Delicatessen (1991)

Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Marc Caro | 1hr 39min

It isn’t enough for Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro to build a fully expressionistic vision of dystopian France, cluttered with decrepit décor and thick with a yellow smog that hangs ominously through its streets. They then go on to push the limits of Delicatessen’s outlandish set pieces to ridiculous heights, warping its sepia-tinted grotesqueries even further into a dark breed of absurdist humour that underscores the nonsensical hellscape, throwing all reason out the window. It is not surprising that the marketing at the time of the film’s release played more into Terry Gilliam’s association with the film than the independent creativity of its then-unknown directors, given its similarities to Brazil. Were it not for Jeunet’s illustrious later career proving his own artistic capability, it would have been tempting to assume that Gilliam played a part in more than just the film’s distribution. Despite his lack of direct involvement though, it is still his cinematic footsteps which Jeunet and Caro are effectively following in, constructing a meticulously fantastical world that, while unsettling in its decaying Gothic visage, savours the traces of wonder and innocence that seem to exist on the verge of total extinction.

An eerie, yellow dystopia set up with these wide shots gradually narrowing in on this lonely apartment building, founded atop a delicatessen.

Delicatessen’s premise is set up swiftly and suspensefully in the prologue, the camera tracking eerily past crumbling structures towards an apartment building founded upon a tiny butcher’s shop. It continues moving through pipes and passageways, all while the ever-present sound of sharpening knives rings ominously in the background. The source of the noise is Clapet, the butcher in question who invites and then kills new tenants so that he may sell fresh meat to the rest of the building’s inhabitants. His most recent victim has figured out the plot, and yet despite the young man’s best efforts to disguise himself among the trash and hide in a garbage bin, he is not quick enough to outsmart his hunter. Right after Clapet lifts the lid to his hiding spot and before he brings his meat cleaver down, he opens his mouth in a wide, gaping laugh – a caricature of a facial expression which we later learn he spends his spare time practicing, consciously aiming to draw out visceral reactions of terror from his victims.

This is expressionistic, silent film acting – it is almost as if these actors have been instructed to twist their faces into the most inhuman expressions possible.

Jean-Claude Dreyfus is not the only actor with a striking appearance to match Jeunet and Caro’s heightened style though, with virtually everyone in this cast possessing cartoonish faces that brilliantly twist into amplified expressions of horror, shock, adoration, and glee. Dominique Pinon’s simple-minded, unemployed circus clown, Louison, who becomes the butcher’s main victim in Delicatessen is no exception with his peculiar protruding jaw, and neither is Marie-Laure Dougnac’s romantic cellist, Julie, with her innocent, wide-eyed gaze. Together, both become a force of sweet, sincere love fighting Delicatessen’s misshapen world. Just as high, low, and canted angles exaggerate perspectives of Jeunet and Caro’s cluttered architecture, so too are they used to frame close-ups of their actors’ contorted expressions, further driving up the psychological insanity of this darkly comedic setting.

Jeunet and Caro are no doubt magnificent production designers, but their framing of close-ups are worth studying too. A significant influence from Gilliam in the angles, lighting, makeup, and costumes here.

With imagery as provocative as this, there is no need for Jeunet and Caro to lay into the blood and gore one might otherwise expect from a story about a post-apocalyptic, cannibalistic butcher. Neither is social commentary their primary concern here either, though there is plenty to pick apart in regards to the use of food as currency and the crafty, brutal methods lower classes must resort to if they are to survive. At the forefront of the directors’ minds is building Delicatessen’s idiosyncratic, tactile world with brazenly maximalist stylings, absorbing us into the currents and cadences of these characters’ eccentric routines. Through a masterful combination of snappy editing and enthralling camera movements, Jeunet and Caro breathe life into this dilapidated complex, transforming its rooms, hallways, and sewers into visual reflections of their oddball inhabitants.

Each apartment reflecting the idiosyncrasies of its inhabitant, though all bound together within this dimly lit green and yellow world.

