A Filmmaker's Guide: "Nightwatching" (2007)
Film Studies (p.160)
In this chapter of ‘the filmmaker’s guide’ we’re actually going to be learning about literature and film together. I understand that many of you are sitting in university during difficult times and finding it increasingly hard to study and I understand that many of you who are not at university or not planning on it are possibly stuck of what to do, need a break or even need to catch up on learning film before you get to the next level. This guide will be brief but will also contain: new vocabulary, concepts and theories, films to watch and we will be exploring something taboo until now in the ‘filmmaker’s guide’ - academia (abyss opens). Each article will explore a different concept of film, philosophy, literature or bibliography/filmography etc. in order to give you something new to learn each time we see each other. You can use some of the words amongst family and friends to sound clever or you can get back to me (email in bio) and tell me how you’re doing. So, strap in and prepare for the filmmaker’s guide to film studies because it is going to be one wild ride.
A great study for me over the past few years has been to watch and gain insight into as many films about painters as I possibly can. One of my personal favourite films of all time has always been "Caravaggio" (1986) by Derek Jarman and this really sets the bar for any other film about painters. One thing I always have to remember is that the director is going to make the film look as much like a painting by the artist as physically possible and so, this is not a new or exciting technique - simply a trick of the trade.
"Nighwatching" is a Polish and British film directed by Peter Greenaway and starring Martin Freeman. Though is has a British director and main actor, the music is composed by acclaimed jazz pianist and composer Włodek Pawlik of Poland. The cinematography is by the Dutch filmmaker Reinier van Brummelen. It is fair therefore to say that the film belongs to many countries of Europe - and for some reason Canada as well.
A film about the painter Rembrandt always sounds like a good idea in theory, but in all aspects if the film was made in any other way apart from this - it would have probably been awful by comparison. This film is a thrilling, dark and critical movie filled with intrigue and counterculture of thought. It is a film which focuses and relies heavily on the performance of Martin Freeman to create the world of the painter as a rebellious and almost emotional/psychologically abusive character and, also to show his more vulnerable nature when it comes to his wife dying.
Let's take a look at a few stills...
You cannot tell me that this shot here doesn't look like a Rembrandt painting, can you? The use of reds and golds is something that is very obvious, but take a look at the kinds of people we have around the painting. We know from research that there are normally a lot of different classes of characters in Rembrandt paintings and so, in this shot we have the same thing happening. In the forefront we have the rich - some nobles, then at the back we have women who look like either cleaners of the tables or maids to someone's household. On the table we have laying a feast of fruit and bread and alcohol, colours of all kind and - as we move back in the shot we see less and less colour. Golds turn to browns and whites become dusky, colours of hair are hidden beneath caps and red completely vanish. Like a Rembrandt painting therefore, this shot is layered with many different meanings to people being placed the way that they are.
Now, there is not just the layering of colour here but instead, we have the positioning of people which - at first glance - is all over the place. In fact, the actual nature of the positioning is to show how famous the painting and the painter are at this time. Notice how everyone in this shot, though facing everywhere it seems, is either facing towards the painter or, behind him to the painting he has done. Some are facing forwards towards him as an act of solidifying the scandal he has caused and others, mesmerised by the intentions of the painting face behind. It is not done by accident, this is something purposeful in this shot and most obviously done to show where the story is heading: Rembrandt's downfall.
I would highly recommend watching this film on your BFI Player and looking out for symbols such as: the colour red, maids and also, babies. It is a wonderful film which doesn't get nearly enough recognition. I will warn you though - probably best to watch this one on your own. There are some scenes that you may not want to see again for their very nature.