in a film for all these reasons and it is why the director of photography is of fundamental importance. The DoP, actually, illuminates the set and decides, together with the director, where to place the lights and how to calibrate them or even if and in which scenes only natural light should be used. There are also those who have made the extreme choice of using only natural light during filming, such as Kubrick in “Barry Lyndon” who lit the night scenes just with candles or oil lamps. Lanthimos made the same decision in his recent film “The Favourite”.
Often, on the contrary, the light may appear to be natural, like the sunlight that enters in from a window, but it is actually completely constructed, planned down to the smallest detail and absolutely artificial.
One of the metaphors for illumination is the flash of genius. Illumination is the lightbulb that switches on. The part of me that is still a child makes me think of Little Helper, Gyro Gearloose’s friend in the Disney comic strip. The bulb’s flicker of light when it turns on represents intuition, the creative idea in arrival.
There are various methods to get in touch with our creativity, some would say, with the divinity that is in us.
The way into it, although it partly concerns the world of the unconscious, superconscious, analogical and may seem disconnected from any form of rationality, in reality requires a lot of discipline, motivation, determination, method, perseverance and courage. It goes from the recognition of one’s own shadow, as Jung would say, to the cleansing of any form of envy, jealousy and fear, to arrive, as Castaneda would say, to become flawless beings, or rather, Warriors of the Light. Meditation exponentially accelerates this process.
Could you, in your way, using your own language, represent to us the concept of illumination?
There is no simple answer as my concept of illumination has no single definition but varies according to place, circumstance, my mood and many other variables.
I can certainly find in my imagination an archetypal, universal, transcendent and absolute concept of light, and answer this question by citing the sphere of intelligible light of Parmenides, Plato and Plotinus, for example, which transcends space and time and is not part of this world.
But the sphere of intelligible light is an ideal and it is not easy to transpose it into earthly reality.
In other words, I absolutely don’t have, and I don’t believe there can be, a single, objective concept of illumination.
Illumination for me is simply a means, a tool for creating sensations and atmosphere.
Illumination is suggestion.
And therefore, it is easier to reply to this question with a series of photographs where the light is the medium, or rather, brings the emotion with it.
Barry Lindon by Stanley Kubrick,
DoP John Alcott (in the film only natural light was used)
Control by Anton Corbijn,
DoP Martine Ruhe and John Watson
2001: A Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick,
DoP Geoffrey Unsworth and John Alcott (additional photographer)
Blade Runner by Ridley Scott,
DoP Jordan Cronenweth
The Favourite by Yorgos Lanthimos,
DoP Robbie Ryan (only natural light was used in the film)
The Suspect by Alfred Hitchcock,
DoP Harry Stradling Sr.
(inside the glass of milk there is an illuminated light bulb, which highlights the obsession of the protagonist Lina who is convinced that Johnnie wants to poison her)