Vadim Yusov (1929 – 2013)
Vadim Yusov was one of the most acclaimed cinematographers of the USSR. His famously collaborations with Andrei Tarkovsky gave him a special status.
Vadim Yusov (Вадим Юсов) was one of the most acclaimed cinematographers of the Soviet Union. His famously collaborations with Andrei Tarkovsky, Georgiy Daneliya and Sergey Bondarchuk gave him a special status in Soviet cinema.
Yusov started his career with Andrei Tarkovsky when the latter asked him to work for his diploma medium-length film Katok i Skripka (The Steamroller and the Violin) in 1961. Their collaboration lasted more than 10 years and Yusov was the director of photography for Tarkovsky’s first three feature films. Yusov was probable the best cinematographer that could capture the poetic essence of Tarkovsky’s early work.
He showed his talent in Tarkovsky’s first feature Ivanovo Detstvo (Ivan’s Childhood, 1962) by using the lyrical depiction of the landscape and the dream-like long shots. Yusov never admitted that he created a new way of cinematography he just claimed that he used the classic techniques differently. For the famous scene in the forest with the officer and the woman, Yusov explains: “Tarkovsky said one had to shoot this scene from below the ground level, so I created something that could hold the camera in that position, so it photographed our hero from the interior of the earth. In those days there were no films applying this style.”
His masterpiece could be considered Andrei Rublev (1966) where Yusov managed to express in the best way the work of the 15-century icon painter using a striking black and white Cinemascope picture. Probably this was the most eximious example of Tarkovsky’s poetic approach and also his last non-color film. During the shooting of the film their relationship reached a different and probably more personal level. According to Yusov: “The relationship between the cameraman and director is a very interesting one. This is a very personal problem for me. The work on Rublev was an unending search and trials. I must say that each of us was able to find our own truth.”
Their last and probably most episodic work was of course Solaris (1972) where it seemed that none of them was enjoying the presence of the other. Extremely different than their previous works, they almost omitted the extreme landscapes and focused in a studio based scenery. This could be easily characterized as almost claustrophobic especially when it is compared with the previous works. Their relationship had reached its limits and acording to Tarkovsky’s diary “Work on Solaris has been hell. Yusov and I are constantly arguing.”
Yusov did not work again with Tarkovsky and when he was asked about his refusal to direct the photography of Zerkalo (The Mirror) he replied: “I worked so much and for so long mainly with Tarkovsky. When the cameraman and the director work together for too long, the cameraman can sometimes feel he is under too strong a pressure from the director, on his own territory, and this isn’t good for the film. Working together on one film for a very long time is particularly detrimental to mutual relationships. Pressure and possessiveness lead to weariness. In the end one should work alone. Tarkovsky has “invaded” my territory.”
During the collaboration with Tarkovsky, Yusov had also worked with the Georgian master of lyrical comedies, Georgiy Daneliya. Ya Shagayu po Moskve (Walking the Streets of Moscow, 1964), Ne Goryuy (Don’t Grieve, 1969) and later Pasport (1991) were some of their most acclaimed works that made him to diverse his style. Yusov focused mainly to a new to him depiction of the socialistic everyday life, the rhythms of his camera were of course faster and his cinematography finally met the urbanized reality.
After Tarkovsky, Yusov took a completely different route in his career and his most drastic collaboration was with the blockbuster director Sergey Bondarchuk. Their works could be characterized as the exact opposite of what Tarkovsky wanted. In Bondarchuk’s films, Yusov had the opportunity to work in big budget studios with impressive scenes, many actors, pure Hollywood styled long shots and of course in films with full color and action. He also expanded his genres and he tried WWII war films, Oni Srazhalis Za Rodinu (They Fought for the Motherland, 1975), revolution westerns, Krasnye Kolokola (Mexico in Flames, 1982) and epic historical dramas, Boris Godunov (1986).
Regardless his latter works, Vadim Yusov will always be considered as Andrei Tarkovsky’s favorite director of photography. As Tarkovsky simply said “Vadim Yusov is the best cinematographer in the world.”