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Alan Kovarik

Is cinematograpfy these days too perfect?

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Don't see this myself. I think today's cinematography is a lot less beautiful than it was in the 70's, 80's and 90's. Today realism is celebrated at the cost of beauty. The documentary style over elaborate blocking and lighting.

 

 

Oh, I definitely agree, I think the 70's & 80's produced some of the better/my favorite cinematography/cinematographers. I thought it was implied by the thread topic and my previous paragraph, but maybe I should've included "cinematography (at the expense of serving the story) has increasingly trended towards beautiful imagery, bold composition, stylized lighting..."

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I actually felt that "A Prophet" was shot really well, in the sense that it conveys elegantly a gritty bleakness of the world of the French prison. I've been watching "The Night of" which is so distractingly stylized that it takes me out of the story. I mentally compare it to "A Prophet" and lament that the prison has moody lighting with almost no motivated sources.

 

I also feel that there have been well done instances of naturalism – "Renoir" (2013) for example, conveyed Provence and the Renoir estate with the same impressionistic sensibilities of the title character.

 

This discussion of naturalistic/minimal lighting reminds me why I think "Carol" was so well received. Lachman stuck to his style of expressive flourishes to propel the narrative, and audiences remembered that a mannerist approach to lighting was exciting and should be revisited.

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A Prophet was shot brilliantly!

I used it as an example of grittiness in modern times as opposed as "beautiful cinematography" that the original poster was discussing about.

 

I do want to see "The Night Of", watched the trailer and I really liked the framing.

 

I loved "Renoir" and it was a very tough job for the filmmakers to create the vibrant colours that Renoir used in his paintings in cinema, however, they achieved it!

 

 

 

 

 

Point I'm making is, as cinematography has increasingly trended towards beautiful imagery, bold composition, stylized lighting I'm embarrassed to admit the result has changed my taste! I was aware of the trend but not the effect it had on me until re-watching Beautiful. And sure, tastes change as people change and maybe because I'm more aware of the art of cinematography it makes it hard to 'see' a movie without being critical, that I've been conditioned to think cinematography has to be perfect- but I assumed that was possible for the average movie but not a film that had such a profound effect!

 

If you had asked me before re watching Biutiful "is beautiful cinematography a necessity for films?" I'd strongly argue the opposite, that cinematography should first and foremost serve the story. Unfortunately and sadly... according to my recent experience with Beautiful, I realize I have ingrained bias and the recent trend has had a small, but nonetheless significant effect on my personal taste. I'm both fascinated with subconscious/ingrained taste bias and frustrated.

 

*Incidentally, I'm not saying Biutiful's cinematography doesn't serve the story, in fact, I believe the style of cinematography Chivo and Innaritu chose to tell Biutiful was perfect.

 

 

Biutiful works very well translating Javier Bardem's darkness and how he socialises with people into grittiness, colours and imperfections, I think that the whole point was making something not beautiful but oppressive and haunting as in so many sequences with the Chinese people and even in Bardem's house (especially the one with Javier in bed and the girl talking to him while the camera dollies in through the walls.

 

By the way, it was Rodrigo Prieto who shot it! :)

Have a good day!

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I wonder if we are all preconditioned to desire and anticipate, in our own way, images that can be anywhere from the extremely literal to the extremly expressive.

 

Watching early episodes of The Night Of, I never felt they were over stylized at all. For me it was just an experience, I was fed the qualities I was hungry for, things that were absent from or weak in other shows.

 

The idea that the images must serve the "story" always comes up. I accept this as a nescessary shorthand, a way that working people can relate to each other. But I think a truer expression might be that the "images serve the experience". The experience of the viewer.

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But come on.. there was not of dreadful lighting in the 70,s and 80,s.. on big feature films that the average film school student could light better these days.. its amazing you watch some 70.s/80,s films and cant believe the lighting is so badly done.. massive multiple shadows..hugely over lit sound stages.. not a shadow in site... of course there were the master pieces .. but on average these days the camera work is alot better than 70,s/80,s.. the overall standard is incredibly high now.. alot of films are still woefully bad but they nearly always look at least good to fantastic.. its the scripts that are the worry..

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Yea, I kinda think the reason lighting was such a problem comes down to many factors. One of which is the fact that film stocks were still very slow and most movies had heavy key lights as a consequence. Our stocks and digital cameras are way faster then they've ever been. Also, today, we're less afraid to let the actors face fall into darkness then in the past. People today aren't scared of shadows, they're OK with letting things disappear and a lot of filmmakers let everything but key action disappear.

