Lesson six in my current (soon to be over, I’m sad to say) Find Your Eye e-course asks us to read a little about cinematography, then watch a movie known for its cinematography. The idea was to see what we could observe about how various techniques were used in filming the movie, and how we might use them in our photography.
Kat provided a link to a list of “Top 10 Cinematographic Masterpieces.” When I reviewed the list, I was surprised to find that I had actually seen 7 of the 10 films listed. Of the three I hadn’t seen before, two were not readily available to me, so I went to the library and grabbed the one they did have: The Godfather. Shocking, I know. Almost 40 years after its release, I had never seen this iconic movie that people of my generation have been talking about and quoting from for most of my adult life.
The first thing I noticed was the color. The entire film has a faded, warm, slightly-sepia tone, which enhanced the period feel. The impression given was that it had been filmed in the 1940s and the film had faded or color-shifted, as old photos do. Much of the movie was very dark, and I don’t mean the storyline. Interiors were dimly lit, and often the backgrounds disappeared in the gloom, focusing attention on the faces of those featured in the scene. Even those faces were often darkly shadowed, as if illuminated only by dim room lighting.
The parts of the movie that were set outside of New York had a very different look. The California and Nevada segments still had that faded, period feeling, but they were much brighter in contrast to the dark New York scenes. At one point, the setting unexpectedly changed from grim, dark New York City to the Italian countryside. The atmosphere changed completely, and became bright, with open vistas and beautiful scenery — accompanied by the swelling love theme, the first time I really noticed the movie’s music. It was a shocking transition. Suddenly it felt as if I were watching a completely different movie. When the story cut back to shadowy New York, the foreshadowing was clear.
I’m not quite sure how to apply my observations of the cinematography of The Godfather to my own photography. The dark, gritty noir look is not a style that appeals to me much, though I have in the past used darkish indoor lighting for some portraits that I like quite a bit. Overall, though, the style of those Italian scenes resonate much more with me. I suppose they would, since I am primarily a nature and landscape photographer. Perhaps the strongest takeaway for me is just how much lighting does affect the mood of a photograph.
One movie that I remember purely for its cinematography, and that I do relate to photographically, is Days of Heaven. I saw it back in the early 80s, on a rather primitive color TV. I hated the story, but I was absolutely riveted all the way to the bitter end by the cinematography. In preparing for this assignment, I googled the film and clicked on Image Results. It still takes my breath away.
The images below are definitely more Days of Heaven than The Godfather. But they do use light to capture a mood.