This post is a guest post by Cameron Carpenter, screenwriter, cinephile and self-professed “Sidney Lumet enthusiast.” Cameron and I follow each other on Twitter – find him under his Twitter handle @Lumetian – and I’ve long been impressed with his vast knowledge of topics I sadly know little about. So, I asked Cameron if he’d be interesting in writing a piece for The Other Murdock Papers, and am so very grateful that he agreed. If you have any questions for Cameron, ask them in the comment section or get in touch with him on Twitter!
When the Marvel press release attached Steven DeKnight’s name to the news of becoming Drew Goddard’s replacement on Daredevil, I’ll admit to being skeptical. It had nothing to do with DeKnight’s previous filmography – which is rock solid with Starz’s Spartacus, alone – but more so because I was unaware of DeKnight’s personal history with Matt Murdock. Goddard, even before coming on board the show, had been on record about his love for the character; the fact he’s also a tremendous Hollywood talent was the double-blessing. But DeKnight eventually quelled my fears and revealed his passion for Daredevil… and then took my excitement to the next level: cinematic influences.
Before much had been revealed about Daredevil (the summer of 2014), I tweeted to DeKnight a question I’d secretly hoped a Daredevil cinematic endeavor would answer: would there be a Sidney Lumet influence on the show?
— Steven DeKnight (@stevendeknight) June 26, 2014
For those unaware, Sidney Lumet was one of the powerhouse filmmakers for a number of decades in Hollywood. Even if you don’t know him by name, you probably know his films: 12 Angry Men, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, Network, The Verdict, Prince of the City, and a bevy of other classics. Before Woody Allen trotted the New York streets with his comic neuroses, before Martin Scorsese ran gangsters up and down Manhattan alleys, and before Spike Lee found the poetic undercurrent of the Brooklyn ghetto, Sidney Lumet was the king of New York filmmakers with pictures that spanned themes of corruption, justice, law, poverty, isolation, and greed. He’s not only responsible for some of American cinema’s most nuanced and conflicted protagonists, but was noted for his means of shooting performances from legendary talent and painting New York city as it truly was: robust, full of life, enigmatic, sweltering, and downright grimy.
His films went on to greatly influence the industry, even if his name was never uttered. But the fact remains: shows like Law and Order and The Wire likely wouldn’t exist without Sidney Lumet, and definitely wouldn’t feel as they do without his particular style. If ever you needed the Daredevil experience on film – particularly runs similar to Miller/Nocenti/Bendis – you could find its lifeblood in Lumet’s work.
French Connection, Dog Day Afternoon, etc. RT @Lumetian: Using any classic films as inspiration for the new series, or just comics?
— Steven DeKnight (@stevendeknight) November 2, 2014
So after our first exchange, in which DeKnight was dastardly coy, he finally answered another question of mine more directly, namedropping two films in particular that he cited as influences: Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon and William Friedkin’s masterful The French Connection. Friedkin, another wallop of a director whose films you likely know even if you don’t recognize the name (The Exorcist, Sorcerer), is without a doubt another solid choice for material.
And while DeKnight has never outwardly stated anything about Martin Scorsese (at least to my knowledge), Taxi Driver and Goodfellas seem to have their fingerprints all over the trailers, and I wouldn’t put it past the show’s directors to be using Raging Bull for any sequences starring Battlin’ Jack Murdock. With this kind of universe of blood-and-guts gangsters and goons, you can never go wrong with Scorsese’s touch, especially if you’re working with Lumet-style characters and landscape. (Funnily enough, from what we’ve seen and heard of D’Onofrio’s Kingpin, he appears mostly like Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle – unstable, violent, and romantically conflicted- more so than any gangster from Goodfellas.)
It’s also worth noting that this isn’t completely the first time a comic book director has taken to these influences: Christopher Nolan, a massive Sidney Lumet fan, used Lumet’s Prince of the City as a blueprint for The Dark Knight Rises.
— Steven DeKnight (@stevendeknight) March 10, 2015
As far as general imagery goes, the trailers are definitely in that House of Cards/David Fincher vein, which will be adequately serviceable, especially with directors of photography like Matthew Lloyd working the camera. Aesthetic for Daredevil is undeniably important and this particular means of scene-painting, from what we’ve seen so far, works as far as separating the series from the bouncy, inviting semblance of Agents of SHIELD and Agent Carter, but never feels as if its out of place given the nature of the narrative and that bold TV-MA rating. And giving the show a feel of the next House of Cards is never a bad idea, especially considering it’s calling Netflix its home.
To conclude, if you’ve been having any fears about the general look and tone of the new show as being “too dark” or not of the spirit of the character, I would say, just by DeKnight’s working list of influences and from what we’ve seen so far, we’re very much stepping into the realm of Miller/Bendis characterizations of the character, and in those cases, DeKnight’s hands seem to be exceptionally capable ones.
See you, April 10th.