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Biziou, Peter

BIZIOU, Peter



Cinematographer. Nationality: British. Awards: Best Artistic Contribution, Cannes Film Festival, for Another Country, 1984; Academy Award for Best Cinematography, British Academy Award for Best Cinematography, British Society of Cinematographers Best Cinematography Award, for Mississippi Burning, 1989.


Films as Cinematographer:

1969

L'Échelle blanche (Secret World) (Freeman)

1976

Bugsy Malone (Parker)

1979

Life of Brian (Monty Python's Life of Brian) (Jones)

1981

Time Bandits (Gilliam)

1982

Pink Floyd The Wall (The Wall) (Parker and Scarfe)

1984

Another Country (Kanievska)

1986

Nine 1/2 Weeks (Lyne)

1988

A World Apart (Menges); Mississippi Burning (Parker)

1990

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (Stoppard)

1992

City of Joy (La Cité de la joie) (Joffé); Fatale (Damage) (Malle)

1993

In the Name of the Father (Sheridan)

1994

The Road to Wellville (Parker)

1995

Richard III (Loncraine)

1998

The Truman Show (Weir)



Publications


On BIZIOU: articles—

Levin, L., "Nine and One-Half Weeks, a Love Story," in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), vol. 66, no. 8, August 1985.

Kauffmann, Stanley, The New Republic (New York), vol. 191, 9 July 1984.

Rudolph, E., "This Is Your Life," in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), vol. 79, June 1998.


* * *

Peter Biziou has quietly built a solid reputation as one of the finest cinematographers of his generation that Britain has produced. Of Welsh extraction, he began his career building models, graduated to lighting commercials, and began his career behind the camera with his friend and long time collaborator, director Alan Parker. His journeyman years spent making commercials have heavily influenced his style without inhibiting his creativity: in making Peter Weir's The Truman Show (1998) he relied on that "unreal" look to create an insular world lit by too-brilliant sunlight: as Weir put it, "I was taken with the way Peter uses light, his choice of lenses and his overall look. I loved his work with directors Alan Parker and Jim Sheridan. He takes chances, yet one always sees what one needs to see. I also knew that Peter is selective and only takes on films to which he feels he can offer something unique." The Truman Show itself is a showcase for the cinematographer's art: when the director Christof (Ed Harris) says abruptly, "Cue the sun" and a fireball shoots up in response (a stunning effect requiring Biziou's strategy and elaborate digital enhancement) or the vignettes that alert the viewer to the presence of the many spying cameras recording Truman Burbank's life. To give "a more obvious, menacing feel," Biziou used gobos placed in front of the lens and explored the use of wide angle lenses often used in commercials, as well as all the ingenious "Truman-cams." His ability to translate Weir's wish for a hyper-real, light-soaked Norman Rockwell world is in keeping with his reputation as an inventive, intuitive artisan who compliments and completes a director's vision.

His work on literary adaptations is much admired: the audacious Richard III (1995), fashioned by Ian McKellen and director Richard Loncraine, owes much to Biziou's smoke-filled, hazy ambiance which signifies the creeping evil of Richard's homicidal ambition. A deco palette of soft browns and tan interiors is punctuated by bold flashes of color (usually a vivid red, of lipstick, fire, or blood) or by the sleek menace of gleaming black leather crypto-Nazi outfits: Richard III invents a fascist state a la Leni Riefenstahl, and Biziou's precise lighting and camera work creates the proper shock of recognition, from a Marat-style death scene to a stunning, flag-waving political rally. Similarly, Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1990) was saved from excessive staginess in large part by Biziou's work, and 1994's The Road To Wellville, a film otherwise disliked, was praised for its handsome photography.

Director Adrian Lyne praised Biziou's ability to deliver the exact look he wanted—an expensive, lush 1980s style eroticism that again hearkened back to the desired style of commercials—for his controversial Nine 1/2 Weeks (1985). The visual style of that film is what audiences responded to more than Lyne's typically juiced-up script, and which complimented leading lady Kim Basinger (whose career took off after this film). Biziou is also beloved of Monty Python fans: his work on Life of Brian (1979) and especially Terry Gilliam's cult favorite Time Bandits (1981) added much to the artistic success of those films. Time Bandits' conceit of time travel allowed Biziou to create a variety of visual styles to suggest historical passages and Gilliam's trademark, an otherworldly atmosphere and fantastic set design. The first employed a naturalistic style that added to its hilarious quality, while Gilliam's fantasy is otherworldly and surreal. Similarly, Biziou's work enhanced the cult artiness of Alan Parker's hypnotic midnight movie favorite Pink Floyd—The Wall (1982) and Bugsy Malone (1976) which established both Parker and Biziou, who met while still making commercials in the United Kingdom in the 1970s.

Peter Biziou finally received critical acclaim for his work in Another Country, the high-toned public school saga of spy Guy Burgess. He went for a look of "slightly sour sunlight" to suggest the oppressive nature of the place, and for this film he was awarded "Best Artistic Achievement" at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival. Admitted to the ranks of the British Cinematographer's Society, Biziou began to receive assignments more worthy of his talents. The versatile Biziou has proved most capable of handling assignments that require evoking difficult history: his work on Parker's Mississippi Burning, a fictionalized but gripping story of three murdered civil rights workers in 1964, catapulted him into the exclusive company of the best British cinematographers, capped by his Academy Award in 1989. The opening sequence (as the doomed men are chased by the Klan) is Biziou at his most powerful, and his artistic restraint helps to curtail Parker's characteristic excesses. Film historian Duncan Petrie noted that he used long lenses (between 70mm and 80mm) to give "an observational look" to the opening sequence, and further noted that Biziou has not been absorbed into the Hollywood scene, preferring to pick his projects and showing a preference for British films.

His work on Jim Sheridan's In the Name of the Father (1994) and Chris Menges' A World Apart (1988) shows Biziou's affinity for thoughtful, potentially controversial films. Biziou is as well known for his collegiality as his professional acumen: in an interview with American Cinematographer he was careful to credit everyone who helped achieve the astonishing look of The Truman Show and was generous with his praise. As a cinematographer, Peter Biziou has made good films exceptional and memorable, and his art has rescued many others: his body of work shows an artist of remarkable talent and sensitivity.

—Mary Hess

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