Ed Lachman Introduces Carol

Ed Lachman


Ed Lachman Introduces Carol

By Ed Lachamn

In 2016, Lachman joined Metrograph Theater to present our inaugural 35mm screening of Carol. These are the words he shared.

Carol plays at Metrograph from December 27–January 2.


Well, just some preliminary remarks. Carol is based on a book that Patricia Highsmith wrote, it was her second book, called The Price of Salt. She had to write it under an assumed name, Claire Morgan, because of the subject matter. She had written Strangers on a Train—that was quite successful. And she was known for the crime milieu, for dealing with the subjectivity of the character’s mind.

This book was based partly on something that happened to her: she saw this woman—this was the Teresa character—who worked in a department store, like FAO Schwarz, let’s say. She saw this woman and she became very smitten. She never actually acted on it, but she went out and kind of spied on the woman in—she lived in, I think, Maplewood, New Jersey. Only years later did she find out that this very elegant woman committed suicide. But they never actually met.

So she wrote this novel in a feverish state, she had the flu, and she wrote it over a short period of time. She took it to her publisher, and they said, “Well, we really don’t think you can publish this book because of the subject matter.” And it took many years—like 16, 17 years—[before] she acknowledged that she had written this book. But it became a very important book in the lesbian community, because at the time this kind of story of a woman would either end up [with her] in a mental institution or committing suicide, there’s always this moralistic ending, there was never the possibility that the relationship could succeed. In this book, there is the possibility, and the chance that it will.

"Rather than the films of that period, we looked at the social and cultural influences of that period, and at where the images were coming from."

This book came to Todd through Cate Blanchett, through Liz Carlson, it was actually produced through British money. The question when you take a book like this, or any book—well, the brilliance of Todd is in how he constructs his story. Even though it’s a story that takes place in the 50s, it wasn’t the Douglas Sirkian world of, let’s say, Far From Heaven that we did, which was the late 50s and which had this kind of optimism, through materialism—this lush world that Sirk created was kind of a social commentary on our life at that time. But the world that we were depicting [with Carol] was just after the war. It was pre-Eisenhower. We hadn’t rebuilt the infrastructure of the cities or the country. It was a very uncertain time.

So this story kind of fit the emotional, austereness of the world that it was situated in. Also, it was a time when people didn’t really express their emotions as openly as maybe we do today. Rather than the films of that period, we looked at the social and cultural influences of that period, and at where the images were coming from. We discovered, kind of unbeknownst to us, that there were actually a lot of women who were taking photos, who were photojournalists at the time—like Helen Levitt, Ruth Orkin, Esther Bubley, and then later art photographers like Vivian Maier—who were experimenting with color film.


The conceit was to capture this soiled, lived-in world—not a cinematic world, not a film world. We looked at these early color slides, and they were Ektachrome—they weren’t Kodachrome, Kodachrome would have been those very saturated, bright reds, colors. But the early colors in this still film are very muted, and they fit, again, the world. One of the reasons we shot, again, on 16mm—not 35mm, not digital—was to capture the film structure, and so that the grain would add a certain emotionality to the storytelling. And that was another reason why we chose film over digital. I could go on and on about why I like film over digital—I think it has more depth, and more emotion; it’s not pixel-fixated on one film plane like digital is; that there’s these three layers, RGB, that create the color film that has a certain depth. All those things added to our consideration visually of how you enter the subjective viewpoint of the emotions of the mind.

And there’s another visual reference: someone that we kind of discovered when we worked on Mildred Pierce was Saul Leiter, who is a contemporary of Robert Frank and Louis Faurer. The interesting thing about Saul Leiter was that he was a street photographer like Robert Frank, but he always wanted to be, and was, a painter. And so his images in the street are always kind of the shards of reality; the content is the abstraction. They aren’t really like social realism photography—neither is Robert Frank, but that’s another kind of poetic realism. [Leiter] is really about the impression and the feeling in the image, and that gave us a touchstone to shoot through windows, and rain, and reflections, that we felt gave an entrapment to the characters. But it was also something that was obscured by what we as the viewer see in as they are seeing out. And so all these things—you play games with yourself to try to find a visual language to tell the story…

I think that’s enough bla bla bla! Thank you.