Video: Cinematographer Dante Spinotti on Shooting Michael Mann’s ‘Manhunter’

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In 1986, Mann was the first to bring Thomas Harris’s character of Hannibal Lecter to the screen with Manhunter, and his adaptation of the novel Red Dragon, is a disturbing examination of voyeurism. Writer/director Michael Mann’s measured approach pays off in spades. Manhunter is a clever race-against-time flick, in which the ticking of the clock is measured in Will’s attempt to retain his own sanity as he forces himself to think more and more like his quarry. Mann lays on the style thick with contrasting colour schemes to the seemingly contrary actions of his central characters, and cinematographer Dante Spinotti employs specific colours to emphasize emotional and jointed parallels. Mann and Spinotti deftly employ colour to heighten mood resulting in creating tension and uncertainty in the unlikeliest of settings. Graham is mostly shot in minimalist hues of blues and blacks contrasting sharply with the Lector’s clinical white prison surrounding – which itself parallels his outwardly false charm but also contradicts his inwardly desires. The use of blue on Graham has ironic overtones, as the lunar patterns influence Dollarhyde’s activities. Notice how his wife Molly appears lit in moonlight, foreshadowing what is to later come. Mann explores all angles here, both visually and emotionally. Using light and shadow to enhance an atmosphere of horror and working with a couple of highly stylized set pieces, the director’s taste for structural beauty is on full display. Shades of green, purple, violet and mauve appear throughout the film and these colours trigger Graham’s brief mental breakdowns; meanwhile Graham also appears intimidated by the mental hospital’s white walls and those surrounding Hannibal’s jail. The Tooth Fairy’s home is decorated by brights reds and neon greens and the deliberately disorientating climax features mirrors, reflections, painting and lunar landscapes, all aligned with the killer’s master-plan and psychological trauma. The following interview, features Dante Spinotti discussing how exactly he went about getting the specific look Micahel Mann wanted for Manhunter. Enjoy!

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By Ricky

Ricky D is the editor-in-chief of Sound on Sight and one of the hosts of the Sound On Sight podcast and the Sordid Cinema podcast. He is Sound On Sight's expert on Horror and contributes written reviews when time permits.

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