Pictured above are the reasons that Louis CK is respected, admired, and studied beyond the art form of comedy. In fact, he’s studied and dissected beyond art in general and undoubtedly destined to be a person on some random timeline of innovators of the arts that signified a elemental shift in how art — that’s how all art — is created and then put on display. He hasn’t reached the “Miles Davis changed Jazz five times” point, but he’s on the path there.
Objectively, this is a behind the scenes set photo of Louis CK shooting a scene from Season 2 of his critically acclaimed TV series Louie. Yet, in its subtext, this picture signifies much more.
First, the show Louie is such a pure expression of CK’s comedic psyche that he puts himself in as many aspects of production as physically possible. That’s why he has positioned and maintained himself as the series’ star, producer, writer, creator, editor, and, believe it or not, more. You can see him above looking through the lens of the camera for the next shot. Rare is it that a director, especially on a TV series, would bother to look at the picture through the camera, much less hold it. He’s that hands on. He’s that willing to get his hands dirty, which must be part in parcel of why Louie looks as good as it is emotionally affecting. He knows how to and often does every job on his set, so he knows how to inject his vision into every aspect of the show.
Second, but, more important (or nerdy, if you prefer), CK is holding a 16mm film camera despite the series being shot almost exclusively on a RED camera. The notion that he would shoot something on 16mm instead of easily attempting to recreate a film grain effect in post production is, to some, ludicrous, but, to others like myself, inspiring.
In many film schools, it’s no longer mandatory that you have to learn the actual process of shooting on film. You are now handed a digital camera and shoot and delete away. Without having to process digital footage like its ancient brother, film, the impulse to just shoot anything, knowing all too well that you’re not wasting money on film stock, is much greater. That being said, shooting digitally has brought about great shifts in the landscape film industry actually making a high quality product cheaper to make. Film vs. digital is a debate that’s unfortunately almost over.
Yet, Louis CK holding an Arriflex 16 S is a symbol. It’s artistic innovation with regard to only purity. That camera is more than 50 years old and hasn’t had a new model built in almost just as long. It’s also a camera that CK is more than comfortable with as he’s shot several of his brilliantly absurd short films, arguably the precursor to the Louie we all watch and write essays about now. He was awarded the Webby Person of the Year and still, he’s using a camera that’s well over a half century old.
What has made CK a patron saint of artists everywhere is his own ability to bring his unflinching vision for his comedy together with widespread public acceptance outside the labels of niché or mainstream. His comedy transcends all that categorical nonsense because it’s simply that good and he knows that if it takes him holding a out-of-date camera himself for his own show to do that, Louis CK will do it.