Rhythmic montages especially become a source of tender amusement in Delicatessen, becoming almost dance-like after Louison fixes a neighbour’s creaky bed and then sits on it with her, bouncing in time to a Hawaiian song playing on the television. The gentle pacing of this sequence exists in contrast to another more agitated one from earlier, which layers the sounds and images of characters all through the building playing a cello, beating a rug, clacking knitting needles, working a mechanical machine, pumping a bike tyre, and painting a ceiling. With each line of melody and percussion moving in unison to the editing’s gradually accelerating tempo, Jeunet and Caro build them all to a climax that sees them dramatically break down in frantically comical fashion. The scene is delectably exciting in its peculiar vigour, but even more significantly, it informs our understanding of every major and minor character present in the story, uniting them together in a broken society that condemns them to meagre, repetitive lives.

A feat of editing from Jeunet and Caro, crafting rhythmic montages that are purely absurd and simultaneously dedicated to world building.

The singularly greatest achievement on display here though is the compositional madness that is Delicatessen’s colourfully expressionistic production design, foreshadowing the whimsical designs that soon become Jeunet’s instantly recognisable trademark. Like Amelie, there is a consistent dedication to a specific colour palette, with murky shades of yellow sinking itself into almost every corner of the mise-en-scène while letting through traces of green, red, and orange. Rather than smoothing it over with a glossy sheen though, its texture is saturated with dirt and grit, seeping with the sort of moral corruption that thrives in this bleak city.

The sewers stand out as a particular well designed set piece with pipes crossing the frame in cluttered Sternbergian compositions, and the golden lighting bouncing off their wet surfaces.
Surrealism and expression are inseparable for Jeunet and Caro.

Every piece of set dressing here serves to crowd out the physical presence of the characters, as the bizarrely twisted angles formed by stair bannisters and sewage pipes obscure brilliantly cluttered compositions. Surreal anarchy is pervasive in these designs, right down to the disjointed function of two taps that can only be turned on by each other’s handles, and wearing away at the structure of the building until it is utterly destroyed in the final act, collapsing its floors in a display of total visual chaos.

The apartment building is its own character, crumbling away by the end of the film like its inhabitants.

In this way, it is only in demolishing the physical and social structures preserving humanity’s barbarity that Louison and Julie find any sort of peace in this nightmare. It is a sad state of affairs indeed that impoverished men and women are driven to savagely kill their neighbours just to get by, and although there are no pretensions that the ills affecting this world’s economy have been solved, Jeunet and Caro do relish the small wins for humanity’s kindness. Having survived an army of bloodthirsty neighbours, the two young lovers sit beneath red umbrellas atop the roof of their now-defunct apartment building, playing their unlikely pairing of instruments in a strangely romantic duet. As the cello and the musical saw ring out across the lonely wasteland, the yellow smog slowly begins to clear to reveal the dawn of a new day, finally shedding a hopeful light upon this small but meaningful victory for pure, unselfish love.

Perhaps the brightest shot of the film, as the yellow smog clears away to reveal this sweet, innocent love carving out its own place in the world.

Delicatessen is currently streaming on SBS On Demand, and is available to rent or buy on YouTube.

A Brighter Summer Day (1991)

Edward Yang | 3hr 57min

The fact that the title of this Taiwanese film, A Brighter Summer Day, comes from an Elvis lyric underscores a notable cultural incongruity that is fundamental to its characters. The social and political turmoil laid out in its opening text telling of how millions of Chinese Mainlanders fled to Taiwan after the Communist Party’s civil war victory sets the scene for a culture ready to adopt the idealism of the West, and thus the song ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight’ becomes not just a symbol of hope, but an active obsession for one aspiring young singer, Cat. Through much of the film we find him translating its lyrics in hopes of eventually recording his own version, and up on his walls we even see Elvis posters plastered like venerated icons of worship. It is particularly that one line that he gets caught up on though, picking apart the melancholic recollection of some beautiful past era where young people might have thrived.

