Jump to content


Recommended Posts

  • Premium Member

Note the conjunction of the fine antique wood with the profile of the Mysterious Woman.


After Somerton, the Mysterious Woman is the fundamental item on Dr. Bill's mind. Hence, the wood filling the frame.


See the wood grain in shot 2? Notice the horizontal bars here (just after the scene above).


Then here (just after the scene above).


Then vertical bars (just after the scene above).


Mutations. Resonances. Making Connections. Art.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 1 month later...
  • Premium Member

For most of cinema history, the electrical production quirk known as "out of phase" was deemed a grave cinematographic error (in the same category as unanticipated lens flares). In later times, however, first-rate filmmakers employed this flickering-of-light effect as a technique to generate subliminal tension (or whatever else).

Examples :

1. Kubrick : A Clockwork Orange


2. Fassbinder : Unfortunately I cannot remember which film, but it is an outdoor shot with house and trees (anyone?)

3. Scorsese : Taxi Driver


4. Kubrick : The Shining


5. PTA : The Master


PTA's employment of the technique is the most visually subtle of these examples, requiring a large screen to discern the effect clearly.

Since "out of phase" is a celluloid phenomenon, is PTA's use the last of its kind . . . forever?

Edited by Jeff Bernstein
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Premium Member

You can get flicker from pulsing AC lamps with a digital camera too. It's just that you're likely to fix it if you saw it, so you'd have to deliberately do that.  In fact, just two years ago I did a shot on a street at night and we decided to shoot one take at 48 fps, but because I didn't play it back at 24 fps, I didn't see that a neon sign on a dimmer was flickering badly.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Premium Member

Sir, yours is a fascinating reply. No doubt your recent cinematographic efforts yielded fabulous footage, considering your first-rate work on, for example, Jennifer’s Body (one of the most winsome Hollywood films of the 2000s, starring the unutterably charming Amanda Seyfried). This thread now requires a further exchange, if I may, because your timely words have opened up the way for a colossal question.


If it is true (I ask naively and politely) that “out of phase” was originally a phenomenon that required the interrelatedness of the shutter speed with other technical factors, how, then, do digital cameras fall prey to this phenomenon, since they do not require shutters? It would be an pleasure to hear the explanation by an outstanding Hollywood insider.

Thank you, sir, and best wishes for 2023.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Premium Member

Digital cameras use electronic shutters and they still can have phase problems with AC powered lights.  In fact, if you switch a DSLR or mirrorless camera to "silent mode" -- electronic rolling shutter instead of mechanical shutter -- one thing you notice right away is a TV roll bar effect from AC discharge lamps like in older streetlamps.  Now, of course, as streetlamps get swapped to LED, it may be harder to deliberately get a flicker effect when shooting a movie though pulsing can still be a problem with LEDs. I believe "Dark City", shot on film, got their streetlamps to pulse by using actual sodium vapor globes in them and then throwing the generator out of phase.

You could use a digital cinema camera at a 360 degree shutter, effectively no shutter, but few ever do because it looks odd with all of that motion smearing at 24 fps. Most use the standard 180 degree shutter angle, though it is a virtual angle, not a physical one.

Look up on YouTube "flicker on video" and you'll see a number of tutorials.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Premium Member


And the thematic use of lens flares in Spielberg’s latest? For a few times in an otherwise sedate production, Spielberg associates lens flares specifically with the character of the mother. (Thus, as with West Side Story, flares appearing later in the film return the character to memory). At one moment, in a lens flare only film can capture, Spielberg evokes the inspiring last shot of Kubrick's 2001—but instead of the fresh-eyed Baby, here the bubble holds mother and child. (Kubrick originally envisioned Saturn, not Jupiter, for Part IV—notice how Spielberg’s flare recalls the shape of the wondrous ringed planet.)

On the use of lens flares in Spielberg’s West Side Story. When the lovers first meet, the film frame is ablaze with striking flares of a density and duration never before seen in a Spielberg movie. Then all lens flares virtually disappear for the rest of the film's running time. Then, near the end of the story, when one lover is searching for the other and scans an empty street, all those lens flares from over an hour of running time earlier return to fill the sky : a visual reminder of what is burning in the character's heart.

postscript : Spielberg’s recent thematic lens flares are what one might call “The Kubrick EWS effect”. PTA experienced the same effect, evidenced in Phantom Thread. (See earlier posts.) Nicolas Winding Refn also experienced the effect (i.e., Only God Forgives).


