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The Essentials: 5 Amazing Joe Wright Scenes You Need To Know

Photo of Drew Taylor By Drew Taylor | The Playlist November 15, 2012 at 1:14PM

In just five movies, British director Joe Wright has established himself as a master stylist with an almost painterly eye for shot compositions and spatial geography. On the eve of his newest film, "Anna Karenina," we thought we would go through the five most amazing shots in his oeuvre (whittling them down was something of a challenge). As an added bonus, we got to talk to Seamus McGarvey, the cinematographer behind behind three of the five scenes, including the one from "Anna Karenina," about what it was like crafting these truly unforgettable moments. We've included the scenes where possible, but of course, you can check out each of these films on home video.
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The Soloist Joe Wright Robert Downey Jr.
The Soloist – The Big Pullback 
"The Soloist" is sort of an underrated movie, one that was mired in pre-publicity bad buzz after a strategic shift in its release date by Paramount made it look like an orphaned would-be Oscar contender that wasn’t good enough to make the cut. It's anchored by two outstanding lead performances in Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx, as a schizophrenic, homeless music prodigy. We were curious, in particular, about the film's final shot, which takes place inside of Walt Disney Concert Hall. It starts as a very tight shot on our lead characters and then pulls back, through the concert hall (they're on a mezzanine level) and finally ends up down on the stage, between musicians who are performing. Cut to black. Roll credits.

It's a totally dazzling way to end the movie, although bringing up this shot was somewhat painful for McGarvey. "You've actually made me break out in hives at the very memory of it!" he exclaimed. "We were in the Disney Concert Hall and it was a rig that had been put in at quite a large expense. It was a wire-cam system but it was custom built by the grip. Unfortunately, on the day, the whole thing fucking broke down. It was a motorized, remote control trolley system, and we had tested it and we were very pleased with our ingenuity and genius. But on the day, the motors burned on the trolley and we had to actually drag the thing with a rope, back." Making matters worse was the limited timeframe of the shoot. "We were only there for a couple of days so we couldn't postpone the shoot. We had to make it work."

And make it work they did. We were still curious how they got people into position on the stage in time for the camera to swing back. McGarvey broke it down thusly: "You've got a third of a second to shuffle somebody in, so it appears you're right over their shoulder…" He sighed again at the memory, before adding: "The magic of movies."

Pride And Prejudice Joe Wright Keira Knightley
Pride & Prejudice – The Dance
Although technically not one shot (when all is said and done, there are three separate cuts), the shots themselves are quite long and the scene, as a whole, might be the most Wright-ian (new term!) moment of the bunch. In the unforgettable dance from "Pride & Prejudice," based on Jane Austen's beloved 1813 novel, Keira Knightley plays Elizabeth Bennet, who is in the process of being wooed (and indeed wooing) the stately and grouchy Mr. Darcy (Matthew Macfadyen) during a highly choreographed ballroom dance. (The two stars appear in "Anna Karenina" in a very different relationship – they play siblings.)

The sequence, under the supervision of cinematographer Roman Osin, follows them delicately as they perform the smaller portions of the much larger dance. It just stays with them. It's mesmerizing, but less for the technical virtuosity and more because we're able to get in between them with their verbal sparring. It just goes on and on, and then, it breaks, and when it breaks, and this is one of the more genius visual flourishes in Wright's oeuvre, the rest of the dancers in the ballroom melt away and it's just Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth. It's the perfect visual manifestation of their closeness and connection, simple and brilliant, and when the sequence snaps back to include the other dancers, it's a painful, heartbreaking reminder of all of the outside noise that infected courtship back then.

The sequence is striking, even if it is Wright in his visual infancy, and the highlight of a highly enjoyable period romp. Without experimenting with sequences like this, we would never have the glory and opulence of "Anna Karenina." Thank you, "Pride & Prejudice."

This article is related to: Anna Karenina, Joe Wright, Features, Feature


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