“A Larger Than Life Revolutionary”: DP Rose Bush on The Disappearance of Shere Hite
Filmmaker Nicole Newnham’s latest, The Disappearance of Shere Hite, explores the author behind The Hite Report, one of the best-selling books of all time since its 1976 publication. Few remember Shere Hite today, and Newnham’s film interrogates why that might be.
Cinematographer Rose Bush discusses how working on The Disappearance of Shere Hite was a perfect fit for her.
See all responses to our annual Sundance cinematographer interviews here.
Filmmaker: How and why did you wind up being the cinematographer of your film? What were the factors and attributes that led to your being hired for this job?
Bush: I’m a person who’s very passionate about equity, and I believe cinema is an incredible tool for the desegregation and the expansion of wellbeing. One of my guiding principles about cinematography is that of the multitude of abilities that we develop as filmmakers, be they emotional, spiritual, philosophical, social, political, historical, athletic, artistic, and lastly technical — a foundation in the humanities guides the heart of a film. That is to say that cinematography, in my view, is a collective effort of the film team in the expansion of consciousness through new evolutions of a universal human language.
To answer the question specifically, I’ve tried to live my life thus far in alignment with a view pursuing justice wherever inequality exists in whichever way I might be helpful, and which might allow me to continue to grow as a person. Gender equality as Shere Hite was pursuing is incredibly important to me and shapes our lived experience of society in profound ways. I was deeply privileged that my passion for gender equity and social justice allowed for me to to join paths with director/producer Nicole Newnham in a time following the release of her visceral and deeply humane film Crip Camp. As I was looking for new projects in 2021/2022, getting a call from Nicole to help her realize The Disappearance of Shere Hite has been one of the highlights of my life.
Filmmaker: What were your artistic goals on this film, and how did you realize them? How did you want your cinematography to enhance the film’s storytelling and treatment of its characters?
Bush: Shere Hite was a larger than life revolutionary — she was a dreamer who pushed for a universal experience of joy far beyond the status quo of her time, and she unabashedly embraced her sexuality and her radiant sex appeal. As a team, we wanted to make an immersive film that treated Shere with a sense of agency in the expression of her own journey. We wanted to make a film [to be] experienced rather than watched, in which the viewer might breathe the vividness of Shere’s passion for the accessibility of sexual joy to be available to all people. It was important to our team that the film not only spoke to, but was an extension of the grandiosity and sincerity that Shere treated her research and writing with. Very early in the process of developing the form of the film, we decided it needed to feel big, and it needed to be a film in as many ways as possible, also authored by Shere. Those goals lead us directly to working with anamorphic lenses, Super 16mm film, and an evocative way of moving the camera.
I’m so pleased to have been a part of a process working to place Shere and the aspirations for democracy inherent in her work amongst the vastness and grandeur of the silver screen in ways inspired by that of Hitchcock and Coppola; working to visualize Kim Novak or Marlon Brando into cultural leaders. Shere Hite was vastly out in front of her time and I hope that our film helps to deliver her as a cultural catalyst of change in ours as well.
Filmmaker: Were there any specific influences on your cinematography, whether they be other films, or visual art, or photography, or something else?
Bush: We wanted this film to be experienced like one might go to see a work of cinema in a 1940s picture palace. Shere Hite’s aesthetic echoed a kind of glamor worn on the frame of 20th century cinematic icons like Greta Garbo, Grace Kelly, and Audrey Hepburn, and so the ethos of the film needed to find its tailoring with a resonant sensibility. How the camera moves, which film stocks and lenses we chose, which compositional traditions we wanted to reference and expand were all positioned to evoke this kind of spirit and dilate our world to make space for Shere’s legacy.
Filmmaker: What were the biggest challenges posed by production to those goals?