“Does your memory stray,

To a brighter summer day…”

As it is though, the teenagers of A Brighter Summer Day do not live in an Elvis song, but within the reality of 1960s Taipei, where tensions between Taiwan’s native people and Chinese immigrants run thick, splitting their young people up into gangs that offer security and identity. In this way, these groups essentially become buffers to the existential loneliness that eat away at their margins, which Edward Yang affectingly reveals in claustrophobically framed compositions.

A powerful opening frame, not of Si’r, but of his father meeting with the schoolteachers and learning of his son’s low test scores.

Though he is constructing a crime epic here as sprawling and dense in detail as The Godfather or Once Upon a Time in America, he is not aiming for some grand, mythological rendering of history based in legendary archetypes. The settings, characters, and relationships of A Brighter Summer Day are all extremely grounded in social realism, calling attention to those mundane lives that don’t necessarily define national cultures, but which rather slip by unnoticed right up until they inevitably make themselves known for the wrong reasons.

Strong form in returning to this school basketball court several times, a setting of competition of rivalry, but most importantly revealing the worn-out infrastructure of the school – peeling paint and ill-fitting uniforms visually rooting the film in realism.

The more personal story that Yang is exploring here is of the slow, bitter corruption of one teenager, Xiao Si’r, who comes from a family of Mainlanders yet winds up in a gang of native Taiwanese youths known as the Little Park Boys. The inspiration for this character comes from Yang’s own memories of a senseless murder that took place in his own community, though it isn’t until the final minutes of A Brighter Summer Day’s epic four-hour runtime that this event takes place. The rest of its lengthy narrative is spent seeking to understand the social, cultural, and economic forces that warp Si’r’s innocence into something ugly, all starting with his acceptance into a night school for struggling students. His father’s concerns that he might encounter some bad influences are initially brushed off by the staff, but they do serve as an ominous warning of what awaits his son just a little down the road.

As Si’r finds himself gradually absorbed into the gangster lifestyle, we discover a sizeable Goodfellas influence at play here, though Yang never lets us forget that these young men are still children, immature in their attitudes and egos. Their discoveries of emotions more complex than those from their childhoods arrive in the form of romantic attraction, sex, and hatred, and the lack of guidance they receive neglects to keep any of these under control.

Light and shadow composed perfectly through the fence slats at a train station where the Little Park Boys plot the massacre of the 217s.

The most important relationship present within this group is that between Si’r and Ming, the girlfriend of the Little Park Boys’ leader, Honey, who starts the film in hiding after killing a member from rival gang, the 217s. There is a sweet tenderness to Si’r’s support of her acting aspirations, and one movie studio set proves to be a source of soothing idealism for the two of them. As their relationship grows in affection, Yang hangs on a gorgeous frame of light pouring through the giant soundstage door into the pitch-black movie studio, silhouetting their figures as they dreamily wander the space. Above them, the wooden rafters prove to be a suitable hiding spot for these young dreamers, offering high and low angles that separate the distant worlds of disadvantaged students and successful actors.

Doorways are used to frame Yang’s characters all through A Brighter Summer Day, but few shots touch his wonderful manipulation of light here as Si’r and Ming visit a movie soundstage set after hours.

Throughout much of A Brighter Summer Day’s first act, Honey’s presence hangs in the air as an almost mythical figure, so much so that we might begin to fear what sort of fury he might besiege upon Si’r for taking his girlfriend. When he does finally appear an hour and half into the film, he does indeed strike an impressive figure, setting himself apart from the other Little Park Boys in his oversized navy coat and sailor hat, but he does not carry the same volatility as his second-in-command, Sly. Even Yang’s camera holds him in great esteem, reverently following him through a gorgeous pastel-coloured ice cream parlour and keeping his face obscured from our view, waiting for him to finally turn to us. That he only lasts twenty minutes before being brutally killed by the leader of the 217s comes as an utter shock, but it is also this murder which triggers the Little Park Boys’ massacre of their rivals, and subsequently Si’r’s total indoctrination into their violent methods.

