Visions of Light / Oscar for Best Cinematography

Visions of Light: The Art of Cinematography. The film covers the art of cinematography from the conception of cinema to about 1990.


In class we viewed the documentary Visions of Light. What qualities of light and camerawork are you most drawn to in the films of the past? Name a movie and a director of photography whose work is discussed in Visions of Light. What qualities in their work inspire you? How might you attempt a similar visual look in a short film you want to make?

Each year the Academy Awards gives an oscar for Best Cinematography. What film would you have awarded that honor this year? What visual qualities (light, color, camera shots and angles, motion and effects) are you most excited about in recent films? What current director of photography would you want to learn more about? (Name of DOP and URL links to your favorite films by this cinematographer).
Post your short response to the blog comments here by Friday.

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11 thoughts on “Visions of Light / Oscar for Best Cinematography

  1. Mitchell Ringness

    A film in particular that really captured my attention during the video “Visions of Light” was Raging Bull, whose cinematographer was Michael Chapman. The fight scene that “Visions of Light” decided to spotlight used a broad range of different speeds during the fight, and showed the progression of time to be either slowed down or sped up. This fascinated me, as it was choreographed well and really emphasized certain parts of the part between the main character and his opponent. I feel like it would be a blast to incorporate what I saw in Raging Bull in some of my short films, whether its an action-packed fight scene or a melodramatic fantasy scene.
    As for the Academy Awards, I made a huge mistake by reading an article about how horrendously pointless the entire event is (such as how many of the voters who vote at the Academy Awards never even see the films they’re voting for) and has thus made me a bit cynical about the whole thing. Anyways, I think I would have awarded “American Sniper” with best cinematography, for various reasons. We discussed a lot of the reasons in class together, such as how Chris Kyle’s perceptions of reality drastically, and sometimes dangerously, differ from how other’s perceive it; the creativity and ingenuity on how the cinematographer, Tom Stern, decided to show this depth of perception really intrigued me. Also, I particularly enjoyed how the cinematography was purely audience-friendly. It wasn’t abstract, nor difficult for the average American to understand, and I think that’s beautiful. Too often I find that the main aim in some films is to appeal to an unrealistic audience, or an audience that many of us cannot relate to. I am not sure if I explained that well enough, but maybe I’ll be able to find a better way at explaining it.
    A director I’d like to learn more about is Australian-native Andrew Lesnie, the cinematographer of all of the Lord of the Rings movies/trilogies, as well as I Am Legend, and Babe (the movie about the anthropomorphic pig).

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrew_Lesnie

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  2. I was drawn to the works of Allen Daviau, he is the cinematographer for E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, he also helped with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
    I find his style appealing, as he tends to use a lot of shadow and interesting frames to accentuate characters and situations. He knows what to focus on and when to get the best impact from a scene. E.T. in particular has a very interesting way of letting the viewer be up close and personal with the characters. The shots are very personal, and give us a great picture of how the character is feeling.

    I haven’t seen any of the films nominated for best cinematography this year, but my personal favorite cinematographer is Trent Opaloch. He often works with my favorite director, Neill Blomkamp.
    He has worked on District 9, (my favorite move, ever!) Elysium, The Winter Solider, the upcoming Chappie movie, and several shorts.
    His style has an almost documentary like feel to it. He frequently makes use of shaky cam effects, and beautiful close ups. Overall he tends to make his work appear rather dark, even in bright or happy settings, which gives his films an underlying sense of mystery. He manages to keep you absorbed in the world he’s created, and that’s why I love his work.
    He’s definitely a cinematographer to keep your eye on, as he has not made too many films thus far. Plus Blomkamp is making a new Alien movie, so here’s hoping Opaloch will work on it, so it can be the masterpiece we’ve been waiting for!

    http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1022001/

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  3. I am drawn to movies with more natural lighting as opposed to those with harsh lighting like film noir. I enjoy the more approachable and relatable feel that natural lighting offers. The film I enjoyed the most was Easy Rider directed by Dennis Hopper. The smooth camera work and follow shots of the bikers agains the desert backgrounds is appealing to me. I have a glide cam for following moving subjects and keeping the frame steady, implementing that will help to up the cinematic quality of my work.