NEXT POST : Tribute to David Mullen ASC, this site’s top contributor : A commentary on the lensing of Jennifer’s Body (2009).

Edited by Jeff Bernstein
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Premium Member

The Lensing of Jennifer’s Body : The First Seven Shots

3 January 2023


note : By minute one of the film, I told myself, “Wow, this is already so amazingly well-shot, I need only watch ten minutes for comment.” By minute 1.42 : “I’ve seen enough,” I said. “Cinematographer David Mullen is a Genius. Write the following.”


opening sequence


The opening sequence of Jennifer’s Body (dir. Karyn Kusama; writer Diablo Cody) is composed of ten shots.


Shot 1


1. The opening sequence features a series of homages to horror films and icons. The first and most apparent reference is to John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978).


2. In the top center of the frame, some leaves are tipped with light : this technique is employed (apparently) to add depth to the darkness, by finely distinguishing the foreground black from the background black. This technique is also employed on the pinnacle beside the central gable of the house.


3. Note the even distribution of cinematographic light horizontally across the frame.


4. Note the precision moonlight effect on the house. There is no evidence of a photographic effect here, no obvious source of filmmaking trickery. Larry Smith recalled that Kubrick asked him only one question in order to get the job : “How would you light the exterior of the house (i.e., Somerton)?” Kubrick’s question brings to mind the difficulty of what David Mullen engineered here.


5. The subtlety of the lighting on the house is wondrously precisionist. This house is lit as Sternberg lit Dietrich.


6. Note the bonanza of geometries : e.g., the circle and the rectangle; the horizontal and the apexed. This is a “compendium shot”, so to speak : in this shot are elementary shapes, building blocks of vision : a fine touch to begin a visual experience.


7. The beauty of the coloring is staggering. Is it accurate to say that the seven-color spectrum is visible in this initial shot of the film, along with black and white? Hence, in terms of color, we can deem this a “compendium” shot, keenly suitable for a first shot. All the resources required for the rest of the movie are present right here (both colors and shapes). A lovely touch.


8. As the camera tracks forward, snowflake-like pinpoints of light glitter across the lawn. Not all of these pinpoints are flowers; some are (apparently) glistenings of dew or suchlike. The cinematographer did not simply show up to the location, point and shoot : but, in a manner of speaking, created the location. (He and his team did, as he would be the first to remark; and the entire crew). The time required to set up this shot was, this author would guess, four to five hours? If David Mullen says any less, that means his genius is all the more.


Shot 2


1. Though this is a close-up, and not a POV shot, the camera is still “floating” : not hand-held but moving. I propose that the predominant reason for this is to generate subliminal tension. A subtle technique. Simply stabilizing the camera and shooting the CU would have saved some duration of production time; this set-up required an increment of more time to shoot. (Didn't it?) Give a genius more time, you get more genius.


2. The green glow emanating from (apparently) the television and illuminating the forefinger is fantastically subtle in its capture—along with the rest of the television ambience. Speak of “painting with light”! Right there in Hollywood! This author guesses that the television ambience was all engineered by the cinematographer. By the end of shot 2 it is obvious that David Mullen is a master of the subtle. No question, this lensing is first-rate, an example of Hollywood technical genius out on the stage of world cinema. And we’re only at shot 2.


Shot 3


1. This shot employs a number of techniques from shot one, with equivalent technical artistry, so we won’t repeat ourselves here.


Shot 4


1. Note the face : light and dark. This shot, as Truffaut said of Hitchcock’s Rear Window, “is cinema.”


2. Behold the soft outline of the face. What a masterclass in Focus!


3. The reveal of the lighting on the tongue is like a coin-spilling jackpot (see for yourself!). By now it is obvious that David Mullen is not a master of the subtle, he is a master of the infinitesimal.


4. This is another shot that presumably took hours to light (we are happily back in the 1930s here), but well worth it. When David Mullen powers up his camera, the production value instantly doubles. Theory : Whatever this film looks like it cost to make, it probably cost a third of that, if that.


5. The beauty of the color alongside the softness : this may well be a close-up of a Renaissance painting. Just open your eyes and look.


6. Note the subtle light defining the curve of the nose, and the highlights on the (vampyric) teeth. This cinematography is equivalent to keyhole surgery. The attention to detail is staggering. This is Hollywood declaring to the world : Try to outdo this! 