Meeting Honey in the pastel-coloured ice cream parlour sets him apart from every other character right away, and then the staggering of actors in shots like these go further to draw our eye to him.

From there, it is only a descent into even deeper emotional isolation for the young gangster, his aggression growing with Ming’s revelations that she is seeing other men, leading to further violent outbursts and eventually expulsion from school. His own disconnection from his family often manifests visually in the placement of a wooden beam slicing meal times right down the middle, severing his connection to his parents and siblings. In this way, we begin to see how the careful arrangement of Yang’s mise-en-scène around him lets that isolation take hold, closing Si’r within halls and doorways directly reminiscent of Yasujiro Ozu’s own geometrically precise visual style.

Yang slicing Si’r’s family dinner with a wooden beam, creating division.
Si’r’s father faces his own troubles being questioned by authorities for past connections to the Chinese Communist Party, and so he too becomes the subject of Yang’s isolating imagery in this superb arrangement of the mise-en-scène, stretching across the whole depth of field.

It isn’t just that Yang’s characters appear so tiny and shrunken within these barriers, but the frames themselves tell vivid stories of each environment. From the peeling green and white paint outside Si’r’s classroom, to the grid of elegant window glazing bars looking out to his family’s garden, and the wooden cased opening in Ma’s house opening onto a display of elegant painted flowers, Yang’s sheer attention to detail remains consistently remarkable between each composition, masterfully reflecting his characters in rich visual designs.

It isn’t just enough for Yang to insulate his characters in their staging, but the detail of the frames within which they are caught are just as important.
A grid of glazing bars opening Si’r’s family home up onto the garden, with a door opening right in the middle. Yang returns to this many times to create perfectly Ozu-like shots in their precise geometry.

Then there are those shots which let the camera drift entirely away from Yang’s characters altogether, letting their disembodied conversations continue while the worn-out architecture swallows them up. At one point, a close-up of a lacquered, white door catches just enough light for the reflected silhouettes of Si’r and Ming to bounce off its surface, reducing them to indistinct shadows within their school grounds. Through the lens of a Taiwanese society that pushes the issues of its youths off to the side, this is the visual manifestation of their neglect, robbing them of the physical space they inhabit.

Squint and you can catch the two silhouettes of Si’r and Ming reflected in this lacquered door, holding a conversation.
Another conversation carried out with one person out of frame entirely, simply represented by his voice.

There is often a distinction though in Yang’s cinematography when he begins to shoot them in larger groups, building out entirely organic environments with a marvellous depth of field reaching across layers of the frame. Even in those instances when the personal drama of primary characters is allowed to unfold in the foreground, the ensemble can often be found in the background playing games and occupied with other tasks, refusing to let the broader world fade from view. It is also in these thoughtfully composed scenes that Yang occasionally lets tones clash in jarring contrasts, particularly when Ming and the Little Park Boys mourn the recent death of Honey to the backdrop of their school marching band playing obnoxiously bold tunes. Eventually they are forced to shout over the music just to be heard, being denied the proper time and space to grieve their deceased friend.

Stories playing out in the background entirely independent of our characters in the foreground, building out a world where they aren’t the only people with fully vivid lives.

With the exception of the slow, methodical pans and dollies interspersed through the film, Yang largely comes at A Brighter Summer Day with a largely static camera, resisting the urge to cut to conventional close-ups on key emotional beats. The choice to maintain this distance is carried out with great formal rigour, leading us to the most impactful shot of the film in the seconds that immediately follows Si’r stabbing Ming in an outburst of anger. Yang sits at a wide of the Taipei street for almost an entire minute, centring a blood-soaked Si’r standing above Ming’s crumpled body, gradually coming to the realisation of what he has done. Behind him, locals conduct business as usual along a row of city storefronts, until one by one their heads turn to face the tragedy, projecting little more than confused intrigue in their expressions. The society that has failed to reign him in is there to bear nonchalant witness to the consequences of their neglect, seeing several lives destroyed in a single flash of violent anger.

