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How “Joker” Was Inspired by the Memory of Gritty ’70s Cinema More Than the Films Themselves

Joaquin Pheonix as Arthur Fleck in Warner Bros. Pictures, Village Roadshow Pictures and BRON Creative’s “Joker,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

In the video below, the team at Hurlbut Academy examine the look of Joker, which they explain was based on Todd Phillips’s personal experiences of New York City in the ’70s and ’80s.

Though Phillips and cinematographer Lawrence Sher initially wanted to shoot on 65mm film, especially since the film takes place in 1981, the budget was prohibitive. Instead, they shot on the ARRI Alexa 65, the Alexa LF and Alexa Mini LF, with rehoused vintage ARRI Prime DNA lenses and the intention to stay “as true to a chemical look as” they possibly could.

Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck in Warner Bros. Pictures, Village Roadshow Pictures and BRON Creative’s “Joker,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo by Niko Tavernise.

Joker was inspired by its source comics as well as classic gritty ’70s cinema like Taxi Driver, Serpico and The King of Comedy–though Sher explains the influences weren’t as literal as he had originally expected. “I went back and watched a couple of movies Todd and I were referencing, thinking that they were going to really give us this template for Joker‘s look, such as contrast, color, saturation, or even some lighting references,” he said. “Every time I went and watched them, however, it was the memory of the movie I was looking for, not necessarily the look of the movie itself.”

Watch below.

More videos from Sher and Phillips on the look of Joker:

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