Consider the difference between Oliver Stone’s JFK and Nixon, both of which were photographed by Richardson, and Stone’s W., shot by someone else. The two former films have a gravitas and visual complexity, compared to which W. seems light-weight and disposable, notwithstanding Josh Brolin’s solid performance in the title role. Or should we just blame W. himself?
It was Stone who gave Richardson his first important job as Director of Photography on Salvador (1982). Richardson became, arguably, Stone’s most important collaborator, the cinematographer of Platoon (1986), Wall Street (1987), Talk Radio (1988), Born on the Fourth of July (1989), The Doors (1991), JFK (1991 – for which Richardson won the Best Cinematography Oscar), Heaven & Earth (1993), Natural Born Killers (1994 – their most “experimental” film), Nixon (1995), and the neo-noir U Turn (1997). When we think of these films, Richardson’s striking images are what we remember.
In 1995, Richardson photographed his first film for Martin Scorsese, Casino, a gorgeous movie. The Scorsese collaboration continued with Bringing Out the Dead (1999), The Aviator (2004 – for which Richardson won another Academy Award), and the upcoming Shutter Island.
Richardson also photographed two documentaries by the groundbreaking Errol Morris: Fast, Cheap and Out of Control (1997) a truly avant-garde-looking film, and Standard Operating Procedure (2008), ostensibly about the prisoner abuses of Abu Gharib, but even more concerned with the nature of photography itself.
Quentin Tarantino – who knows a good thing when he sees it – hired Richardson to photograph his epic Kill Bill, Vol. 1 (2003) and 2 (2004). Kill Bill, Vol. 1′s showdown in the snow between Uma Thurman and Lucy Liu is one of the most beautiful sequences in either man’s filmography. Inglourious Basterds (2009) is their latest collaboration. Its deeply saturated colors recall the 1940s Technicolor masterpieces (Black Narcissus, The Red Shoes) photographed by Jack Cardiff for Emeric Pressburger & Michael Powell.
The close-up of Mélanie Laurent (above) as Inglorious Basterds’ French-Jewish heroine is a testament to the photographer’s art, the restricted but rich color palette of red, white, and black that sets off the actress’s flesh tones and her back-lit blonde hair, the classical highlighting of the actress’s eyes beneath her veil. Happy Birthday, Mr. Richardson, and may you continue to create images we cannot forget.