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'Darkness with something of hope' - Second #Zomergasten under Theo Maassen delivers impressive Fishermansfriend moment

At a little before half past eleven, Sunday evening 30 July, cabaret performer and gifted interviewer Theo Maassen asked world-famous cameraman Hoyte van Hoytema: "What's the question you don't get answered?" Hoyte: "Shit, are you going to close with that?!" It was in the telling finale of an extraordinarily impressive second episode of Zomergasten 2023. An episode, too, in which we learned a lot about cinematography, but even more about how men treat each other.

Men's friendships are interesting. Men can spend 30 years climbing all the mountains in the Himalayas, conquering 23 alpine crags by unicycle, fishing all the pikes, including the one of sure-fire 3 metres, out of the Maarsseveen lakes and spend many an afternoon, night and early morning in an increasing state of emotion and drunkenness, and never have asked if that bosom friend was actually married.

What happened this Sunday between Maassen and Van Hoytema was the beginning of such a wonderful male friendship.

Without storyboard

In their three-hour talk, we learned all about the magic of film. We learnt how such a technical subject as cinematography has nothing to do with everything being calculated and prepared by the real top guys. Hoyte van Hoytema described how, together with Christopher Nolan, he shoots the most beautiful films without a 'storyboard', i.e. without every shot being plotted out in advance. It makes you look at film differently.

We also learnt that the only woman admitted on this night, Wendy Carlos, on the recording with an impressive Moog synthesiser, was still a beautifully androgynous appearance, including Onedin Line sideburns.

Long lenses

We learned a lot about the difference between long and short lenses, and on that Hoyte van Hoytema gave us another fun fact about the filming of this series of Summer Guests. Indeed, in this series, the main hall of the Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ looks empty and deserted. The two interlocutors at their simple little table seem lost in that enormous space. It turns out that, unlike in an ordinary recording studio, the cameras are dozens of metres away, and everything is filmed with 'long' lenses, i.e. strongly zoomed in.

So that also explains, but Van Hoytema did not tell us, why at the 'over shoulder' shots the interlocutor whose face we see is larger in frame than the man whose back we are looking at. It also explains that in those close-ups, the back and sides appear much closer than they really are.

Exposure improved

About those walls, we can say that there was clearly solid evaluation after the first episode. As I said in my previous review described, the flickering images of the projections on those scrap walls were counterproductive, to say the least. My review was read thousands of times (and - thankfully - also richly supplied with donations, thanks for that!). I knew this issue must also live on at VPRO. Sunday revealed that the lighting had been tinkered with considerably: much more warm light on both speakers, and no flickering projections during the talks, and in the overall shots a different light directly behind them. The viewing experience was much calmer as a result, and people with migraine symptoms did not have to zap away.

Of course, it could also be that Hoyte pointed out the mistakes of the first episode to them. In any case, as a cameraman on Summer Guests, being in the same room with the grandmaster seems like a crime. Perhaps that is also why the number of riders and swivels and crane shots was kept to the bare minimum. That contributed to the viewing peace.

Maassen as Fanboy

Coming to that male friendship. Theo Maassen is a fanboy of Hoyte, and did not hide that. Nor is it a bad thing that Maassen is not looking for psychological breaking points, as previous seasons, with other interviewers, often did. But what to do when someone, your guest in this case, offers such an emotional breaking point on a silver platter? That made the last three-quarters of an hour of this episode the finest male television of this season - so far.

It was about Hoytema's childhood in Brabant's Dinteloord, a black-collar village where the expat family Hoytema, who had converted the old sugar mill, was barely accepted. However much Theo Maassen tried his best to stick to nice Brabant cats on Dinteloord, Hoyte must have had a shitty childhood. Maassen asked if later, after successfully completing a cinematography course in Poland, Hoyte had ever sat on the sofa in his pants with a cigarette, waiting for luck to strike him. "Yes, six years." was the reply, and for a moment Theo had not counted on that. They remained silent.

And then came Townes Van Zandt. "Waiting around to die" is one of those songs that men put on when they want to make it clear to someone that darkness is there. Maassen turned it into a beautiful Fishermansfriend Moment. They looked at each other, crying closer than laughing, and it was beautiful.

"You make films about darkness with a certain hope," Theo said.

Hoyte nodded. And remained silent.

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Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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