    I have not seen any of the movies that were nominated this year, but I enjoy the work of Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel was nominated. All the frames in his movies are carefully composed and often quite symmetrical. This is refreshing to see as it is different than most other movies and offers quite a different visual impact.

    http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0027572/

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  4. In the viewing of the documentary there were a few that I enjoyed the look of. I think it was the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari by Willy Hameister. The creepiness of the lighting made it look scary. There were very few lights used. Apart of it was the technology of the time but it worked. Another one I liked was the scene from Citizen Kane by cinematographer Gregg Toland where the camera zooms out from young Kane playing in the snow and into the house. It looks so natural and everything was in focus the whole time. I also like Michael Chapman’s work in Raging Bull. They said they tried to make it look like photographs and parts of the fight when it slowed down it showed.
    The only film I saw that was mentioned in the Academy Awards was American Sniper and it was not nominated for cinematography. It was still a good looking movie and they did a good job with one scene taking place during a sandstorm. It made the audience as well as the people in the movie not know what is going on.

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  5. Sadie Ostwald

    I really enjoyed the works of William Fraker in What’s Happening to Rosemary’s Baby. I actually wrote this movie’s name down because what stuck out to me was how the scene with one of the characters is sitting on the bed talking on the phone, you can see everything except her face is hidden by the door. Before the director who was commenting on this scene could say it, I leaned in my chair to try to see around the door. My eyes were fixed on trying to see the woman’s face. The director then comments on how he was fighting with Fraker about this scene and whether it was appropriate until he sat in the movie theater to see everyone leaning to try to see around the door. I thought, “now that is brilliant.” He knew just how to get the audience drawn into the movie and react, despite the obvious inability to see around the door.
    Here is a great clip showing the use of close ups and shaky cam for a personal feeling during this scene


    Honestly, the nominations were great for the Oscars, but I really like the work of Christopher Nolan’s partner in crime, Wally Pfister, who did the Dark Knight trilogy, Memento, and The Prestige. I love the wide angles and landscape shots that really bring the viewer into the reality of the characters, along with the use of shadows to dive you into the depth of the characters. Another really great visual effect that Inception shows is the Hallway Fight Scene in with Joseph Gordon Lovett and unnamed man where they built a revolving set in order to visually give the look the characters floating. That is pretty amazing –

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  6. I am very drawn to symbolism in cinematography. The type of thing when it’s raining while the scene is sad, but things that are more subtle than that. Vittorio Storaro and one of the films he directed photography for, The Conformist, have very intriguing, deliberate points. Showing light as if it’s coming through blinds while someone is wearing stripes, showing the entirety of a large hallway as someone slowly walks down it, being hit by the intervals of light coming through the window; It all feels so deliberate, almost like you can see his hand there, directing everything. If I wanted to make something like him (which I likely will) I will need to put a lot of thought into each shot before I use it. I’ll want to scope each possible spot I can film it from before one of them resonates with me as feeling “beautiful” or “right”.

    This year for the Oscars, I would have awarded best cinematography to the same person the academy did: Emmanuel Lubezki. His ability to make the entire movie as if in one long shot without making it feel awkward or gimmicky is extremely impressive. However, since that will likely not become the norm, what I’m most excited about in today’s movies is a sense of scale. When something is meant to feel small, it does. When something is meant to feel big, it does. All of this being done with tricks of the camera. Someone who does this very well is DP Seamus McGarvey. He was cinematographer for the Avengers and the new Godzilla movie. Avengers he got a little time at the end to showcase his ability to manipulate scale with the giant caterpillars in the battle of New York. But in Godzilla he really got to show off. He makes Japan’s favorite monster feel like a behemoth. The way he would capture just its foot coming down and then slowly pan up, all as if from the point of view of a person on the ground…. It was breathtaking. That movie was beautiful and I give much of the credit to him.

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  7. I am drawn to natural light in films of the past. I was intrigued by the cinematography of Willam A.Fraker in Rosemary’s Baby. In the film, they spoke about how the old woman goes to speak on the phone in the other room, and they set up the shot so her face was just blocked by the doorframe. During a screening of the film in cinemas, the whole audience craned their heads around, trying to see past the door. I enjoy the realism of the cinematography and how the viewers are invited to interact with the film, not just passively watch it.
    Although I think Emmanuel Lubenzki does some nice work with cinematography, I would have awarded the Oscar for cinematography to Robert Yeoman and The Grand Budapest Hotel. I think that being able to capture Wes Anderson’s quirky and detailed vision is very impressive, and his ability to take long shots and still have detailed scenes going on is noteworthy. The overall look of the film is so interesting and different, from its movement in the shots, lenses, and lighting and color of each of the scenes.

