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Cinematographers that have a very distinct trademark


Liam Howlett
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This has been something I've wanted to post for a while, and just share.

 

I was recently watching the 2009 film Armored and I couldn't help but feel this sense of familiarity...in maybe the way it looked, or whatnot. I couldn't quite call it. But I had a feeling that I've seen something like this before, maybe it was the light? maybe it was the production design? I then had this thought that "You know, it feels like Andrzej Sekula shot this or something. He was a DP behind Tarantino's "Reservoir Dogs" and "Pulp Fiction" - I look on IMDb...and I called it. Sekula also shot "Armored" my sense of familiarity with whatever it was that was in fact distinct about the film was correct.

 

There's other DP's out there who just have that "look" or "style" to the way they shoot that can't be missed.

 

I'm going to CHEAT a bit on these next two, but for illustration's sake they're good examples. By cheating I mean that I knew, not guessed, who the DP's were for these films.

 

1. Jeff Cronenweth.

 

Practically these next three films look and have the same style in light or coloring.

Fight Club (desaturated), K-19: The Widowmaker (desaturated, especially noticeable in the first minutes of the film), and Panic Room (also desaturated, a bit) I would show pictures, but I need to find examples first. I'll update this in the next few days or so.

 

2. Darius Khondji

 

City of Lost Children, Alien Resurrection, Delicatessen (all are Jean-Pierre Jeunet films) I may guess that this is due to the director, but practically all three have the same look.

 

Also Khondji was also an uncredited DP behind Panic Room - and that could also explain why some of Panic Room and Funny Games (US) kind of look a bit alike (the desaturation, especially on skin tone)

 

--------

 

any takers?

 

PICTURES ARE WELCOME

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I agree. personally I don't like when a particular director or DP use the same color grading on all there films. There is too much of it now days, they should experiment more with color of light,etc. rather then always color grading. Some stuff nowadays shot on film can look digital cos of this. I think Kubrick has the most distinct, shooting and cinematography style, its so clear and almost systematic. Slow dolly shots, steadicam shots straight in front of or behind character, even pacing, straight on perspective shots of entire rooms, much less close ups then you average film.

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This is a really difficult subject for me because I am a very big fan of Paul Cameron, but frankly you could cut Pelham 123, Deja Vu and Man on Fire together and I suspect you wouldn't have too much work match grading them.

 

Not sure if that's Cameron, or Tony Scott, though Gone in Sixty Seconds has much the same gloss to it.

 

P

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The thing is that when you become a really successful cinematographer, you get asked to repeat yourself a lot, that's why they are hiring you, because they want their movie to look like some other movie you shot.

 

Middle-level cinematographers more than often are asked to copy other (bigger) cinematographers' work, which is perhaps more fun in some ways... but also prevents developing a distinct style.

 

Now some cinematographers (mainly the realists rather than the stylists) truly have a core philosophy towards shooting & lighting that gives their movies a certain visual consistency, though tweaked for each project. I tend to admire those DP's more that have a certain aesthetic vision that is deeply personal and that isn't necessarily about repeating stylistic tricks to get jobs.

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I don't think that Stanley Kubrick was the only one who showcased his Cinematography style on the movie 2001. At the end of the movie it was the Cinematography style of Douglas Trumble that propelled the astronaut through the 2001 stargate. Its too bad that Douglas Trumble had not yet perfected his 65mm Showscan technique of higher frame rates because that

would have been the perfect tool to handle the rapid motion of traveling through the Stargate at speeds faster than light.

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Jack Cardiff's style is one I always treasure and can spot, both because of his use of coloured light, as well as his more nuanced use of chiaroscuro (reflecting his love of the Northern Renaissance painters). As a result, the three strip technicolor films he DP'd are quite distinct from most examples of the process, which tend to be rather flat and evenly lit (owing to the extreme amounts of light necessary for proper exposure). His films have far greater range, with more contrast, shadows, and a fearless use of reduced color, in contrast to most efforts that sought to exploit Technicolor's hues, and led to the somewhat derisive term "candy colored."