A devastating culmination of two character arcs, witnessed by nonchalant strangers in the background.

Without the four hours of A Brighter Summer Day that preceded this scene, Si’r’s full, heartrending transformation simply would not be felt as acutely as it is, especially given how much it is tied to the social strife and degradation present in virtually every frame, whether explicit or implicit. Yang’s clear mastery over his craft as a cinematic realist is absolutely essential to the profound authenticity of this piece, carefully examining his nation’s overlooked adversities through a lens that seeks genuine understanding of its aching shame and sorrow.

Shame and sorrow in a single image, hiding their faces from view.

A Brighter Summer Day is currently streaming on The Criterion Channel.

The Double Life of Veronique (1991)

Krzysztof Kieslowski | 1hr 38min

The mystical coincidences that bind French music teacher Véronique and Polish choir soprano Weronika together in an elusive, causal relationship beyond immediate comprehension reveals layers to these characters that neither can fully understand on their own. The Double Life of Veronique moves in such a lyrical way that while we can distinguish both women as separate individuals, we also can’t help but perceive them as two parts of a single consciousness, split right down the middle like the film’s own structure. The moment one passes away, we immediately shift to the other sitting up in bed several hundred kilometres away, struck simultaneously with an unexplained grief and a fresh sense of purpose. Irène Jacob plays both with a deep sensitivity, prone to blissful elation in musical sequences and profoundly affected by the tiniest shifts in Krzysztof Kieslowski’s bewildering cosmos.

Within the omniscient perspective that Kieslowski offers us across Véronique and Weronika’s lives, he carries on the ambitious form of his epic Dekalog series, where he watched his characters like an all-seeing God while still holding the utmost empathy for them. The interrelation of isolated segments similarly reaches across The Double Life of Veronique in the most unexpected places. There is the obvious parallel of both women being deeply involved in musical professions, but the orchestral piece that they share a soft spot for also emerges as a counterpoint between them, as does their common heart condition that gives us cause to worry about their health.

Both women share the same superstition of rubbing their gold rings on their lower eyelids to prevent styes. Tremendous form in repetition with these character traits.

The singular point upon which these paths converge comes during Weronika’s section of the film before we have been properly introduced to Véronique. From Weronika’s perspective, it is a tangential meeting of two fatefully identical women, as she catches a glimpse of her counterpart snapping photos of Kraków while touring on a coach. Before she can think of what to do, Véronique is speeding away, none the wiser about what just occurred. In the aftermath, Weronika smiles, as if finally receiving an answer to a question she never knew she had. Later, Véronique will experience a similar sort of epiphany when reviewing her photos and noticing her doppelgänger. “All my life I’ve felt like I was here and somewhere else at the same time,” she reflects. “I always sense what I should do.”

Coloured filters over the camera lens tinting the sky with a distinctly green hue.
Kieslowski layering patterned silk curtains over his shots, creating these exquisite textures.

Through ethereal lighting and lens filters that soak both women’s lives in tints of green, yellow, and orange, Kieslowski transports them into a dimension that seems ever so slightly separate from our own. Complementing these palettes are the reds that bleed through his production design, appearing in couches, flowers, and costumes that radiate a vibrant passion inside staggeringly gorgeous compositions. Also key to the beauty of Kieslowski’s cinematography and the formal notion of parallel lives are the visual manipulations of light through glass, whether they are catching reflections of characters or refracting visions of the world around them. As Véronique sits on a train gazing through a glass orb that turns the passing city upside down, we too feel as if we are looking into an inverted dimension, much like ours though recognisably distinct. Kieslowski employs such cutaways with symbolic contemplation, entering microcosms of reality that offer emotional insight where hard logic does not suffice.

