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Guest Daniel J. Ashley-Smith

Greatest Cinematographers ever

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Guest Daniel J. Ashley-Smith

Personally I haven't seen any better than Conrad Hall yet. What other legendary DP's are there?

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There are so many that I couldn?t (and wont) begin to list them all.

 

A lot of them are legendary for different reasons. For instance Haskell Wexler came to fame with his gritty black and white work in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? It was such a big deal then (1966) because at that time, movies just did not look like that. Many of the people who would be on your list will come from this generation (including Conrad Hall).

 

For me, the very best, and at the #1 position would without a doubt be Conrad Hall. There are so many amazing shooters that have come and gone, and I am sure they will be listed by others.

 

 

Kevin Zanit

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Guest Daniel J. Ashley-Smith

Gregg Toland seems to be highly regarded, probably for Citizen Kane I'd of thought. Would he be considered one of the greatest?

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Without a doubt he is one of the greatest. He is famous for his deep focus photography, and his wonderful lighting. He was one of the most influential of his time. His work on the Grapes of Wrath was way ahead of his time. Cinema had never seen these documentary like images in a film before.

 

 

Kevin Zanit

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Guest fstop
Without a doubt he is one of the greatest.  He is famous for his deep focus photography, and his wonderful lighting.  He was one of the most influential of his time.  His work on the Grapes of Wrath was way ahead of his time.  Cinema had never seen these documentary like images in a film before.

Kevin Zanit

 

That's a pretty bold statement, Kevin- are we talking Hollywood narrative cinema here?

 

I love Toland, his best b/w work for me is probably Wuthering Heights, but I think he's always been vastly underrated as a colourist. Song of the South particularly demonstrates Mr. Tolands vast range outside of the monochrome expressionistic hard light everyone knows him best for.

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In my opinion Roger Deakins is one of the greatest modern cinematographers. He was the DP behind some of the most visually beautiful films. He shot A Beautiful Mind, The Village, and The Shawshank Redemption just to name a few.

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Silly question, but:

(In no particular order)

James Wong Howe, Gregg Toland, Stanley Cortez, John Alcott , Robert Flaherty, Karl Fruend, Storarro, Giuseppe Rotunno, Gordon Willis, Michael Chapman, Tonino Delli Colli ...

this topic would be a good way to kill an afternoon. Would you include DW Griffith's camera-man?

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Of the "classic" cinematographers, you have people like:

 

Gregg Toland

For technical bravura, developing the ultra deep-focus style plus pushing Hollywood to greater realism -- one of the people responsible for the look of Film Noir due to "Citizen Kane" (although not a Film Noir itself). Was able to create very realistic lighting effects like a face lit by a match in both "Grapes of Wrath" and "Long Voyage Home". Liked high-contrast bold dramatic lighting.

 

William Daniels

For sheer range and longevity (first credit as DP was 1922, last was 1970), from gritty b&w realistic movies like "Greed" and "Naked City" to slick color fare.

 

James Wong Howe

For similar reasons as Daniels but also was very outspoken on his ideas for greater photographic realism in general.

 

Arthur Miller, Gabriel Figueroa, George Barnes (mentor to Gregg Toland) for beautiful compositions and atmospheric lighting.

 

And many more like Hal Mohr, Joseph Walker, Eduard Tisse, Karl Freund, Charles Rosher, Lee Garmes, etc.

 

For early color work, I'd rate Jack Cardiff and Leon Shamroy very high up there for their artistic use of color. John Alton, though mostly known for his gritty, lower-budget b&w Film Noir work, also did stunning color work for the American in Paris ballet sequence. There are other important people too in early color.

 

Then there are the people I think of as straddling the studio and modern eras, both stylistically and time-wise, like Ozzie Morris, Freddie Young, Geoffrey Unsworth, Robert Surtees, even Conrad Hall and Haskell Wexler to some degree and other DP's who started in the 1960's (Watkin as well.).

 

And there are also the important foreign cinematographers, particular post-WW2. Miyagawa, Figueroa, Aldo, Venanzo, Coutard, etc.

 

Of the modern cinematographers, for me it's:

 

Storaro, Hall, Willis at the top of the pyramid. Then there are a whole slew of people, starting with the British cinematographers I mentioned before (Unsworth, Alcott, Watkin, Morris, etc.) Almendros, Deakins, Wexler, Daviau, Kaminski, Richardson, etc. Too many to list right now.

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What Jordan Cronenweth could do with just one light was amazing.

 

I'm a big fan right now of Caleb Deschanel. All of his work is somehow equal parts realistic and glossy. It's hard to describe.

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Guest fstop

I think you guys all owe more than a bit to Edward Tisse too, certainly in my tops list and definitely on par with the likes of Toland.

 

Good call on George Barnes David- a name vastly underrated today. I just got a copy of The Eagle for my Birthday too! :)

 

Georges Perinals, while a Frenchman, is without doubt the grandaddy of all the great Brits, then Freddie Young, Unsworth and Watkin.