 

His use of colored light, gave his films an unmistakable look, such as the famous ping-pong scene in "A Matter of Life and Death," in which he used lemon yellow filters to give the evening scene a weird quality. I'm also a fan of his lesser known film "The Magic Box," in which he frequently used amber tones in the keys and back light, to emphasize the many late evening in which the main character would arrive home, after a long day's work to perfect his dream of motion pictures.

 

I'd also cite Vilmos Zsigmond and his use of pre-flashing, pushing and lens filters to give many of his films a disntinctly low-contrast, soft look with muted shades and pastel tones. His work in the 70s is stunning, with "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" (imo) to be one of the two or three best photographed pictures of the decade, as well as his underrated work on "Heaven's Gate," one of that film's few saving graces.

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Jack Cardiff's style is one I always treasure and can spot, both because of his use of coloured light, as well as his more nuanced use of chiaroscuro (reflecting his love of the Northern Renaissance painters). As a result, the three strip technicolor films he DP'd are quite distinct from most examples of the process, which tend to be rather flat and evenly lit (owing to the extreme amounts of light necessary for proper exposure). His films have far greater range, with more contrast, shadows, and a fearless use of reduced color, in contrast to most efforts that sought to exploit Technicolor's hues, and led to the somewhat derisive term "candy colored."

 

Leon Shamroy, though his color movies were more saturated than Cardiff's, was another 3-strip Technicolor DP who worked very hard to use colored lighting effects, despite the difficulties (colored gels back then did not last long in front of big arc lights.)

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Oh yes! David you're quite right. I loved Shamroy's work on "Leave Her to Heaven." That he was able to pull off such a strongly noir-ish picture in Glorious Technicolor was nothing short of miraculous.

 

I pulled up his imdb, and I had forgotten just how many Oscars he won, and how many more he was nominated for. Yet, it is strange his name does not come up as often as DPs like Toland, Storaro, Zsigmond, Cardiff, Hall or Pfister. I wonder why this is?

 

BR

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You should check out "Forever Amber", another gorgeous period movie shot by Shamroy. He's mostly known for being Fox's top cinematographer, shooting "The Robe", "The King and I", "South Pacific", "The Agony and the Ecstasy", "Cleopatra", and finally "Planet of the Apes" -- a lot of CinemaScope and Todd-AO 65mm stuff in there. But his use of colored lighting was distinctive. I remember a temple in "Cleopatra" lit at night with amber and cyan gels on gold & black marble statues that was quite lovely.

 

He comes across in interviews as somewhat of an a--hole, one of those cigar-chewing alpha males on the set, perhaps that's one reason he wasn't as loved as some other cinematographers.

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  • 5 years later...

Steven Spielberg once said: "The cinematographers whom I admire most are the ones whose style I can't recognize from film to film. There are cinematographers who I could tell you in the first reel who it is without seeing the credits. There are others who remain full of surprises by always changing outward persona through allowing the story to suggest the visual style, not the other way around."

 

What do you think about that? Are there any great cinematographers without distinctive style?

Edited by Mi Ki
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I don't think that Stanley Kubrick was the only one who showcased his Cinematography style on the movie 2001. At the end of the movie it was the Cinematography style of Douglas Trumble that propelled the astronaut through the 2001 stargate. Its too bad that Douglas Trumble had not yet perfected his 65mm Showscan technique of higher frame rates because that

would have been the perfect tool to handle the rapid motion of traveling through the Stargate at speeds faster than light.

 

Speaking of Douglas Trumbull, check out his website. Amazing stuff. He talks all about what he and his team did for the opening sequence of Blade Runner here.

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Phedon Papamichael ASC is a great example of a cinematographer that rarely repeats himself. He can shoot little natural lighting indies or huge blockbusters. Flashy or simple. His stamp is never heavy-handed or imposing. Not afraid to be ugly if it serves the story.

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