Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Visions of Light

The Art of Cinemaphotography

I am not a movie buff. We were very very poor growing up and I did not get to go to the movies very much until I was an adult and then I had children. All fun stopped for about 10 years.

Not having seen very many of the movies introduced and discussed in the documentary, “Visions of Light - The Art of Cinemaphotography” in class on Tuesday, I found it very interesting and educational.

I had not an idea what the definition of Film Noir was. Good ole Wikipedia defines it as:
Film noir is a cinematic term used primarily to describe stylish Hollywood crime dramas, particularly those that emphasize cynical attitudes and sexual motivations. Hollywood's classic film noir period is generally regarded as stretching from the early 1940s to the late 1950s. Film noir of this era is associated with a low-key black-and-white visual style that has roots in German Expressionist cinematography. Many of the prototypical stories and much of the attitude of classic noir derive from the hardboiled school of crime fiction that emerged in the United States during the Depression. Source:

I was mesmerized by the lighting in the film noir period more than any of the other time frames covered in the documentary. Some of the films discussed included The Docks of New York, The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man.

Another style that captivated me was that The Grapes of Wrath was filmed in journalistic, documentary-style with black and white textures and low-key lighting and chiaroscuro (often provided by a candle or low light source). After a little research I found out the cinemaphotographer, Gregg Toland, was not even nominated for an academy award. All the praise for the cinemaphotography went to John Ford.

The change in film size from 70 mm from the standard 35 mm motion picture film format in the movie Lawrence of Arabia (1962) was enlightening. I had never heard of Super Panavision 70 technology which was used by the cinemaphotographer, Freddie Young.

A term that I had not heard of and was not familiar with was New York Style Films. The example given was Naked City by William Daniels. “The movie, shot partially in documentary style, was filmed on location on the streets of New York City, featuring landmarks such as the Williamsburg Bridge the Whitehall Building and an apartment building on West 83rd Street (Manhattan) where the murder took place. William H. Daniels won an Academy Award for his cinematography. (Source:

The movie, Days of Heaven, was one that I had never even heard about. However, just from the small clips shown to us, I found the light coming from the windows and doors to be quite lovely.

I came away with a sense that I want to rent some of the film noir movies and steal some of the styles of photography out of them!

Copyrighted Pictures

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