Jump to content

Cromwell (1970)


Recommended Posts

  • Premium Member

Photographed by Geoffrey Unsworth. Panavision anamorphic / Kodak 5254 probably.

I find Geoffrey Unsworth and Ossie Morris interesting because they both came out of Technicolor studio work in the 40's/50s but also worked with smoke and diffusion, more and more over time, to break up that slick Technicolor look. They ended up creating, in the 1970s, sort of a hybrid style with elements of both the hard-lit glamour approach of the studio era and a contemporary softer, more natural, or at least, more painterly look.  Though one can argue that the softer, diffused look is also a callback to the 1930's era. "Cromwell" for the most part does not have the fog-filtered smokey look of "Cabaret" and later works; it clearly falls into what you'd expect for a big-budget studio period film, particularly the scenes in palaces of King Charles I, where colorful opulence was the main visual effect. Many scenes are semi-hard-lit but mixed with a few scenes with softer lighting. 

But one scene near the end, as Parliament meets in a small room to discuss signing the death warrant for Charles, is fascinating to me because Unsworth used smoke and low-contrast soft lighting to create a painterly Dutch Masters effect, and being soft-lit, it also feels more contemporary. It is also closer to what David Watkin had already been doing in period movies like "Charge of the Light Brigade". Here are some frames from that scene:

 

cromwell9.jpg

cromwell10.jpg

cromwell11.jpg

cromwell12.jpg

Link to comment
Share on other sites


I haven't seen Cromwell but will seek it out. The third frame down from the top in the first post literally could be a great painting. Just as an aside, my wife and I watched a movie on DVD the other night that she really likes and I hadn't seen. I was really impressed by the painterly look achieved in it, even though it was a low-quality transfer to DVD. It is Jane Eyre (1996), directed by Franco Zeffirelli. DP was David Watkin. Shot on film of course, which I think helps to achieve a more painterly look 🙂

Edited by Jon O'Brien
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Premium Member

Something I notice about this era is that everything is very lit. The interiors would have been pretty shadowy in reality, lit only by window light, and these days I suspect all this would probably look a lot more contrasty and backlit, and likely be more realistic for it. This all feels very studio bound and formal to me and I'm not a big fan of the shiny, hard-lit skin. It certainly creates some very pretty frames but it doesn't look like it's taking place in the past.

I notice also the use of mixed colour temperature in the night interior. Was there a specific period people started doing that to suggest moonlight?

 

 

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

1 hour ago, Phil Rhodes said:

... This all feels very studio bound and formal to me and I'm not a big fan of the shiny, hard-lit skin. It certainly creates some very pretty frames but it doesn't look like it's taking place in the past ...

 

 

 

Yes, if I was by some miracle one day involved in the production of something even remotely along these lines (a historical feature movie on a similarly weighty topic, with big characters and big interiors) I would probably go for a more modern, earthier look for 'reality' value. I'd try to make it feel we were really 'there'. But I can't help admiring the care and artistry that has gone into trying to match the look of great painters in this and other films. So often as well as the lighting it's the art direction and the quality of the costumes and surrounds. Light falls off really wonderful, high-quality costuming (eg. real woollen fabric) and background props and furniture (etc) even better.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Premium Member

The truth is that in some ways, the "realistic" lighting today of movies set in castles of the Middle Ages, for example, still cheat a lot of light (though soft and underexposed) because in reality you aren't going to get a nice Vermeer-like soft key light from a narrow vertical window slit in a stone wall... These old buildings limited windows and window sizes for many reasons so we are forced to make-up soft off-camera keys from one side when in reality there was no source like that. But as long as it "feels" real, it's OK.

But yes, these old movies were more "lit" -- partly for convention's sake, partly because of the slow speed of film stock. Plus by the 60s/70s, directors often insisted on using zoom lenses for everything, which limited you to an f/4-5.6 split on most anamorphic zoom lenses. Lots of other reasons as well. And they simply had different priorities back then and different ideas of what was "realistic". And cinematographers then and now had to collaborate with directors and producers who had their own ideas and aesthetic values. Probably back then when a producer spent a lot of money on costumes, they expected the DP to throw some light on them, and same for an expensive actor.

Also with movies still being released in drive-in theaters back then, really dim photography was discouraged by the studios.

The convention of blue moonlight predates cinema -- lantern slide shows often tinted moonlit illustrations blue to symbolize night, and silent movies tinted moonlight scenes blue in printing. Of course, these were black & white movies where it was harder to sell a day-for-night shot as being moonlit without the benefit of a color clue like blue, assuming you didn't want to grossly underexpose the scene to sell it as being night. Later in 3-strip Technicolor movies, you saw blue used for moonlight to contrast with orange fire or candle light, particularly in the work of Leon Shamroy.  But it was also a convention in illustration and painting - the mix of blue and orange for some night scenes in "The Adventures of Robin Hood" (1938) was taken from children book illustrations by N.C Wythe and Howard Pyle.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Those first conversation shots at the table are really utilizing the cinemascope in an immersive way, must have been wild to watch it in an actual theater. One of those shots that make you want to suddenly do a short in 2.35

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

 Share

×
×
  • Create New...