Earlier this month I had the opportunity to introduce Kelly Reichardt to the IU Cinema stage for her Jorgensen Guest Filmmaker Lecture. It was a wonderful experience; but getting the chance to hear Kelly speak about filmmaking made the whole thing even more rewarding. In fact, it changed the way I viewed her newest film, Certain Women, later that weekend. Here are a few things I learned from her interview, and how it has impacted the way I watch her films.
Multiple times Kelly mentioned her fascination with the frame. In filmmaking the frame refers to the edge of the film or screen image. Like camera angle, the frame is often consciously thought out so that the resulting image contains particular elements composed in a particular fashion inside of it. As a result, EVERY SINGLE SHOT requires attention to framing.
When you watch a Kelly Reichardt film again, pay attention to how the frame creates each image—it might just change your perception of the entire film.
Kelly admitted that she likes to have her hands on film at some point during shooting and/or post-production. Her first feature, River of Grass (1994), for instance, was shot on 35mm—as was her 2010 film Meek’s Cutoff—and this year’s Certain Women was shot on 16mm. In discussing Meek’s Cutoff, in particular, Kelly spoke of how the grain of the film (the texture of the material’s resulting chemical reaction to light) contributes to a very specific look. Nowadays we’ve become accustomed to high definition digital screens that give us images in crisp, high focus; and so movies made with film can often look extremely out of focus. And because film relies on a chemical process involving light, a shooting location’s weather and other natural elements can very distinctly impact final results. Take, for instance, foggy, misty air or dusty, sand-filled skies that both tend to scatter and diffuse light in unique ways.
Next time you watch River of Grass, Meek’s Cutoff, Certain Women, or any of the other movies Kelly has shot on film try to imagine how different it would look if it were shot digitally, if it were not shaped and marked by the environment in such a way.
At one point in the interview Kelly mentioned her appreciation for early B movies, describing them as “the stories from people whose stories don’t get told.” For her, the story matters, and often it seems that it revolves around the characters, not the plot. Kelly said of Meek’s Cutoff, “It’s a character film about these people that I try to come to know.” I think this applies to many of her movies. What are they about? I’d say the characters.
Consider in the future, when you visit or revisit one of Kelly’s films: who are the characters and what are their stories? For instance, Certain Women’s third story is not Beth (Kirsten Stewart)’s, but the rancher (Lily Gladstone)’s. It’s the story of a woman who has no name.
Prior to Kelly Reichardt’s arrival on campus, Katherine Johnson blogged about her film Meek’s Cutoff on A Place For Film: Beauty in a Feeling: Meek’s Cutoff and Kelly Reichardt. In addition to the Jorgensen Lecture IU Cinema’s Kelly Reichardt: A Keen & Subtle Eye Film Series included screenings of Certain Women, Night Moves, Old Joy, River of Grass, and Wendy and Lucy.
Katherine Johnson, currently a third year legacy PhD student in Communication and Culture, studies film and media, genre (particularly the Western), gender, and performance. She has a BA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an MA from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, and has been obsessed with film since the beginning.