 

This is part of the reason guys like Stanley Kubrick were so revolutionary. The lighting of his films is very realistic and not the norm of the period he shot in. He made those slower film stocks work through clever lighting and lensing. However, he had complete control over his movies, unlike other filmmakers. So it's a tough call, either follow the "standard practices" of everything being lit perfectly or maybe you won't get another job on the next film. Today audiences are OK with dark scenes.

 

I personally don't think today's movies are any higher then those in the past. I just feel today's filmmakers are more free to do what they want, which makes for higher artistry.

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Hahaha!

 

 

But come on.. there really was alot of bad lighting in the 70,s esp.. I don't really think it has to do with slow stock.. there were alot of big budget films that really you would sacked from the first rushes these days.. the general level now is probably the highest it was ever been..

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I wonder if we are all preconditioned to desire and anticipate, in our own way, images that can be anywhere from the extremely literal to the extremly expressive.

 

Watching early episodes of The Night Of, I never felt they were over stylized at all. For me it was just an experience, I was fed the qualities I was hungry for, things that were absent from or weak in other shows.

 

The idea that the images must serve the "story" always comes up. I accept this as a nescessary shorthand, a way that working people can relate to each other. But I think a truer expression might be that the "images serve the experience". The experience of the viewer.

 

I do agree that The Night Of does employ a conscious style that is at least consistent, but I guess I just found it distracting. Compare that to American Horror Story, with their split diopters and crazy camera moves, macro shots, etc. – I couldn't imagine AHS any other way!

 

I guess what bothered me about The Night Of is that it returns to the trope of prisons and police precincts being lit by cold, moody lighting. There is a tendency to go overboard with that. I'm not saying everything has to be done in the matter of A Prophet, but as a matter of personal taste it takes me out of the narrative.

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I guess what bothered me about The Night Of is that it returns to the trope of prisons and police precincts being lit by cold, moody lighting. There is a tendency to go overboard with that.

Police stations tend to be fairly drab places, and jails are often painted in a sort of battleship gray. Combined with mismatched overhead fluorescent lighting, and the cold, gloomy look is almost a given. You could kick against it, time and budget allowing, but maybe that's an appropriate look, given the story.

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I also feel that the stylized look of "The Night Of" is earned since this is Nas' first experience in a completely new environment (at least so far as we know) that is new, dangerous, tense, claustrophobic and threatening.

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I am in agreement on newer films being a little sterile. It's the tendency in modern films to avoid crushed blacks and blown out highlights to an almost unnatural degree.

 

I saw a recent film with an interior day scene in which the outside was perfectly visible through open windows and exposed the same as the interiors and the result was quite bizarre looking. You can go too far with dynamic range and HDR. Less is more in a lot of ways.

 

I think films from the 80's and 90's had deep rich blacks especially in night scenes which in general is much closer to reality. I mean, somethings really have no detail to the naked eye under some conditions and why do we want to completely erase that natural characteristic of how we see things?

Edited by Michael LaVoie
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Police stations tend to be fairly drab places, and jails are often painted in a sort of battleship gray. Combined with mismatched overhead fluorescent lighting, and the cold, gloomy look is almost a given. You could kick against it, time and budget allowing, but maybe that's an appropriate look, given the story.

 

Exactly. I was talking about this in another thread and I had the reaction as Kenny with regard to the show's overly-stylized look taking me out of the story, but the production design is spot on. I've worked as an EMT in NYC for over 11 years in Jackson Heights, Queens (the neighborhood where Naz lives.) I have been to numerous police precincts and I can't count how many times I've been to Riker's Island, but the location manager & scouts really did their homework.

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Bill, you're in a unique position of having been to the actual places so you have some frame of reference...

 

Anyway, if it's a choice between being strictly accurate to how these spaces are normally lit compared to creating a mood that serves the script and takes the eye to whatever is the dramatic interest while having just enough naturalism to maintain some believability... then most cinematographers would choose the second. We come into locations all the time and turn off half the lights! It's only when it starts to get ridiculous (like an unnaturally shadowy supermarket during business hours) that we might check ourselves. But even recently I was working on a set where scientists were supposed to be at work at various workbenches and the director had me turn off almost all the lighting in the room to make it more dramatic, even though logically no one would ever be working under such dim conditions. So this was a case where my instinct was to be more logical about it than the director's. But what we ended up doing looked more interesting.

