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The Lighthouse, shot in Yarmouth, nominated for Oscar in cinematography


Willem Dafoe, left, and Robert Pattinson star in The Lighthouse, shot in Yarmouth. The film premiered Sunday at Cannes Film Festival in the Directors’ Fortnight section. - A24
Willem Dafoe, left, and Robert Pattinson star in The Lighthouse, shot in Yarmouth. - A24

The stark seascape of Yarmouth’s Cape Forchu, captured in the shimmering black and white and square-ish aspect ratio of a classic horror film, played a big part in earning the Nova Scotia-shot The Lighthouse its sole Academy Award nomination for best cinematography on Monday.

The visual work of Jarin Blaschke, a frequent collaborator with The Lighthouse writer/director Robert Eggers, holds its own in an Oscar category that also includes The Irishman’s warm retro look, the trash-strewn urban wasteland of Joker, 1917’s long-take trip through the trenches of the First World War and the sunshine glow of late 1960’s Los Angeles in Once Upon a Time... In Hollywood.

The cast and crew of The Lighthouse faced savage spring storms while making the period psychodrama on the southwestern shore, but Eggers and Blaschke turned the weather to the film’s advantage. The raging surf and blistering winds further highlights the extreme conditions faced by the beacon’s “wickies” played by Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson as they steadily descend into madness.

“It is briny. It feels old and crusty,” Blaschke said of the look Eggers was seeking in a Deadline.com interview when the film was released last fall. “The term he used was, ‘It’s black and white, with a cherry on top.’ 

“All I could think that that meant was, it’s just a classical, shot for black and white, high contrast, old school (film).”

On social media, the film’s dedicated fanbase immediately took to criticizing the Oscar-nominating membership of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for otherwise ignoring one of 2019’s most memorable titles and not giving sufficient credit to Eggers’ wild vision, his weird and witty script based on a historical event in Wales, or the toe-to-toe performances of Dafoe and Pattinson.

But at least the consensus that Baschke’s nomination is well-deserved, for going the extra mile in using authentic vintage lenses and 35mm film to achieve the look of an antique photograph for Eggers’ imaginative maritime nightmare.

“I guess it’s magic, right? You have something that doesn’t exist, and then you have to figure out how to make it,” said the cinematographer on Deadline.com. 

“I guess that’s also what’s satisfying about shooting film, because it’s actually a physical thing. It actually exists, this thing you invented — here it is.”

Look for Baschke in the audience at the 92nd Academy Awards, broadcast live from Los Angeles on Sunday, Feb. 9.

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