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Monday, July 7, 2014

Ten Films That Can Teach You Everything You Need To Know About Cinematography

The word cinematography literally means ‘to record movements’. A director relies on their cinematographer to manipulate the mood and implication of a shot.
For example; you might not think that there’d be many ways to film a person walking down a corridor – but what if that corridor had seedy red lighting? What if the person cast a long dark shadow? What if they were walking down the corridor in slow motion?
The smallest change in lighting or lens can create a whole new emphasis and completely change the meaning of a rudimentary action. This list aims to give you a good background on all the cinematographic tricks of the trade.

1. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
What it can teach you about: Lighting
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is shot with low levels of lighting for a very simple reason: playing with lighting can make some very interesting shadows. The film’s cinematography may be extreme, but it’s a perfect example of how darkness and shadow can emphasize evil, and how light can emphasize good.
More than this, the jagged, twisted lighting literally helps to emphasize the madness within the film; characters are literally trapped in a nightmare. Another point of interest, is that German Expressionist films like Dr. Caligari were filmed in war torn and poor Weimar Germany. Shadows may be effective, but they’re also cheap.

2. The Bicycle Thieves (1948)
What it can teach you about: Focus, Camera Movement
Following the fall of Mussolini, Italy was a broken and depressed country. Vittorio Director De Sica wanted to capture more than just the plight of his protagonists, he wanted to capture the plight of his country. He does so, startlingly, by using static shots that lingerer on depressed buildings and depressed people.
Cinematographer Carlo Montuori used a deep focus to capture the surroundings, making sure that everything was in focus. Frequently we’re presented with stunning photography, but we’re never able to escape from Rome’s squalor and poverty – much the same as the central characters.

3. The Searchers (1956)
The Searchers Monument Valley
What it can teach you about: Aspect Ratio, Colour
The nineteen fifties were the golden years of television; every American household owned one, so why bother go to the cinema? It was a question that film directors had to answer, and answer they did. The Searchers is a glittering example of a film that delivered its audience an experience they’d be unable to replicate in their own living rooms. Its technicolor is inherently beautiful. It’s grand, it’s immersive and it’s obviously vibrantly colorful.
John Ford and his cinematographer Winton C. Hoch pushed the envelope further by filming in a high-res widescreen format known as VistaVision. The Searchers is BIG, and should be viewed in a cinema whenever possible.

4. Barry Lyndon (1975)
Barry Lyndon
What it can teach you about: Lighting, Effect of Lenses
Stanley Kubrick was so determined to film certain scenes of Barry Lyndon using natural light, that he went to the length of using camera lenses that had been developed by NASA. Most famously, this allowed Kubrick to film indoor night scenes using only candlelight (try it sometime, it’s near-impossible).
When he did deploy electric light, cinematographer John Alcott went to great lengths to make sure that the lighting looked as natural as possible by using filters. Using natural light (or natural looking light) is a great way of making a film look realistic, but Kubrick and Alcott’s extreme lengths created a particularly please aesthetic that replicated eighteenth century paintings.

5. Hard Boiled (1992)
What it can teach you about: Length of Shot, Camera Movement
Long takes are traditionally used for unintrusive and natural-feeling scenes. John Woo used the long take to devastating effect in the action bonanza Hard Boiled. Modern action films often heavily edit and shake up the action to create a false sense of adrenaline. Cinematographer Wang Wing-Heng does exactly the opposite here.
By using a long, uninterrupted three minute take during the final siege, he enhanced the peri by impressing the critics with just how REAL the chaos looked. Pyrotechnics fly, actors get clobbered, and the audience watches wide-eyed at the action packed brilliance of it all.
6. Pulp Fiction (1994)
What it can teach you about: Camera Positioning
Pulp Fiction is told from the point of view of a variety of different characters, using a non-linear narrative (in other words, everything is out of sequence). In order for this to make any sense at all to an audience, Quentin Tarantino tells the story using classic filming conventions. All scenes are filmed with one camera, and most shots are medium or close – never letting us too far aways from the characters that ground the story.
We also regularly see point of view camera angles; especially during dialogue scenes, where we see the conversation played out using the classic shot-reverse-shot technique that switches the point of view between characters. As a result, in a complicated story we’re always firmly connected to the characters’ narrative.

7. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
saving private ryan beach
What it can teach you about: Colour, Camera Movement
Blood red is a horrible colour. If it’s splashed about too freely on screen, it can inadvertently turn a picture into a video nasty. Saving Private Ryan certainly had a lot blood however, all of the colours were deliberately desaturated, reducing the brightness and adding a blue tint to the picture. The effect made the gore more palatable, while at the same time giving the film the look of an old newsreel (which was entirely appropriate for a film set during World War II).
The action sequences were filmed with a handheld camera, giving the audience a sense that they too were ducking for cover during the gunfire. The beach-landing “stuttery” effects were  created by skipping frames. This heightened the sense of trauma and confusion, and really helped to convey a sense of adrenaline to the audience.

8. Gosford Park (2001)
Gosford Park
What it can teach you: Camera movement, Lighting, Focus
Each scene in Gosford Park was shot using two cameras filming simultaneously. Unusually, in each scene the camera is always moving (even if it’s only very subtle movement). Almost everything is kept in focus, and indoor shots have soft lighting spilling in every direction. This allowed the actors to act freely, and complete scenes without the interruption of having to reposition the camera and relight each scene.
Many critics praised the “gliding” quality of Andrew Dunn’s cinematography. The set-up firmly elevates the importance of character interactions within the movie.

9. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
What it can teach you about: Camera Movement
In the wrong hands, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind could have been a computer generated special effects bonanza. Instead, Michel Gondry thought small, and used trap doors and quick costume changes to illustrate Joel’s oscillating subconscious.
More than this, he captured the narrative using a handheld camera and made an obviously unreal experience feel like a reality based documentary. Why? As fantastical or distorted as they may be, our memories and our imaginations feel real to us. As a result, many of us not only found Gondry’s film realistic, we also found it nostalgic.

10. The Bourne Supremacy (2004)
The Bourne Supremacy
What it can teach you about: Length of Shot, Camera Movement
The Bourne Supremacy’s cinematography really tied audiences and film critics in knots. Many loved it, many hated it. Either way, it was enormously influential on films like The Dark Knight and Quantum of Solace.
The Bourne Supremacy was so different because conventional film wisdom would say that you would pan or zoom to set the scene, then after the camera had stopped moving you’d then see an edit that takes you to the next shot.
Not so during The Bourne Supremacy. The movie frequently edits mid camera movement in an effort to disorientate the audience. While editing may be separate from cinematography, the length of a shot is often crucial to what a cinematographer is trying to convey. Cinematographer Oliver Wood created a movie with action sequences that feel wildly jerky, and have a constant sense of chaos and adrenaline as a result.
Author Bio: David Biggins is a film graduate and marketeer from England. He’s been published on the BBC website, and used to present a film radio show in Norfolk. Before joining Taste of Cinema he was a film critic for Reel Whispers.You can follow David on Twitter @MrMilktray.