Visions of Light:
The Art of Cinematography (1993)
Documentary on Cinematography , English – 92 minutes.
Screening at Ashwin Hospital Auditorium on 25th Nov 2007 at 5.30 pm
Visions of Light states that cinematography is the art of light -- blending it so it enhances the director's vision. Often, one of the most overlooked elements of a film is its cinematography. Paradoxically, it is also the most important, whether specifically noticed or not. Movies are a visual medium where the pictures shoulder the lion's share of the burden. A movie can have a good director, accomplished actors, and a riveting script, but if the photography is poor, the production is doomed.
. "Visions of Light: The Art of Cinematography" is the vibrant, gloriously documented tale of the evolution of motion-picture photography, told in the words of the cinematographers themselves and in scenes from 125 films.
This 90-minute documentary is so energizing that when you leave after seeing "Visions of Light", you'll want to rush out to see, or see again, virtually every film that has just been recalled. "Visions of Light" may not change your life, but it will certainly enrich your appreciation for the whole complex, collaborative process by which random ideas are somehow transformed into films that occasionally exalt.
The clips in "Visions of Light" recall virtually the entire history of cinematography, from D. W. Griffith's "Birth of a Nation" (1915) through such 1990 releases as "Goodfellas" and "Do the Right Thing." Though it has the manner of a conventional anthology film, this documentary is no mere exercise in nostalgia. It's a vastly entertaining introduction to an art that's not always easy to see.
The film is divided into three sections. The first, and shortest, traces the early days of Hollywood and the importance of camerawork in silent films. The second section deals with the black-and-white era after the introduction of sound. Covering roughly the years between 1930 and 1960, Finally, color movies are presented. From Gone with the Wind to films of the eighties, the various techniques used by color photographers to achieve moods and portray emotions are detailed.
Film, whether it's "Coconuts" (1928) with the Marx Brothers, Orson Welles's "Magnificent Ambersons" (1942) or Jules Dassin's "Naked City" (1948), the immediate response is to the entire experience, not to the particular elements that make up that experience. One remembers general feelings: pleasure, pain, laughter, boredom, anger, joy. Films, even bad ones, have a way of being so totally involving that only great and terrible moments are remembered. The craft by which effects are achieved goes unnoticed. This is the way it should be, according to the 27 cinematographers who are interviewed here.
There are exceptions. There's absolutely no way that anyone can look at "The Magnificent Ambersons" for the first time and not emerge from the theater bewitched by Stanley Cortez's remarkable deep-focus camera work. It's almost as if the movie were in 3-D. Deep-focus, the method by which characters and objects far from the camera are seen as clearly as those that are close, had been used many times before, most memorably in "The Long Voyage Home" (1940) and in Welles's "Citizen Kane" (1941). Yet in "Ambersons," deep-focus becomes the film's resonant "voice": as important to the story as the information supplied by the soundtrack narrator.
It was also impossible to ignore the effect of color in the first great Technicolor films of the 1930's. Indeed, the Technicolor movies were shot in a way to constantly remind audiences they were seeing color, as when in "Becky Sharp" (1935), photographed by Ray Rennahan, the heroine's cheeks turn a decided red when she's suddenly embarrassed.
Mostly, though, the cinematographer's art is supposed to go unremarked upon by everyone except other film makers. "Visions of Light" recognizes the possibility that today's more sophisticated, more cinema-literate audiences stand to have their enjoyment enhanced by these insiders' comments on their art.
Arnold Glassman, Todd McCarthy and Stuart Samuels share credit as the directors of "Visions of Light." In such circumstances, it is usually difficult to tell who contributed what, though Mr. McCarthy, a critic for Variety as well as a writer of other film documentaries, is also credited with having written "Visions of Light" and conducted the interviews. Some extra credit must therefore go to him for somehow managing to obtain remarkably informative testimony from the sort of artists who are not usually all that articulate.
Or, as Conrad Hall, the man who shot "In Cold Blood" (1967), says at one point, "I think visually." He and his associates may think visually, but before the camera in "Visions of Light" they also talk extremely well about what they do best.
Ernest Dickerson, Spike Lee's long-time collaborator, remembers when he was a boy and first saw David Lean's "Oliver Twist" (1948), photographed by Guy Greene. The huge emotional impact, he says, was at first mysterious to him; then he realized that "it was the light." His story, like those of the others interviewed here, is a story of light and the absence of light. In cinematography, it's a magical, constantly shifting equation.
"Visions of Light" follows the history of cinematography from the remarkably productive collaboration of Griffith and his cameraman, the great Billy Bitzer, into the Golden Age of the silents when, the interviewees agree, the camera was free, being small and portable. "Sound," says Vilmos Zsigmond ("McCabe and Mrs. Miller," "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," among others), "was a great catastrophe for movie making." Because the early sound cameras were so big and cumbersome, movies almost stopped moving.
"Visions of Light" recollects, among other things, how movies (and cinematographers) recovered their freedom, how cinematographers invented what they needed to develop along the way, how individual studios established their own visual identity through the kinds of films they specialized in, and how the "look" of movies changed in the 1960's when directors moved out of the studios to actual locations.
It's a documentary loaded with its own memorable first-hand moments, as when Gordon Willis talks about his contributions to the "Godfather" films, which earned him the nickname "Prince of Darkness." "Sometimes I went too far," Mr. Willis says of the deep shadows he favored when lighting Marlon Brando. He pauses, then adds with no false modesty, "I think Rembrandt went too far, too, sometimes."
"Visions of Light" is a sumptuous achievement of its kind. The responses to Mr. McCarthy's questions are so good and so rich that its text might well make a book. In any case, that text exists in "Visions of Light," accompanied by a dazzling array of clips to show what the interviewees are talking about. This is not a movie to be seen on anything except a screen that is at least three times taller than the person sitting in front of it.
Courtesy : reviews from New York Times & James Berardinelli