Murphy Reflects on 2 Passion Projects

Artist Richard Artschwager
Artist Richard Artschwager

Not long ago, The Good Wife cinematographer Fred Murphy, ASC, finished a project he had been shooting off and on for eight years: Richard Artschwager: Shut Up and Look, an intimate documentary portrait of the artist, who was a painter, illustrator and sculptor. Artschwager, who died in 2013, was a quirky, reclusive, independent and influential artist whose name is not well known outside the art world. He is described in the film at various times as an “artist’s artist,” "a master of enigma” and “goddamn oblique.”

Shut Up and Look was directed by Fred’s wife, Maryte Kavaliauskas. In addition to shooting, Fred served as co-producer. “Richard was one of those people who’s skilled at everything they do,” says Fred. “He was kind of like a mad scientist. Even in his 80s, he had 10 very complicated paintings going in his studio. He was totally fearless and full of questions and ideas.”

Fred says the movie goes off on the occasional odd tangent. The same might be said of Artschwager, who sometimes worked in media such as Formica and horsehair, and who for a time designed and built furniture. Fred and Maryte followed Artschwager to Vienna, where a major exhibit of his work was mounted toward the end of his life. The artist had served in World War II, ending up in Vienna at the end of the conflict and marrying a Viennese woman. In the film, he retraces some of his steps from 50 years ago and recalls the post-war scarcity he encountered. In interviews, friends and colleagues speculate on the impact of his war experience on his sensibility.

“We made a Third Man reference,” says Murphy. “We got Richard up on the Ferris wheel, just like the famous scene with Joseph Cotten. It’s so much fun to step outside of what you might call ‘regular’ cinematography and do something completely different.” (A few shots from The Third Man trailer are intercut, complete with Anton Karas’ iconic zither.)

To make the documentary, Fred worked with a long list of cameras and formats, with occasional help from Nancy Schreiber, ASC; Joan Churchill, ASC, and Sebastian Slayter. “It’s very primitive,” says Fred of the imagery. “We had no money. We shot with every digital camera we could borrow.”

Working with his wife on the project reminded Fred of how they met: on the set of the 1970s film Not a Pretty Picture, directed by Martha Coolidge. That project mixed documentary and narrative techniques. Fred shared cinematography duties with Don Lenzer, and Maryte served on the sound crew. “Maryte was one of the first women in that role, and she was brilliant with the boom — she could dodge any shadow,” Fred recalls. “I did a bunch of movies with her, and we had an occasionally contentious relationship. But we always made up, and we had a great time all over the world.”

Shut Up and Look has been screened at museums around the world since 2013, and on Nov. 22 it will play at Schaulager in Switzerland as part of the exhibition Future Present. Here is a trailer for the film:

More recently, between episodes of The Good Wife, Fred shot a short, Jewel Thief, for his friend Markus Greisshammer. It was a two-day shoot on the Red Epic. “It was a favor, and I’d had an operation on my foot, so I was hobbling around,” Fred says. “I’d used an earlier version of the Red on a previous project, and it was slow and murky and it didn’t handle tungsten light very well. But Jewel Thief was the completely opposite experience — it looks great. Panavision kindly lent me a bunch of Primos for very little money.”

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Fred enjoyed the simplicity of the shoot. “It was just me, an assistant and a DIT, with one or two electricians, one grip and about five lights,” he says. “I’m used to doing a TV series, where there’s a lot of digital equipment. You’re hooked to the sound department, and you’re hooked to the video village. On Jewel Thief, there was none of that. That’s something I hadn’t done in a long time. I’d forgotten how much fun it is to just have the camera and a light meter.”


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