Munich is the 10th film that cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, ASC, has lensed for director Steven Spielberg since they first paired a dozen years ago on Schindler’s List, which not only was named best picture by the Motion Picture Academy in 1993, but also earned Kaminski the first of two Oscars for best cinematography.In terms of its intensely dark subject matter, the reality-based drama—about an Israeli assassination squad created in the aftermath of the hostage-taking and murder of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games by Palestinian terrorists—can be viewed as a kind of bookend to the former film, about one man’s efforts to save Jews from extermination in the Nazi holocaust.But visually the two films couldn’t be more different. Instead of Kaminski’s distinctive and appropriately somber black-and-white photography in Schindler’s List, in Munich Kaminski uses a varied but decidedly dark tonal palette mixed with a nervous edgy hand-held photographic style for much of the movie. “The movie is about a group of Mossad agents tracking the terrorists like hunters after their prey, while the terrorists are moving constantly between various countries,” notes Kamniski. “That’s where the constantly moving camera and the handheld Steadicam feel comes from. Every time we are stalking the prey, the camera moves, every time we follow our guys spying on someone, the camera moves, every time there’s an action sequence the camera moves or pans or dollies or zooms in,” says the Polish-born DP. The visual style Kaminski chose “evokes the feeling of a dark, murky, shadowy world. It is a world of suspense and shady characters—a world of illusion. What starts out as one thing gets transformed. It’s also a world of killing people. Killing may happen during the day, but mostly you want to shoot in darker, more suspenseful light.“This is not a pretty looking movie,” adds the DP. “And as it goes on, it gets grittier and uglier. Is my work about creating pretty photography? Sometimes it is—but in this case I’m interpreting the story and restraining myself, making things ugly—for the sake of story, of course.”The choice of lenses was influenced by Spielberg’s desire to invoke a grittier, ’70s style of filmmaking. “Steven insisted, rightfully, that we use zoom lenses,” Kaminski notes. “’70s cinema was so full of zooms that if you start zooming in and out you’re allowing the viewers to feel like they’re watching a film made in that time.” The film takes place in eight different countries, and Kaminski decided to give each a different look, very subtly, and each with a somewhat different color palette. “This way each country has its own individuality, even though most of them were shot in Malta and Hungary,” he says. What’s next for Kaminski? A brief break after the nonstop pace of the last two years. On top of serving as the cinematographer on Munich, he also was the DP on Spielberg’s summer science fiction spectacular, War of the Worlds. “I may do a movie with another director, or I may direct a film myself,” he says.
Written by Jack Egan