Kieslowski employs beautiful cutaways like these with symbolic care.
Reflections and refractions of light in Kieslowski’s cinematography through windows, mirrors, glass orbs, magnifying glasses, even spectacles, these prisms creating doubles and slightly distorted views of the world.

As cryptically focused as The Double Life of Veronique may be, Kieslowski still has the grace to let his film zoom out a little in scope by the final act, introducing Alexandre Fabbri, the puppeteer and writer who draws Véronique’s eye. His marionette is a delicate instrument of expression, moving with elegance and fluidity, though unlike so many others in his profession he does not wear gloves and he handles the doll manually. Just as he does not hide his physical manipulation, neither does he hold back from revealing to Véronique that he is the one behind the assortment of items being sent to her in the mail as a test to see whether she would come to him. He too is the one who uncovers the image of Weronika among other photos from the trip to Kraków, and goes on to narrate a story of two women causally linked since they were born at the exact same time – when one burned her hand on a stove as a little girl, the other instinctually learned to recoil from the danger.

Red through Kieslowski-s mise-en-scène, occasionally overtaking these stunning compositions from the greens and yellows that dominate the film.

Much like Artur Barciś’ silent witness of the Dekalog, there is something supernatural about Alexandre that doesn’t entirely belong to this world. It only makes sense that he owns two identical copies of the marionette he performs with, moving them around like some powerfully transcendent being understanding more than he lets on. Or perhaps he is merely a puppet used by some higher power to contact Véronique and reveal the answers she has been longing for. As confounding in its formal complexities as The Double Life of Veronique is, Kieslowski’s absorbingly ethereal meditation on fate is also a magnificently moving piece of cinema, edging us towards an emotional understanding of humanity’s interconnectedness without ever fully letting us in on its mystical secrets.

The doubles of these puppets reflecting the doubles of Weronika and Véronique.
A tremendous dedication to the production design of the piece, combining colour and blocking to craft these delicate images of isolation and sensitivity.

The Double Life of Veronique is currently available to stream on The Criterion Channel and Mubi, and to rent or buy on iTunes and Amazon Prime Video.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

James Cameron | 2hr 17min

Few filmmakers can lay claim to making a movie sequel that matches its revered predecessor in pure cinematic audacity, and fewer have succeeded in doing so twice. If Terminator was James Cameron’s breakthrough and Aliens solidified him as a magnificent director of franchises, then Terminator 2: Judgment Day follows through on the promises of both, and this alone puts him in rarefied air. Those moments where the film slows down to pensively consider one character’s internal thoughts in voiceover are some of the weakest given the lack of setup or follow-through, but their mere existence also points to where Cameron’s strengths truly lie. It is in the spectacle of his action set pieces, dynamic camerawork, and his narrative’s creative basis in deep-rooted archetypes that Terminator 2 reveals itself as a raw cinematic experience, concerned less with musings over what it means to be human as it is with the immediate, visceral impact of such questions.

It is eleven years after the events of the first film that Cameron picks his narrative back up, bringing us in with a ten-year-old John Connor living under foster parents. Once again, Skynet has sent back a Terminator to kill the future leader of the human resistance, and a protector has also been sent to save him. The setup of these figures calls directly back to the first film – both the T-800 we recognise as Arnold Schwarzenegger and another smaller man manifest around the same time, and immediately go about tracking down their target.

Bringing back this justly iconic image from the first film, though under a new context – this is the Terminator’s birth into a new, more human life, crouched naked in a fetal position.

Where the T-800 invades a bikie club and steals an outfit of black leather and sunglasses, Cameron gives the other man the identity and appearance of a police officer, immediately setting up a conflict in archetypes. Almost everything about these characters is mirrored, from the T-800’s use of intimidation and blunt force to the more manipulative, covert strategies of Robert Patrick’s time traveller, whose use of facial expressions and vocal inflections to manipulate strangers displays a cold comprehension of humanity that Schwarzenegger deliberately rejects in his masterfully stoic performance.