7. By shot three of Jennifer’s Body, it is clear that nothing random appears in a shot lit under David Mullen’s watchful eye.


Shot 5


1. The camera tracking to the window = Brian De Palma (for example). Also, the closet = Carpenter’s Halloween!


2. David Mullen was careful enough to ensure that the window glass had slight smudging in places, so that the pane didn’t look, at first glance, empty. This technique is employed in, yes, a subtle manner. Theory : if David Mullen is allowed to do his work, it will be done subtly.


3. This shot has a wondrous vibe founded particularly in its color. This particular yellow adds a new aspect to the burgeoning atmosphere of the film; somehow, the yellow contributes a whimsy, which prepares us for the comic element of the narrative. A color used in a proleptic manner? If I’m not crazy—if my commentary on this point is accurate—is this effect not staggering? What are we discovering here?


4. In terms of ongoing meaning production, there is very obviously a “pecking order” to a film frame : the audience is not admiring the technics, the audience is (hopefully) suspending its disbelief. But, when we begin to think about how the brain unconsciously processes vision, perhaps we can say : “There are no small details in a film frame. Every pixel, so to speak, is of equal magnitude to the next.” This remark obviously requires further exploration elsewhere.


5. Note the blue of the character’s leggings. The lighting of the garment contributes to the visual “popping out” effect of the character.


6. Note the shadows, which one can call subtle. Obviously we’re not in a 1930s movie where the shadows are present because the production line is roaring along at top speed. Here, these shadows are engineered on purpose. And yes, by reminding us of the 1930s, we smile : and smiling is consonant with the comic element of the film.


7. Because of its position in the frame, the bedpost was a potential nightmare for the cinematographer. But David Mullen lights the bedpost as if it were a chess piece of the gods.


8. Note how the indoor light, ostensibly from the television, subtly lightens as the camera approaches the window. This subtle shift recalls a cameraman opening an aperture on the move (e.g., Licorice Pizza, 32.03).


Shot 6


1a. Dolly zoom. Fassbinder. Hitchcock. The sinister. Genius.


1b. Amazing question : In what other movies is there a dolly zoom within the first ten shots? The only answer I can dredge up just now is Fassbinder’s Angst vor der Angst (1975).


1c. (Two sinister dolly zooms, related, but divided by much running time, appear in Phantom Thread. The first is at 30:32–40. Go find the marvellous other.)


2. If (in my humble view) the primary task of the cinematographer is to ensure that the stars look as good as possible, then, if this is true, then David Mullen can rest easy. He makes even a pale, deathly-looking character look attractive. Imagine if David Mullen had the 1930s actresses in front of him! (Recall, say, the husband-and-wife dream-team of Joan Blondell and George Barnes in Smarty (1934). For younger readers : George Barnes was one of the four greatest Hollywood cinematographers of the 1930s. Absolutely no question. Blondie of the Follies (1932), for example, is extraordinarily shot—especially for what it is, a Hearst situation. So it’s no surprise that the film is associated with MGM : their films were the most relentlessly technically savvy of the 1930s. Begin, say, with Grand Hotel (1932) and work your way forward. Soon you might blurt out : “Wow, 1934 was one the greatest years in Hollywood history!”)


3. This is the title shot. There is simply too much to say with this extraordinary shot, so forget it. The color, the choice of lens, the composition, the complexity of the entirety, and so on and so forth. The dolly zoom is enough for me. This is a “jackpot” shot : an entire book can easily emerge from the study of this one shot. If no one believes me, I will prove it, if motivated. I hereby choose this one shot as inspiration for the book, “How to Watch a Movie”. The entire book will explain this one shot.


Shot 7


1. Fascinating mutation of color straight out of EWS : the bedposts up to now have been seen as white. In this shot, the bedpost looks green (recalling the sickly green of Vertigo?).


2. Note how the lighting coaxes the television table's right leg to pop out. Compare the quality of that black to the shadows on the wall. Might this shot be titled “Study in Black”?


3. No way is David Mullen about to ignore the post behind the television. Why? Because the post is in the shot. This cinematographer engineers his every shot as NASA engineers a rocket engine : the attention to detail is commensurate in its rigor.


4. The picture on the television is perfect. We have seen a billion television screens in a billion movies, but in how many movies have we seen color television imagery captured with such strict clarity? I would say not many.


