Sunday, August 19, 2007
While CAT PEOPLE can rightly be called a near equal collaboration between Schrader and Scarfiotti, that shouldn't take away from the contribution of cinematographer John Bailey.
Missouri born Bailey has had a prolific career since staring out as a camera operator on Monte Hellman's incredible TWO LANE BLACKTOP in 1971. In 1972 he was hired on by Robert Altman protege Alan Rudolph for his early film PREMONITION but he wouldn't begin working steadily until Paul Schrader hired him for his influential AMERICAN GIGOLO (1980).
Bailey's crystal sharp and slick photography on AMERICAN GIGOLO would mark him as one of the most in demand D.P's of the eighties and his best films, CAT PEOPLE (1982), RACING WITH THE MOON (1984), THE POPE OF GREENWICH VILLAGE (1984), and MISHIMA (1985), remain some of the most memorably shot films of the period.
Bailey's career in the nineties was a bit disappointing as most of his assignments were strictly commercial and increasingly bland Hollywood projects. He did score big with the fascinating Schrader film FOREVER MINE in 1999 where he got to photograph the exquisite Gretchen Mol and his work on Jennifer Jason Leigh's THE ANNIVERSARY PARTY (2001) was also notable.
It is his work with Schrader that will mainly be remembered though. While it is hard to argue that the glass cutting coldness of AMERICAN GIGOLO isn't his best work, his shooting of CAT PEOPLE is just about as good. My favorite Bailey moment in the film is without question the swimming pool sequence where he expertly uses the lights reflecting off the water to create a real labyrinth of shadows and suspense. Bailey is also an expert at photographing faces and whether it's Kinski in CAT PEOPLE or Sean Penn in RACING WITH THE MOON, or the aforementioned Mol, he manages to bring out their very natural glamour with seemingly ease.
Bailey, who has also directed, continues to work with his most interesting recent work being Werner Herzog's audacious INCIDENT AT LOCH NESS (2004). He is a talented man and his contributions to Schrader's best films are often overlooked.