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I definitely support anyone doing whatever their artistic intent might be. Many of my favorite works of filmmaking (studio, experimental, documentary) use expressive and creative techniques. I guess as a matter of personal taste, it's nice to see something like "A Prophet" look more "accurate" while remaining very dramatically lot at certain points; on the same note, I just personally felt "The Night Of" was an example of shooting style getting a little distracting. Just my personal taste.

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Most of the time, overhead lighting results in dark shadows under the eyes. Which in some cases may be the look you are going for.

 

For instance let's say I'm making a romantic film about a young couple living in New York City. The husband has a great job, while the wife stays at home and runs a wedding videography business.

 

The overall tone of this film is happiness and fulfillment, so the cinematography and lighting should reflect that as much as possible. Warm tones and no hard or dark shadows. However, let's say the husband gets involved in an affair with a woman who works for the chinese mafia. The husband then is taken to a dark interrogation room deep in the heart of the chinese...you get the idea. Overhead lighting here would be perfect.

 

Then, the wife has to go back to her old way of life as a hitwoman. So throughout all the gunshots and ass kicking, very dramatic lighting and cinematography would be used.

 

Now I make wedding films, and overhead lighting is a killer for a romantic mood. Why churches use harsh overhead incandescents is beyond me. Here is an example of one:

 

So it is all dependant on what mood you want. I use as much natural lighting as possible, as long as it caters to the film I'm making.

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I think mood based on lightning is overrated. It's only a superficial thing that can also come across as a tired cliche that we have seen countless of times. So many films and videos seem to rely on lightning, coloring, music, slow motion etc. to evoke some kind of feeling, but they are mostly without any substance.

 

Atmosphere of the movie - if it is of any substance - comes from screenplay, acting, scenography and directing. Whether a cinematographer uses this or that lighting shouldn't matter (imagine any *really good* scene from any movie, whether it is funny, romantic, suspensful etc. and imagine it was shot with only natural light - it would be equally funny, equally romantic, equally suspenseful. It would just look different.) I think people associate their emotional reaction to the movie with the way it looked, despite it had almost no effect on what they felt, and they would feel the same if it was lighted differently. And since there are lighting and coloring cliches that lots of movie use, people automatically attribute those "looks" as being "appropriate for this or that story". Eg. comedy should be brightly lit, horror should be dark, detetctive thriller should have hard shadows, etc. But this is extremely simple and superficial thikning.

 

The Office UK is the most funny thing in the history of TV and it doesn't rely on any lightning and coloring technique that is deemed "appropriate for the comedy". And there are not just funny moments, but also sad, dramatic, romantic etc. (all done extremelly well), and they all function equally good without needing to change lightning or coloring.

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Not at all. What I am trying to say is that lighting and coloring decisions are stylistic decisions, and not "story-telling" decisions. And style is very important to people, so there is no fear of cinematographers losing jobs. Besides, the job of a cinematographer is not just to achieve a style, but more importantly, to assure general technical quality and consistency.

 

There is no single "appropriate look" for any given type of movie. It's a preference-based stylistic decision largely driven by popular cliches that are in currently in vogue. Yet some cinematographers speak like they are some "story-tellers" (God, how I hate this term when it comes to movies), because they have a learned instinct to color the romantic movie warmly.

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lighting and coloring decisions are stylistic decisions, and not "story-telling" decisions.

 

What if the script says the power in the city goes out in the middle of the night and everyone lights bonfires in the streets?

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Everyone lighting bonfires in the streets is a screenwriting decision and not a cinematographic decision. Cinematographic decision would be how to photograph bonfires, whether to use an additional lighting etc., and those decisions would be stylistic and technical.

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Pete.. Yes I agree the camera work is not the be all and end all of a film.. and that the script,acting and directing are more important .. but the job of the DOP is to serve that story.. create mood.. / that world ..The God Father.. Fargo.. Charlie and the chocolate factory .. Mad Max.. what ever suits that story and hopefully gets the audience into it..so its a fairly important part of the whole.. but yes I agree.. if the other ducks arn,t lined up or even on the wall.. its just pretty shots..

 

Would Brando have been as menacing in the God father.. sat in his dimly lit office with a top light.. if he just had camera light bashed into his face.. I think not sir..

 

And agree re the UK office.. Fawlty Towers gives it a run for its money as best ever though..

Edited by Robin R Probyn

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