5. Note the light illuminating the lower central part of the television. Necessary? If it appears in a frame of Jennifer’s Body, then the answer must be yes.


6. The lensing here is lovely. Remove the television from the shot, then show the shot to a film fan and ask : “This shot was in The Shining, right?” I would wager a sizable number of answers would be : “I think so.”


7. The interplay of light and shadow on the wall has a strong 1930-40s feel, and so on and so forth back to the early German filmmakers, who brought their techniques to Hollywood. That one shadow represents the entirety of what Double Indemnity (1944) means for Hollywood : a colossal remark for those who hear it.


Shot 8


1. Split Diopter? Obviously, Brian De Palma comes to mind. But the effect is seen all the way back in, at least, John Ford; I think The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Yes, we all remember that Welles and his technicians created a Split Diopter-type effect in Kane (yes, the first shot of Susan’s suicide attempt).


2. The lensing here is flabbergasting. This has to be one of the most magnificent shots to emerge from Hollywood in the 2000s. Absolutely no question. Just look for yourself! But I don't want to hear about it, thanks.


3. And there you have it : The masks. Eyes Wide Shut.


No further comment.

Edited by Jeff Bernstein
  • Confused 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Premium Member

Thanks for appreciating what we did, I can't say it was all intentional -- the wet lawn that glistened in the moonlight was because this was shot in Vancouver and it was always raining!

Yes, "The Shining" was an influence, as was 1980s horror like "Nightmare on Elm Street". I used a lot of blue for moonlight as a homage to 1980s lighting.

Yes, that was a split-diopter shot.

A lot of the color schemes have to be attributed to production designer Arv Greywal, who unfortunately passed away recently at a relatively young age.  He and director Karyn Kusama picked colors like purple for a number of scenes.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Premium Member

Spielberg has been using lens flares almost from the beginning of his career -- "Close Encounters" is a really showcase of flares, both spherical and anamorphic. Certainly he has been influenced by Kubrick, particularly "2001".

I think the little bit of horizontal flare in that shot in "The Fabelmans" was created on the filter (GlimmerGlass I believe) by just smearing a little of something oily across the filter -- there is a similar shot in "Lincoln" with this smear, an insert of a glass photo of some slaves that Lincoln's son is looking at with a fireplace in the background, both spherical movies (unlike "West Side Story" which was anamorphic.) I've actually gotten a more subtle version of that effect by accident in my recent show just because we've been cleaning the same filter for so many seasons that it was a faint abrasion on the surface.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Premium Member

. . . And finally, the lens flare : 1.19.14. What synchronicity; I hadn't seen Jennifer's Body since the dvd days. All this excitement, simply because David Mullen was kind to me. Let everyone who sees this use our exchange as an example of proper and correct behavior. Be kind to each other, and each raises the other's game.

I would say I'm certain that what I defined as out of phase is indeed out of phase. I don't require a television to determine this; I see it on a laptop screen. Which would mean that Jennifer's Body must be added to the out of phase list that appears earlier in this thread. What a list to be a part of! Karyn Kusama is a brilliant director. I am watching the movie without sound, and even without sound an audience should have no problem following the film (so to speak). It's also obvious that Karyn Kusama has an extremely fine understanding of quality, considering the visual film references I am seeing (e.g., David Lynch's Elephant Man). Tomorrow I shall hear the words.


Before film was the Word.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Premium Member

"I love the use of the color blue by the artist."


The Conformist (1970), Bertolucci / Storaro


Die bitteren Tränen der Petra von Kant (1972), Fassbinder / Ballhaus


The Exorcist (1973), Friedkin / Roizman


The Thing (1982), Carpenter / Cundy



Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 months later...
  • Premium Member

Dunkirk (2017) : masterful editing transitions throughout


(14:10). An editing association between (a) heavenly air and (b) earth-laid corpses is applied at scene changes throughout Dunkirk, particularly in the first-half of the film.


(53:49). Two examples of many; and only one example of the many different associations applied to the editing transitions throughout Dunkirk.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Premium Member


(4:29) A character walks into the aftermath of some apparently heavy situation, as in an early reel of No Country for Old Men (2007). Note the Coenesque foot-tracks that conform to a measurement all the way back to a character, beyond which is no disruption in the sand. What happened in this sand? Reason will not be able to answer that question to final satisfaction.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...