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Has film stocks, mowed in the wrong direction?


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Is it just me or has the movies become flatter.

 

What I mean by that is movies from the 60?s trough early 90?s ( very roughly ), seems to me to have what should I call it, more depth or 3-D fell to them, more texture maybe.

And I really prefer that look, and my guess is that it has to do with the film stocks, because even modern anamorphic?s doesn?t seem to have that depth.

 

For example what should we take? Mystic river ( even if the that look came out of lab work more then from the stock ) and Stuck on you. Two very different anamorphic movies, but both with out any sense of ?depth? to them.

 

This flattens is even more, apparent in non scope pictures. If you take and compare Open range ( good movie ) with it?s S-35 negative and DI ? process, with modern day emulsions and lenses to something like Once upon a time in the west.

 

With the slightly smaller Techniscope gate and old lenses and compare them, just freeze frame anywhere on the DVD. In my mind there?s no question which film has the best picture quality ? OUATITW ( I am just talking but the picture, not composition or anything else ).

 

Is it just me or has anyone else picked up on this -- appreciate your thoughts.

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Although the Kodak VISION2 films have moved to a contrast very slightly lower than the previous stocks, I think most of the examples you give are just a matter of the "look" chosen by the cinematographer and director. You should really be judging contrast and color in a theatre, rather than from a DVD.

 

By all accounts, Christopher Doyle's "Hero", which opens in theatres this week, shows that today's films and lab procedures can still deliver vivid color and "depth" when that is the "look" desired:

 

http://www.theasc.com/magazine/sept03/cover/sidebar.html

 

Other films also offer a rich palette of color:

 

http://www.kodak.com/country/US/en/motion/.../killBill.shtml

 

http://www.kodak.com/country/US/en/motion/.../mcalpine.shtml

 

http://www.kodak.com/US/en/motion/forum/fe...artLittle.shtml

 

Kodak offers a wide range of color negative films, varied in exposure index, color balance, and "look". Likewise, there is a choice of VISION Color Print Films:

 

http://www.kodak.com/US/en/motion/products...0.1.4.4.4&lc=en

 

http://www.kodak.com/US/en/motion/products...1.4.8.4.7&lc=en

 

http://www.kodak.com/US/en/motion/products...1.4.8.4.5&lc=en

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Some of the change in look you are describing is due to lighting and to printing, not so much the negative. Modern Vision-2 stocks actually are closer to the look of 5254 in terms of color neutrality and contrast (obviously they are sharper and finer-grained) than the past EXR and Vision stocks -- and 5254 was the stock used by most films from 1968 to 1975.

 

But the hard-light style of the 1960's gave movies a more sculptural quality and even when the key light was frontal, there tended to be a black shadow under the chin, etc. because contrast is harder to reduce in a hard-light style. When you combine this with the contrast of the dye transfer printing process of the day and the fact that many re-issued prints, although on modern Vision print stocks, are made from more contrasty dupe and b&w separation elements, it's not unusual for older movies to look higher in contrast.

 

Modern lighting styles tend to involve more soft light.

 

To me, "Mystic River" was a lot richer-looking than "Stuck on You" so I'm not sure what you are referring to. Certainly many Farelly Brothers movies are rather low-con (probably because they like them that way.)

 

I have noticed some laser recorder transfers lack a certain depth to the blacks; the solution tends to be to print on Vision Premier but many studios won't pay for that stock. I keep telling Kodak that if they really want to support filmmakers, they should not charge more for Vision Premier so that filmmakers can choose between Vision and Vision Premier print stock according to taste and not economics.

 

In terms of whether color negative stocks should be more contrasty or less contrasty, that tends to be a matter of taste and fashion.

 

So I think a lot of the contrast problems you are referring to is due to the use of laser recorders for DI's and then printing onto regular Vision -- combined with a soft-light style -- not due to the Vision-2 negative stocks getting lower in contrast. I certainly agree that the use of DI's have made good blacks less common; just look at the prints of "Exorcist: The Beginning" -- we all know that Storaro usually has much better blacks in his movies.

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Other than lighting, I think what you are noticing is the evolution of tonality

of film. Older films had a different tonality, which can not be described by simple

photoshop terms as contrast , saturation etc. It is just a more classic, older

look that the emulsion gives. I think the last of these classic looking films were

EXR films. Visions brought a kind of a "slimmer", more modern and elegant tonality. EXR films remind me of 80's but with more saturation and contrast.

Vision2 films go further in the modern direction.

The evolution of emulsions brings you closer to the way your eyes see things.

