Roger Deakins on his favorite Martin Scorsese film: Roger Deakins is considered a legend in the world of cinematography by insiders and cinema-viewers alike. His keen sense of visual narration infused with a panache for creating compelling visuals has gained him such reverence. In short, even if you don’t know the nitty-gritty of the technical aspects, you would appreciate the man’s work.

As a result, Deakins’ views gain significance in the eyes of everyone who holds the medium of cinema dear to them. There is another person who is held in a similar regard – the legendary director Martin Scorsese. The esteemed filmmaker had just premiered his latest feature – Killers of the Flower Moon, at the Cannes Film Festival. Starring Lily Gladstone, Leonardo Dicaprio, and Robert De Niro in the central roles, the film has opened with positive reactions.

Deakins has long been in the business and has frequently collaborated with the Coen brothers, Dennis Villeneuve, and Sam Mendes. However, he has but a single shared title with Mr. Scorsese – the 1997 Historical Epic Drama, Kundun

Based on the life of the 14th Dalai Lama, ‘Kundun’ received mostly positive reviews. It also got nominated for four Oscars, including one for cinematography by Mr Deakins. It turns out the maverick considers it the finest work of the director. 

During a recent panel discussion at the 92nd Street Y, Deakins spoke with the moderator Annette Insdorf about the experience of working with Scorsese. He also shared his thoughts on why he thinks ‘Kundun’ is Scorsese’s masterpiece. 

Here’s what Roger Deakins said about Scorsese’s Kundun, “I believe Marty usually does storyboards, but on ‘Kundun,’ he just annotated the script with his ideas, what the camera is going to do. He would draw a wide shot or a tracking shot with little stick figures. He gave us a copy of that and said, ‘This is the basis of what we’re working on for “Kundun.”

Deakins further talks about Scorsese’s working method, “Marty’s got a more defined vision of what he wants. But it was really done with his notations in the script, so in terms of setting the shot, I haven’t got a lot of flexibility. The kind of technical input you have on something like ‘1917’ compared with “Kundun,” which is much more simply shot… We had long conversations about the style of it. It’s a tone poem, which is why I love the film. I do think it’s [Scorsese’s] best film. I like the symmetry of it, the poetry of it.”  

Speaking about the strong emotional connection to Kundun, Deakins said, “There’s another scene in the film that also guts me as well. It’s the young Dalai Lama who’s got a 16mm projection, and he’s watching a projection of the atomic bomb, and that’s devastating. The juxtaposition of the two cultures and the beauty but this horror of what’s actually on the screen. It’s interesting.”

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