The Disappearance of Shere Hite is largely built on cinema verité scenes that look like interviews, archival material that plays like kinetic immersive verité, and perspective based poetic explorations of the transcendence of time in which the memories of Shere’s closest friends, lovers, and colleagues transport her presence into our time. The greatest challenges in making a film like this do exist during the decisive moment of photography, but more expansively, in developing a precious wavelength shared by our complete film team to help advocate for the transmission and evocation of history. I’m amazed by the leadership of this team helmed by director/producer Nicole Newnham in externalizing the continuation of Shere’s legacy beyond the point that it was censored from public knowledge. Nicole opened the doors to an intricate world of Shere’s history and impact in such a rich way that our team could embrace the urgent nature of this unfolding story, and advocate for it with every breath, footstep, and composition made by the film effort.
Non-fiction filmmaking, in my opinion, is an unfolding of the universe in which every crew member, on-set or not, has an exponential impact in the progression of a community. It’s very much like being on stage while being on set, and I’m so impressed with the level of humanity and insight held by this team collectively to help bring Shere’s life to cinema.
Filmmaker: What camera did you shoot on? Why did you choose the camera that you did? What lenses did you use?
Bush: The film was created using the ARRI ALEXA Mini in 4:3 mode along with a Bolex-H16 Super 16mm, and an ARRI SR3 Super-16mm. We chose to use Angénieux lenses across the board with all of these cameras specifically because of the engineering that went into the 30-72mm Anamorphic Compact Zoom. In my opinion, there’s not another lens like this one available to filmmakers that allows such a range of flexibility, optical quality, and lightweight form factor which results in a rich image quality of clarity, color and contrast rendering, notable anamorphic characteristics, and still, a maneuverability that allows for the organic nature of life to unfold in resonance with one’s preferences for compositional priorities. That is, a film team can react very quickly and evocatively with a camera build like this.
In addition, we used the Angénieux EZ-1 and EZ-2 series lenses along with our Super-16mm material. I’ve been very impressed by these lenses for years, certainly, for their image quality in verité situations, but equally for their quality of the machining and tuning. The combination of the crisp image of these modern lenses along with the smoothness of their operation really makes filming organic verité situations so seamless for me as a DoP while maintaining an organic and textured aesthetic. It allows my heart and spirit to connect even more so to the existential wavelength of our film’s contributors which is a quality I commend the Angénieux / Brand Pro team on in designing such tools as these.
Filmmaker: Describe your approach to lighting.
Bush: Shere Hite’s origins as sex researcher, author, and activist came from her work as a model in New York City in the realms of ad photography and pulp fiction illustration. We wanted the film to internalize the kind of lighting environments Shere would have composed her aesthetic amongst. In all of the verité-like interviews and organic celluloid sequences we filmed, we used the source material of Shere’s work as a great source of inspiration.
Filmmaker: What was the most difficult scene to realize and why? And how did you do it?
Bush: Sincerely, all the scenes of this film were equally a pleasure and a challenge to film. This film was made in the midst of COVID-19 and consistently navigated the needs to keep our communities, film contributors, and team safe. Because of the wavelength of our team, which we deeply prioritized and developed, we all did a lot of cultural work to share our collective goals as we navigated the pandemic. There were times where some of our team became ill and we had to adapt and grow our collaborations as we filmed all over the United States and into the United Kingdom and France. I’m truly inspired by the vast effort all of our team took to uphold our cultural and aesthetic goals for the film.
Filmmaker: Finally, describe the finishing of the film. How much of your look was “baked in” versus realized in the DI?
Bush: We very much so believed in creating this film through practical means, making aesthetic choices early in the workflow in production. We took particular attention to practical diffusion, FX filters, lens choices, film stock and push processing to create the experience of the film. In doing this, it was also our goal to allow these choices to breathe in resonance with archival material which we wanted to feel as alive as any contemporary verité material we filmed.
Film Title: The Disappearance of Shere Hite
Camera: Arri Alexa Mini, Bolex H-16, Arri SR3
Lenses: Angénieux 30-72mm Anamorphic Zoom, Angénieux EZ-1 & EZ-2, Angénieux 120 12-120mm C-Mount
Lighting: Arri Sky Panels LED series, Astera Tube System, Arri LC Series
Processing: Cinelab Film & Digital, Metropolis Post