the age of scorsese


RIP Michael Ballhaus (1935-2017) - German cinematographer best known for his collaborations with Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Martin Scorsese and Mike Nichols passed away yesterday at age 81. The three-time Oscar nominated director of photography began his career in 1959 with a TV movie. In Germany, it was his association with Fassbinder that brought him acclaim and public perception with 15 films together, including Whitty (1971), Beware a Holy Whore (1971), The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant (1972), World on a Wire (1973), Martha (1974), Fox and his Friends (1975),  Mother Küsters’ Trip to Heaven (1975), Satan’s Brew (1976), Despair (1978), Chinese Roulette (1978), The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979) and Lili Marleen (1981). His career in America started with Dear Mr. Wonderful (1982) and Baby It’s You (1983) but it was with the partnership with Scorsese that made him a more recognisable and important name in photography, beginning in After Hours (1985). They also worked in The Color of Money (1986), The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), the elaborated shots of Goodfellas (1990) going through hallways without cuts, The Age of Innocence (1993), Gangs of New York (2002) and The Departed (2006), which was Ballhaus final major film work. Other works include: Under the Cherry Moon (1986) - to which he directed a few sequences without credit, Broadcast News (1987) - his first Oscar nomination; Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988), Working Girl (1988), The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989) - 2nd Oscar nod; Postcards from the Edge (1990), Guilty by Suspicion (1991), The Mambo Kings (1992), the exuberance of Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), Quiz Show (1994), Outbreak (1995), Sleepers (1996), Air Force One (1997), Primary Colors (1998), Wild Wild West (1998), The Legend of Beggar Vance (2000), Something’s Gotta Give (2003) and 3096 (2013), his last work. He’s father of cinemaographer/camera operator Florian Ballhaus and assistant director Jan Sebastian Ballhaus, and nephew of actor Carl Ballhaus who appeared in M (1931). A genius of speed, movement and light, Ballhaus was a true versatile cinematographer during his day, embracing several genres and styles. One who’ll be missed.


“The Age of Innocence” (1993) and art inspiration

Dir. Martin Scorsese

Cinematography by Michael Ballhaus

1. “Seaside” by James Tissot

2. “Woman with a Parasol” by Claude Monet

3. “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” by Georges Seurat

4. “In The Loge” by Mary Cassatt

5. “Portraits at the Stock Exchange” by Edgar Degas

6. “Sunset in Venice” by Claude Monet

Murder on the Orient Express movie updates via Empire Oct ‘17 mag issue:

  • Kenneth Branagh is shooting for a vision that is “big and bold, feeling both classic and contemporary”, the movie is “very entertaining but there are layers of real pain in the characters”, and it poses the idea: “Is revenge ever justified?”
  • Branagh wanted the movie to have scope, with intimidating wide open spaces, and an avalanche instead of a snow drift, to have the passangers marooned in a dangerous place.
  • The movie is “claustrophobic” but the action is not confined to the train
  • Inspiration for the movie were Martin Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence and John Ford’s The Searchers (the tangible feel of the eras they portrayed)
  • Branagh was interested to play a detective who was happy, in contrast with his other detective role Wallander. Branagh himself, however, is nothing like Poirot. “I am the kind of person who never guesses the murderer unless they tell me.”
  • Branagh on Poirot’s personality: “His association with crime takes its toll, but Poirot has an absolute determination to leave that world any time he can, to thrive in his delight in cake or travel. I get the feeling if he didn’t have to solve another crime in his life, he’d be overjoyed.”
  • Branagh made Poirot’s moustache a thing because it was a thing for Agatha Christie. “She really does have every character respond to it. There are 15 easy-to-find quotes about how she regards the moustache, which is usually “immense, “magnificent” or “majestic”. It is the one thing Christie and her husband found a little disappointing about the ‘74 version.”  
  • Branagh is “the only Poirot“ now for Olivia Colman (”piercing blue eyes and massive ‘tache”). Michelle Pfeiffer was a little distracted by the moustache in the beginning but got used to it. “He manages to make it completely believable and very sexy.” Branagh joked he had a trailer just for his moustache, which Penélope Cruz found amusing and had to laugh for 10 minutes at the beginning of the day. “Every day I saw him was so funny. First the moustache walked in, then him.”
  • The mood on set was very playful, “like camp.” The cast would try to find ways to make Branagh laugh on purpose, knowing he didn’t want to ruin the beautiful moustache. Josh Gad would do impressions of Cruz and her husband Javier Bardem, and quote The Goonies (”SLOTH LOVES CHUNK!”), and Branagh would play Shakespeare trivia with the cast, which Derek Jacobi and Judi Dench would win. Daisy Ridley learnt to play backgammon, Jacobi did his crossword puzzle every day, and Cruz taught everyone how to play Werewolves (”You have to give a speech how you are NOT one of the wolves in the village that is killing everyone else at night. You have to lie and manipulate and save yourself. I think it was a good exercise for what was happening on set.”)
  • Gad hopes the cast can re-unite for another film, Jacobi thinks they should do “all the Agatha Christies.”
  • Judi Dench was first to get cast, Olivia Colman was cast to play against her as “she was on such a rich vein of form” for years, and Branagh had an instinct they’d make for a great pairing
  • There are multiple ideas in the movie that are relevant to what we’re experiencing today; prejudice against outsiders, sense of pride in country, rise of nationalism
  • There’s a sense on the train that everyone knows more than they’re letting on
  • Depp’s character Ratchett is a star personality that takes up a lot of space and oxygen around him, and is someone you might believe would get murdered
  • They filmed several hours worth of footage in New Zealand and Switzerland for the scenery shown outside the train windows, which was then digitally stitched together and played on LED screens wrapped around each carriage. Hydraulics and air bellows beneath the carriages gave the illusion of movement.
  • A fully moving, 22-ton locomotive, plus tender and four carriages, were used for the shots in Longcross Studios. The leafy lanes of Surrey became the former Yugoslavia.
  • The film was shot with the last four 65 mm Panavision cameras in the world because Branagh knew they made cinema an event, the depth of color and the quality of the definition of the image are extraordinary. Some of the vista shots have a David Lean quality, with exquisitely shot frames.

Thank you to @lovelyridley for scanning the article for me!


“Has modern-day cinema ever found itself a more stunning romance actress than Michelle Pfeiffer? Scorsese once called her “the best we have” after seeing her in Dangerous Liaisons, and based on the evidence of Pfeiffer’s dazzling, disgraced, deeply-felt Countess Ellen Olenska in Scorsese’s lush Edith Wharton adaptation, it’s hard not to take him at his word. Grappling wondrously with Daniel Day-Lewis as the betrothed, upper-crust object of her affections, Pfeiffer cuts right to the heart of Wharton’s incisive, nineteenth-century social critique with all the exquisite tension and slow-burning emotion of an intense and impossible love deferred. Just looking at a still of Pfeiffer in this is enough to make you wish that this poignant, perceptive performer still worked at the rate at which we need her, which is always.” — Matthew Eng