Of course that cool "texture" of older film tones is lost, but there are ways to make

films and photography to look "older" and sometimes you can nail the look

so that people actually think the footage or image is 20-30 years old.

 

But the show must go on. Film has a lot of potential for capturing images as good as human eyes do, and you can't stay on the lower level just because you like

the look of it. This is because that the look of older filmstocks is a result of their limitations compared to todays films, not the oposite.

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I have noticed some laser recorder transfers lack a certain depth to the blacks; the solution tends to be to print on Vision Premier but many studios won't pay for that stock. I keep telling Kodak that if they really want to support filmmakers, they should not charge more for Vision Premier so that filmmakers can choose between Vision and Vision Premier print stock according to taste and not economics.

 

The additional silver and couplers in Kodak VISION Premier Color Print Film 2393 do add to the manufacturing cost, so there is a slight premium.

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But the hard-light style of the 1960's gave movies a more sculptural quality

Just a theory to float here - but many if not most DoPs in the 60's had learnt their skills lighting for B/W. (It's a skill that should never be discarded imho). In those days, you didn't become a Director of Photography the first time you walked onto a set, you worked up over many years.

 

Now as B/W needs a little more help to ensure that foreground stands out from background, (grey on grey isn't as stark as pink on blue for example), they got into the habit of lighting more "sculpturally", and making foreground and background stand apart.

 

No reason to change when shooting in colour, so the "depth" remained.

 

People who started out in colour never had to worry about grey-on-grey, so never adopted that style of lighting.

 

No doubt someone can find examples to counter this theory. Any discussion? David?

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No, you are on the right track there... I've had the same thoughts. Of course, not only were these DP's coming from a b&w discipline, but they also had to contend with both the slow-speed of color stocks compared to b&w (until 5254 was introduced in 1968) plus the contrastiness of dye transfer printing plus the print brightness needs of drive-in movie projection.

 

There was a movement towards greater realism after WW2 but many DP's took this to mean the elimination of the complex and baroque lighting of the 1940's (epitomized by something like "Mildred Pierce" or "Casablanca") and substituting a more "brutal" style of hard frontal key lighting with fewer shadow patterns. To that generation, it was the reduction of flourishes and the simplication of the lighting that connotated "realism".

 

Soft-light techniques, although used in the Silent Era and early 1930's, didn't re-emerge until the French New Wave started using a lot of bounced light. There is an interesting AC article about "Torn Curtain", a mid-1960's movie by Hitchcock, where Hitchcock insisted that the film be lit with bounced lighting and a grey gauze over the lens to soften the image -- it was his attempt to assimulate some of the approach of the French New Wave cinematographers. Didn't quite work out -- the DP used silver reflectors instead of white ones to increase the output from the bounce, making the lights harder.

 

It was DP's like Hall, Wexler, and Willis that started really taking the lessons coming from Europe to heart. It also coincided with a major generational gap in DP's. The studio system (and the union) kept young DP's from rising as quickly, hence why you have DP's like Charles Lang, William Daniels, etc. whose credits range from the late 1920's to the early 1970's. The DP's that dominated in the 1940's were still dominating in the 1960's, so suddenly in the 1970's you have the emergence in the US studios of a much younger group of DP's when finally these earlier guys start retiring (or dying). Wexler and Hall were some of the few transitional DP's, age-wise.

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No, you are on the right track there...  I've had the same thoughts.  Of course, not only were these DP's coming from a b&w discipline, but they also had to contend with both the slow-speed of color stocks compared to b&w (until 5254 was introduced in 1968) plus the contrastiness of dye transfer printing plus the print brightness needs of drive-in movie projection.

 

There was a movement towards greater realism after WW2 but many DP's took this to mean the elimination of the complex and baroque lighting of the 1940's (epitomized by something like "Mildred Pierce" or "Casablanca") and substituting a more "brutal" style of hard frontal key lighting with fewer shadow patterns.  To that generation, it was the reduction of flourishes and the simplication of the lighting that connotated "realism".

 

Soft-light techniques, although used in the Silent Era and early 1930's, didn't re-emerge until the French New Wave started using a lot of bounced light.  There is an interesting AC article about "Torn Curtain", a mid-1960's movie by Hitchcock, where Hitchcock insisted that the film be lit with bounced lighting and a grey gauze over the lens to soften the image -- it was his attempt to assimulate some of the approach of the French New Wave cinematographers.  Didn't quite work out -- the DP used silver reflectors instead of white ones to increase the output from the bounce, making the lights harder.