The T-1000 employs an entirely different set of skills to the T-800, shape-shifting and creeping through environments in an under-handed, deceitful manner. As brutal as Schwarzenegger may be in this, he is the more honest, up-front Terminator between the two.

This is a film so soaked into pop culture that it is hard to separate the twist from our foreknowledge of it, and yet even then it remains an astounding subversion of Cameron’s established archetypes. All at once, the man dressed as an authority figure is revealed to be a more advanced Terminator, a T-1000, and the ruthless hunter who we have already seen kill multiple people is now our hero. Even in Cameron’s character design of the T-800 as a robotic endoskeleton concealed beneath human skin, he is tied to a vulnerable humanity that the shapeshifting, metallic T-1000 can only ever imitate, remaining as deceptively flexible in its tactics as it is in its physical appearance. Meanwhile, the T-800 is bound by its word, serving the young John Connor like a loyal, unwavering servant, and through this tight bond he slowly grasps notions of sensitivity and casual slang until he himself begins to exhibit both in the film’s magnificently rewarding final act.

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s best performance put to film, transcending his work in the original with a more complex and engaging character arc of an android discovering its humanity.

And then there is Sarah Connor, who has been arrested and sentenced to a mental hospital following the events of the first film which have left her with severe PTSD and, from the perspective of her doctors, wild delusions. There is a dramatic shift in Linda Hamilton’s performance between both films, turning Sarah into a hardened prisoner resolved to escape and save the world from the impending apocalypse known as Judgement Day. Beyond the T-800 and T-1000, Cameron’s archetypes begin to seep into her characterisation as well, as she too becomes a Terminator of sorts in her dogged pursuit of the man prophesied to invent Skynet’s world-ending technology, losing a bit of her own humanity along the way. Just as we will later see sensitivity become the saving grace for Schwarzenegger’s T-800, so too is Sarah pulled back from the edge by her own innate compassion, similarly building her character over the dangerously thin line that separates machines and men.

It is worth noting the innovative power of Cameron’s visual effects in Terminator 2 to construct these characters and much of their world, and yet this alone isn’t integral to his artistic success. He is a skilled crafter of action set pieces and images that reach deep and draw out instinctive responses from his audience, not so much developing a consistent stylistic device like Michael Mann does with his neo-noir lighting or George Miller with his rapid editing, but rather playing to whatever suits each individual moment. As the Terminators individually search for John in the local shopping centre, Cameron’s editing and camerawork skilfully move between both characters in a suspenseful balance, emphasising their hulking presences in weighty low angles. And then, at the moment of their confrontation, every movement lands with extra weight in Cameron’s absorbing slow-motion photography, bringing the opposing archetypes together in their first major stand-off.

Cameron is constantly creative with his camera angles – the Terminator may not have been as iconic a character as it is without the air of reverence and fear that surrounds him in the filmmaking.

From here, each subsequent struggle takes a step up from the last, until Cameron bombastically crashes a truck of liquid nitrogen through the gates of a steel mill at the film’s climax. He fills the air with a warm, orange glow emitted from the heat of the fiery sparks and molten metal, and in vibrantly clashing this against the blue vapor of the spilt liquid nitrogen, the lighting takes on the humanistic duality of both Terminators. On top of this, its colours also call back directly to those fiery flash-forwards of Judgement Day, within which Cameron crafts some truly devastating imagery of an obliterated playground, its darkness lit only by a few spring horses left burning by the nuclear wipe-out. With such a holistic approach to both visual storytelling and stylistic filmmaking, Cameron effectively crafts a blockbuster for an era, using his thrilling narrative urgency to arrive at surprisingly sentimental considerations of our own humanity.

Cameron’s set pieces are unforgettable, here in Terminator 2 being lit beautifully with high-contrast colours and violent fires.

Terminator 2: Judgement Day is currently available to stream on Binge and Foxtel Now, and available to rent or buy on iTunes, YouTube, and Google Play.