The pilot for the TV series Pineapple is a reminder that fascinating creative work is not necessarily a product of huge budgets with billion dollar studios as their benefactors, but rather the product of inspired artists. Written and directed by Arkasha Stevenson who also directed the Primetime Emmy Nominated FX/Marvel production Legion, Pineapple shares a similar mind-bending quality though rooted much deeper in our present reality. The series is unsettling and jarring on several occasions, an indication that the production team and cast have the audience firmly within their grasp. There’s no denying that the visual language with which Pineapple presents itself is paramount to achieving the intended uneasy tone of the show. The team of cinematographer Jon Keng and his focus puller Minami Moriyama have created a transfixing look for this intriguing tale set in a rural mining community. The Covid pandemic has forced us all to look for glimmers of positivity; revisiting extraordinary productions like Pineapple is certainly one of them. Keng, who recently served as cinematographer for the film Before You Know It starring Primetime Emmy Award Winner Mandy Patinkin and Oscar Award Nominee Alec Baldwin, has obviously found a collaborator whom he trusts immensely in Moriyama as evidenced by the way the visual choices of the duo drive the emotion of this story to the precipice of sanity.
In addition to the accolades Pineapple received at such prestigious events as the Tribeca Film Festival and Sundance Film Festival, it garnered a Best Cinematography nomination for Jon Keng at the Streamy Awards. The visual language of this film is perhaps to most vital part of its personality. From the early moments when a naked woman emerges from the coal mine to her walking past the window where a mundane phone call is taking place to a near violent confrontation at the local bar, the camera is the emotional barometer for each scene. DP Jon Keng had a two-year history of working with Moriyama prior to Pineapple, cultivating a type of unspoken shorthand in their process. The dolly shots and intense zoom shots featured throughout the film are part of its DNA. Regarding one of the early scenes in the film in which Adeline (the victim of the sexual assault) is first taken to the hospital, Minami informs, “Adeline says only the work ‘pineapple’ but the look in her eyes communicates all of the horror she’s been through. It was actually a very challenging shot as a focus puller because the depth of field was extremely shallow.” So much of this film takes places utilizing natural light, this element increased the responsibility on Ms. Moriyama to perform with expert precision to ensure that the fleeting element of perfect lighting was maximized. Shot in Coulterville, outside Yosemite National Park, many of the citizens of the town appeared as extras in the film. The imperfect perfection of these townspeople and the surroundings were captured on film by Keng and Moriyama with such care and respect that the town’s character is infused in the film, resulting in a heightened authenticity. The setting of Blackrock is representative of so much of America right now in that the town questions its own identity. The attack on the miner’s daughter has revealed the hidden dangers which contrast the population’s previously held view of a semi-Rockwellian oasis. There’s a duplicitous nature to the town that has perhaps always been there but an awareness of this sends waves of paranoia which may actually be valid. It’s hard to include this feeling in dialogue without being too obvious, which is precisely what makes the work of Minami Moriyama and Jon Keng the masterful pivotal factor in Pineapple. However, the cast is impressive with Tyler Vicker as Sheriff August, Riley Rae Baker as Nurse Abigail, Ron Gilbert as Jerry (of Bryan Singer’s dual Oscar Award Winning The Usual Suspects, Primetime Emmy Winning Series Ugly Betty), Belinda Gosbee as Martha (of Primetime Emmy Award Winning series 2 Broke Girls), in addition to a number of other impressive actors who pull the audience into this frightening tale. The final seconds of the show offers a reveal that is the most satisfying in recent memory. If you were to take the best parts of Twin Peaks, The Usual Suspects, and the nightly news, the resulting cocktail is Pineapple.
Writer: Arlen Gann