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  8. I tend to enjoy films that use cinematography to convey messages beyond what is at the surface level. Some cinematographers simply point and shoot, employing a ‘what you see is what you get’ style of filmmaking. While there is nothing wrong with this approach, I enjoy watching a film that challenges the viewer; one in which you can interpret more about the film by analyzing the cinematography. That being said, the cinematographer from Visions of Light that I was drawn to was Michael Chapman. The video shows clips from some of the boxing scenes from Raging Bull, a beautifully shot film. Chapman decides to film each of the boxing scenes in a different way to convey the different emotions felt at that time by the main character Jake LaMotta. Being able to convey such strong emotions through the use of a camera is incredible to me. Another fine example of Chapman’s use of cinematography to reveal information about a character is his work on Taxi Driver.

    I have only seen two of the films that were nominated for Best Cinematography, Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel, and even without seeing the other films I would put those two in the top spots. I believe Birdman was the clear choice though because it is a movie about performance. It highlights the good, the bad, and the ugly sides of stage plays and acting and what goes on behind the scenes in those environments. The camera hardly ever stays stationary for more than a few seconds and it is usually moving seamlessly through the scene, circling around people during a dialogue, following closely behind the actors as they move from one place to another, and essentially transforming the viewer into the camera itself. Emmanuel Lubenzki is a genius, plain and simple. All of the films I have seen with him as the cinematographer have all left lasting impressions on me. Children of Men is my favorite of his works mostly due to the use of very long shots with seemingly no cuts. It really brings the viewer into the world of the film and that is the quality that I most admire in cinematographers

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  9. I was most drawn to the movies that had little to almost no light. The on movie in particular that did this well was The Godfather. Gordon Willis found that with the overhead lighting it made the actor’s Marlon Brando make up appear better and also gave a mysterious look to him. With the overhead lights and Brando’s deep eye sockets he became a frightening person to look at, not knowing what he was thinking or what he would be doing next. I think for me to be able to be daring enough to try this in a work would be a challenging task. We are always told to have enough light in our works so to be able to make such a thing work would be a challenge itself. Willis also does say in The Godfather II there were even some scenes that were thought to be too dark but fought against what people said and went with what he thought conved a better story.

    Out of the Oscar nominated shorts I was most drawn to Wes Anderson film “The Grand Budapest Hotel” which Robert Yeoman was the director the photography. I was particularly fond of the wide range of shots that were shown throughout the trailer. Ones that are further away such as the one of the jail which gave the place which lead to the jail-men. I also found this shot interesting because you commonly don’t see the higher authority found lower than the people that he is giving orders to, it is definitely very Wes Anderson. had an impact such as ones in the will hearing with the large group and the single back to forth shots when they punch each other in the faces. Furthermore, the close ups were exquisite. The one when they introduce Agatha the do an extreme close up as well as add an interesting background which gives it a dream like quality which leads to the idea of that the young boy finds her special. The other sequence of shots that I like is the one where they change the point of view from one person so another depending on who is punching who.

    If I were to learn about another DOP I would look into Wally Pfister. His movies convey such strong feelings and they have such interesting angles. The movie in particular that I think of is Inception and I can’t help to wonder as to how you could envision something as difficult as that. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0002892/

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  10. In class we viewed the documentary Visions of Light, which had a lot of interesting camerawork. The cinematography I was most drawn to was Conrad Hall. Hall took a lot of risks; nothing was too safe was his mind set. He took dares with lighting and cinematography, and that’s what I liked most. The lights could be too dark or too bright. He experimented with lens flares and blurry films. One thing he said was he “thinks visually,” where you can turn off the music and you can still figure out what is going on in the film. I hope in my projects to come, I can experiment with my camera and other techniques to make great films.

    I haven’t seen any of the movies that were nominated this year, but for the Academy Awards, I would have awarded American Sniper with the best cinematography. We talked a lot about the reasons during class on Tuesday. My favorite part about the whole movie was Chris Kyle’s perceptions of the reality around him. They did such a great job putting us in the body of Chris Kyle.

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  11. Anna Frank

    The film that stood out to me the most in the Visions of Light video, is The Godfather, cinematography done by Gordon Willis. I enjoy the dark ambiance of the picture, it gives it a kind of laid back but mysterious tone. I also enjoy the way the lighting hits the characters so they have such intensely shadowed features. Its a bit intimidating how you can’t see the Don character’s eyes, simply because of the dark shadows cast in the eye sockets.
    I haven’t seen any of the nominated movies this year but i plan to. American Sniper looked like an interesting film. And the Grand Budapest Hotel piqued my interest as well.
    As for Cinematographers I would like to learn more about, I sort of like Wally Pfister. He’s known for his work in the famed batman trilogy, and Inception as well. I suppose I like the dark, grey, gritty tones of movies that also provoke philosophical tones.

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