 

I know there's going to be uproar, BUT: I have never been bowled over personally by Connie Hall's work- Marathon Man was about the closest he got, but his later work (Tequila Sunrise, Jennifer 8, American Beauty) looked ordinary and his 60s work never looked anything beyond his conptemporaries IMO- Wexler, Fraker on Rosemary's Baby, Kovacs Easy Rider, Richard H Kline, etc. Haskell Wexler I'd argue did far more than Hall ever did for our art, Medium Cool alone shows just how much integrity a DP can have with and without the theatricalities- and the fact virtually every DP-turned-director show since has been disasterous speaks volumes about his unique talent. Each to their own though.

 

I gotta give a big cry out for Hal Rousson who took colour to a fantastical level, his work is so precise it's intimidating.

 

I'm not certain about this, but didn't William Daniels have something to do with the Star Trek show from the 60s? ;)

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I nearly only see American/British cinematogrpahers mentioned here who mostly do/did Hollywood cinema. Let's not forget people like Vadim Yusov ('Andrei Rublev') and Alexander Knyazhinsky ('Stalker') who did some amazing work in Russia. Their work might not be as accessible, but they are at least equal to anyone mentioned here before.

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Connie Hall is definitely up there. Marathon Man looks great, Tim, but our taste differs a lot. Jennifer 8 is one of the best shot thrillers ever and in my opinion just as well lit if not better than Marathon Man. Lots of gutsy low level lighting and actors lighting themselves with bounce from flashlights and such. I do agree that American Beauty wasn't the best in his distinguished career, but if anyone doubted the old man was over the hill, he sure as h*** went out with a bang on RtP. God, that last scene in the rain could very well be the best rain scene ever shot and lit.

 

There's this notion that only european DP's are "artistes" and have the knack for being extremely good, especially in Hollywood istelf. Hall, Willis, Kimball, Wexler, Cortez, and a whole bunch of other brilliant american DP's should hopefully end that misconception.

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I don't understand the need to classify cinematographers in terms of "the best".

We are not talking about sports stats.

There are many, many important cinematographers and I don't believe they were thinking about BEING the best. IMHO they were thinking about MAKING the best decisions for the films at hand.

In terms of cinematography, "The Taking of Pelham One Two Three" is just as interesting to me as "2001" but they are coming from two radically different directons.

Why is it so important to categorize things in terms of "the best"?

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I notice Conrad Hall is said to be "the best ever" mostly by non-cinematographers. It seems to me, as just another non-cinematographer, that there can't really be a best cinematographer. There are too many good ones. It's not say, like, pop music where it's not always talent that gets you signed; if you're going to be a popular cinematographer, you'd better be good, you know? As opposed to asking for a favorite cinematographer, maybe we should start asking for a long list of favorites.

 

I know I can't choose.

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audiris, good call on yusov, his work was beautiful. also, i dont think anyone has mentioned sven nykvist. he seems like an easy selection for the list.

jk :ph34r:

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For me right now it's mostly Deschanel, Richardson and Deakins. But there are just too many really good guys past and present to even consider naming them all.

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After watching Citizen kane again this evening, I have to give it to Gregg Toland. He did some pretty impressive things in that movie, namely the reflections. When Kane is dancing at the party celebrating his acquisition of the great newspaper writers, I'm really impressed in the shots where Kane is reflected in the window. It must have been extremely difficult to get the exposure balanced for both the reflection, and the actors conversing.

 

I'm also impressed by the part when Kane says he wants to make the Inquirer as important to the people of New York as the gas, then he turns out the gas light. Obviously the lamp wasn't really adding much light but that looks really great, the decay time on the light is perfect.

 

Does anyone know what filmstock and format he shot that on? I'm curious as to the lengths they had to go to achieve that depth of field. Some of those shots had to have been done at an F16 or F22, and with the (I assume) slower film stocks of the day, eep! :blink:

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It was shot on Kodak Super-XX b&w negative (160 ASA), sometimes push-processed. He also used wide-angle lenses (mostly a 25mm) and powerful arc lights developed for Technicolor photography. It was shot in the standard 1.37 4-perf 35mm Academy format. He averaged an f/8 but for some shots, used f/11 and f/16, replacing the iris leaves in the lens with Waterhouse stops to improve defraction. He also used coated lenses to reduce internal reflections, a relatively new process (I think Dupont invented lens coating around 1937.)

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Guest fstop
After watching Citizen kane again this evening, I have to give it to Gregg Toland. He did some pretty impressive things in that movie, namely the reflections. When Kane is dancing at the party celebrating his acquisition of the great newspaper writers, I'm really impressed in the shots where Kane is reflected in the window. It must have been extremely difficult to get the exposure balanced for both the reflection, and the actors conversing.

 

I'm also impressed by the part when Kane says he wants to make the Inquirer as important to the people of New York as the gas, then he turns out the gas light. Obviously the lamp wasn't really adding much light but that looks really great, the decay time on the light is perfect.

 

Does anyone know what filmstock and format he shot that on? I'm curious as to the lengths they had to go to achieve that depth of field. Some of those shots had to have been done at an F16 or F22, and with the (I assume) slower film stocks of the day, eep! :blink:

 

Let's not forget the numerous simulated depth of field shots in the picture such as the glass next to the bed and such, actually opticals supervised by Linwood Dunn.

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