John Bailey Breaks Down a Tour de Force of Gothic Lighting

Inside Criterion / Sneak Peeks — Dec 6, 2019

Among the many enduring virtues of The Story of Temple Drake—a pre-Code William Faulkner adaptation whose sensational depiction of a hopelessly fallen world, rife with sexual violence and other forms of malice, scandalized audiences upon its release in 1933—is its expressive visual style. Directed by Stephen Roberts and shot by the influential Karl Struss, the film tells its harrowing southern-gothic story through a series of haunting images, from close-ups of searing intensity to dark compositions almost completely enshrouded by shadows. The movie’s highly distinctive look comes under close examination in one of the supplements on our new release of Temple Drake, a conversation between acclaimed cinematographer John Bailey and Matt Severson, director of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Margaret Herrick Library. In the above clip from the program, Bailey and Severson sift through some of the library’s archival materials relating to Temple Drake’s production, as Bailey admires one particular sequence from the film in which Struss’s powerful, innovative lighting—which often defied conventions of the time—serves to enhance the waking-nightmare quality of the drama. Watch to the end for Bailey’s explanation of how Struss pulled off a shot illuminated only by one man’s cigarette.