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Contender-Peter Suschitzky-Cinematographer-Eastern Promises

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Eastern Promises is about the transplant of the ruthless Russian mafia to London, where it has metastasized within a culture of emigres that might as well still be living in Moscow. For director of photography Peter Suschitzky, ASC, this is the eighth film he’s done with director David Cronenberg, going back to Dead Ringers in 1988.
The film stars Viggo Mortensen as a driver for the Russian mob and Naomi Watts as a midwife who encounters him in a search for the family of an infant born to a woman who dies just before delivering. The hunt leads her to a Siberian restaurant, a hangout for Russian mobsters so tough that it makes the Sopranos look like the Partridge Family.
Though he grew up in England, where at the age of 22 he made his mark as the youngest DP in the history of British cinema, Suschitzky hadn’t worked in London for nearly a quarter century (he began to learn photography at the age of four from his father Wolfgang, who was also a cinematographer).
One of Suschitzky’s successes in Eastern Promises was capturing a seamy and somewhat sinister side of London, one that was the polar opposite of the tourist’s idea of Great Britain’s capital, with a clinical anomie. The DP also coolly filmed a series of cruel and violent scenes ranging from a throat slitting at the beginning to a no-holds barred fight in blindingly white steam room where a totally naked Mortensen goes at it with two fully-clothed mob members who have barged in to off him. The scene is already one of the most talked-about film sequences of the year.
“David wanted it shot quickly so we accomplished it in a day and a half on a set built in the studio,” says the DP. “I managed to light it so we could shoot in any direction with only small corrections between the set-ups. It was all done by Steadycam, and we used just one camera.
“When I first met David, I was shamefully unaware of his previous films,” recalls the cinematographer, whose collaboration with Cronenberg also includes films such as M. Butterfly (1993) and A History of Violence (2005). But the two clicked quickly: “Working became quite instinctive and unspoken. Of course we talk about angles before we shoot a sequence. But as for the look of the movie, he placed a lot of confidence in me, and I had confidence in him as the director from the word go. Working became quite instinctive and unspoken.”
In addition to his repeat work with Cronenberg, Suschitzky has a large number of credits as a DP with many notable directors, including The War Game (1965) directed by Peter Watkins; Charlie Bubbles for actor-director Albert Finney (1967); and Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980) for director Irvin Kershner. Suschitzky also did two movies with enfant terrible director Ken Russell, Lisztomania (1975) and Valentino (1977). And he was the cinematographer on one of the all-time cult movies that hasn’t stopped playing since it was released in 1975, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, directed by Jim Sharman.
Despite the diversity of the movies he’s photographed, Suschitzky denies he’s a style chameleon. “People tell me my movies look subtly different one from the other,” he says. “I’m not conscious of trying new styles. I’ve always felt style is not something you put on like an overcoat. It’s something that has to come from the inside.”
—by Jack Egan

Written by Jack Egan

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