It’s definitely not a requirement to be a well-versed cinephile to become a great filmmaker. However, you can’t imagine that it hurts to have a knowledge of some of the best directors around when trying to craft your own art. And in the case of Barry Jenkins, an Oscar-winning filmmaker in his own right, he still looks to others for inspiration when crafting projects, especially with his Amazon series, “The Underground Railroad.”
Speaking to Sight & Sound, Barry Jenkins gave a list of filmmakers that inspired him during very specific moments in his 10-episode Amazon series, “The Underground Railroad.” In the piece, the author of the novel that inspired the series, Colson Whitehead, said that he was sold on Jenkins as the right guy to adapt the story when the filmmaker mentioned references like Paul Thomas Anderson’s “There Will Be Blood” and “The Master.”
As for Jenkins, he went deeper with some of his specific influences for the series. Mentioning the elements of body horror that exist in “Underground Railroad,” the filmmaker said he was inspired by David Cronenberg. In an episode that takes place in South Carolina, there’s Jordan Peele’s “Get Out.” The North Carolina episode is influenced by Alfred Hitchcock, and then in the series finale, there are moments of Claire Denis.
But as Sight & Sound mentions, the overarching influence throughout Jenkins’ work is probably the master filmmaker Wong Kar-Wai. And in a quote about his filmmaking style, Jenkins goes so far as to reference the director’s “Chungking Express.”
“I love my editors, but I would joke that I want to put them out of work,” he explained. “I was always wrestling with the vacuum of imagery that deals with this subject matter and the skepticism around it. So even though I know we’re on a set and these are actors, any time I can extend a moment of time to reveal new information instead of cutting – not that cutting is artifice, but when there is a cut, you know someone is manipulating – that’s what I want to do. In ‘Chungking Express,’ Wong Kar-Wai has this whole riff about the pineapple cans and time, and the idea of cinema just being little bits of time. Each one of those bits of time is a moment of truth, and the longer you can extend it, the more truth there is in the piece.”
Obviously, when we mention stylistic influences, Jenkins has proven that he’s not as referential as someone like Quentin Tarantino. But if you’re a fan of his work and the work of the filmmakers mentioned, it’ll be fun to watch the series and attempt to pick out bits and pieces that remind the viewer of other filmmakers.
“The Underground Railroad” debuts on Amazon Prime Video on May 14.