 

It was DP's like Hall, Wexler, and Willis that started really taking the lessons coming from Europe to heart.  It also coincided with a major generational gap in DP's.  The studio system (and the union) kept young DP's from rising as quickly, hence why you have DP's like Charles Lang, William Daniels, etc. whose credits range from the late 1920's to the early 1970's.  The DP's that dominated in the 1940's were still dominating in the 1960's, so suddenly in the 1970's you have the emergence in the US studios of a much younger group of DP's when finally these earlier guys start retiring (or dying).  Wexler and Hall were some of the few transitional DP's, age-wise.

David, this is all very interesting. Are there any books you can recommend that talk about the things you are referring to (historical changes in lighting in cinema)?

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It was DP's like Hall, Wexler, and Willis that started really taking the lessons coming from Europe to heart.

Also, they were shooting commercials (Wexler-Hall was a TV comml prod co)

there were influences from commercial still photography; cross pollination.

 

-Sam

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they also had to contend with both the slow-speed of color stocks compared to b&w
. . .which of course they countered with more lighting (therefore modelling more "space") and with wider apertures, so less depth of field, and consequently a greater sense of depth. But these "technological deterministic" answers are very thin compared with the trends in lighting styles that can be observed . . .
David, this is all very interesting. Are there any books you can recommend
seems to me that if David has saved all the incredibly valuable and well-researched information he has sent this and other lists, he has the vey book you want. Just write it, David!
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Well, I did my part (the text) and turned it in to my co-author Kris Malkiewicz by the end of February. But the various manufacturers described in the book have taken SO long to reply to his requests for new product shots that now the book won't be turned over to the publisher until late October.

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David Mullen wrote:

Barry Salt's "Film Style & Technology: History and Analysis" is a good place to start. Just skip the first third of the book where he lambasts French film theory...

 

I have found that many film scholars hate this book because they prefer to exchange theories without knowing too much about the technical aspects of cinematography. :rolleyes: Regarding Salt's criticism, I think his analysis of Max Ophüls' films is quite good, especially when it comes to LOLA MONTEZ...

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  • 2 weeks later...

First I wane, thank you all for the very interesting, thoughts that has been brought up.

 

?You should really be judging contrast and color in a theatre, rather than from a DVD.?

 

Totally agree with you, but where I live, sadly we don?t have the theatrical release we should have. And quality always shines trough, watched Poltergeist on TV last night, my 32 wide, that mean it was letterbox. And didn?t use at the left and right side off the screen, in other words very small, but it still looked great ( maybe to great for a scary movie )

 

?Mystic River?.

 

It wasn?t meant as film specific topic but since you asked I am glad to share my thoughts. I am a big Eastwood fan, and his collaboration with Green and especially Surtees ( by the way does anybody now why he almost completely has vanished in to tv work, miss him a great deal )

 

Now when Stern has taken over, I mean Blood work, worked fine for me nothing special but good solid work, Mystic on the other hand with it?s washed out grays and blues and flat ( how they did it http://www.cameraguild.com/magazine/stoo903.htm ) One of the very few film in resent years where I felt the cinematography really, do I dear to say it? Hurt the movie.

 

Oh well something interesting happened the other night saw ? The Quiet American. And thought it looked very nice so I searched the treads and find that Mr. Mullen also seemed to like it a year back said something about it reminded about the older Agfa stocks.

 

And it has some kind of older look to it ( not quit the look I am searching for ). But we have to remember that it was done by the highly respectable Doyle, and it seems like the ?old look? now days always comes from the top cinematographers.

 

As a final thought, because you run in to this every now and then in interviews and forums like this and so on.

Why don?t Kodak ( and Fuji ) develop an alternative stock, that is clearly different from the others ( in my view it should represent some of the older stocks, but theoretically it could look like -- well anything )

I am considering my self the next generation?s filmmakers, and I am not only speaking for myself, but we are a bunch that real feels that movies looked better before and we like to try and bring them back there.

 

Thank you for listening.

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"Mystic River" was printed using a low-level of ENR, so the prints had pretty rich blacks and contrast. I don't know how one could say that it was washed-out looking. It was lower in color saturation though, by design.

 

Tom Stern was also Conrad Hall's gaffer and did "Road to Perdition" so he certainly knows how to light a movie.

 

The movie was natural and dramatic-looking (in the theaters - I haven't seen it on TV) but not overly or overtly stylish. Eastwood works too fast for that these days. It used less underexposure than his earlier films.

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