Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Encyclopedia of Cinematography: A-B

It's taken a long time...the better part of a year...for me to settle on the movies that are going to take part in this series.   Color, light, contrast, darkness, movement, grain, clarity, and unusual filming conditions all played a role in my decisions as to what titles to include.  In this ongoing series, I chose not to rank the films in quality (seeing as how it would be impossible to do so), but instead selected to list them in alphabetical order, making for an encyclopedia of sorts.  I also thought this would make it easy for me to add movies that I might have forgotten about, or not yet seen.  Seeing as how this series is about photography exclusively, I have elected to list the cinematographers themselves as the authors here, so you will see very few directors' names listed in parentheses.  And so, now, here are my choices for glorious imagery from films A to B: 

The Abyss (Mikael Salomon, 89) 
Stunning work from the late Salomon, with grueling underwater photography matched with equally difficult (and groundbreaking) digital effects work.  The grittily-designed interior sequences are adorned with gorgeous blacks, blues, and reds.  

The Adventures of Robin Hood (Tony Gaudio and Sol Polito, 38)
One of the first films that demonstrated the power of color to affect mood.  Still, to this day, an otherworldly display of Technicolor's painterly abilities, and one of the most tasty color movies you are likely to see.

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (Giuseppe Rotunno, 88) 
A superb showcase for Rotunno's talents, with his photography seamlessly blending with the creative art direction and effects work.  He is able to unite both the intimacy and outstanding hugeness of this story, in detailed fashion.  

The Age of Innocence (Michael Ballhaus, 93)
Ballhaus injects this tale of repressed romanticism with enough color and raging movement to win over any errant heart.  At times, his work is positively overwhelming.
 
Alexander Nevsky (Eduard Tisse, 38) 
A most astounding portrait of heroism and honor, set against vast skies and horizons, with utmost attention paid to contrast.  A film with photography way ahead of its time and, in fact, not yet equaled.
 
Alien (Derek Vanlint, 79)
An unexpectedly beautiful amalgamation of blues, greys, whites, greens, blacks, yellows, and startling reds, Vanlint's cinematography does much to transport us fully to this unfamiliar world.  

All The President's Men (Gordon Willis, 76)
Beyond the fact that Willis had to find a way to assay, in one movie, the suburban life, court rooms, secretive parking lots, and the streets of Washington DC--he also had to make the totally reconstructed Washington Post set look as if it were both lit by Hollywood and fluorescent lights (at that time, fluorescents photographed with a green tint, so special light gels had to be developed).  A remarkably disparate example of what 70s-era cinematography was able to achieve.

 Alphaville (Raoul Coutard, 65) 
The unrelentingly silvery glow of a world both familiar and not.  One of both Coutard's and Godard's most enduring visions.

Amadeus (Miroslav Ondricek, 84)
Czech cinematographer Ondricek topped his brilliant previous work with this landmark period piece, filmed with pragmatic light and vibrant tones.  
 
American Beauty (Conrad Hall, 99)
Hall won his second Oscar for decorating this view of nightmarish suburban life with harsh red stings amidst chiariscuro blues, yellows, and blacks.  

American Graffiti (Jan D’Alquen, Ron Eveslage, and Haskell Wexler, 73)
The feel of the early 60s is captured with a grainy sublimity; the photographers also capture the character's constant motion with a lusty sense of diversity.  Nevertheless, the iconic moments are there in all their stillness.  
 
An American in Paris (John Alton, 51)
Alton, who was at his best in black-and-white, proved his camera mastery with this wonderfully colorful, stylized musical which garnered him his only Oscar.  
 
Andrei Rublev (Vadim Yusov, 66)
Yusov's cinematography is so fantastic here, it is often impossible to believe this was shot in the mid-1960s; the film feels like an etching from the 1400s, even as it employs overexposed light and deep, blurry greys to illustrate its story.  

 Annie Hall (Gordon Willis, 77)  
Willis catches on to both the surreal elements of Allen's landmark film, and also its most realistic and romantic qualities.  His humorously overexposed view of Los Angeles is particularly brilliant.  

Anthony Adverse (Gaetano Gaudio, 36)
A justified early Oscar winner for Best Cinematography.  
 
The Apartment (Joseph LaShelle, 60)
Director Billy Wilder often employed the best photographers for his films.   Here, LaShelle's efforts capture the seemingly endless pressure of New York working life, while later perfectly portraying the anarchic home life of the film's wracked lead character.  
 
Apocalypse Now (Vittorio Storaro [and Stephen Burum], 79)
The wide scope of not only the Vietnam War, but of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, is melded here in Storaro's altogether dazzling collaboration with Francis Ford Coppola; his work here seems to push the boundaries of what film can capture, in wild scenes with a hundred people or in equally fierce sequences centered only on a single face.  

Ashes and Diamonds (Jerzy Wozcik, 58)
Post-WWII Eastern Europe, appraised in a dynamic fashion.  

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Roger Deakins, 2007)
My choice for the best photography of recent times; as I am sure detail-oriented writer/director Andrew Dominick demanded, Deakins succeeds in approximating the look and feel of the period, not only through color and light, but also with an endlessly inventive choice of lenses and photographic techniques.  With this movie, the images exquisitely set the viewer down squarely in time and place.

Au Hazard Balthazar (Ghislain Cloquet, 66)  
The saintly life of an always loyal donkey, lovingly portrayed by Cloquet's camera.

Auntie Mame (Harry Stradling Sr., 58)   
A supreme early example of how to transform a Broadway hit into a resplendently colorful widescreen spectacle.  
 
Babe (Andrew Lesnie, 95)
Imagine how hard it must have been to capture a cast of animals with the correct light.  The above image, alone, with its impressive sky and the sumptuous backlighting, must have been a bear to photograph.   
 
Baby Doll (Boris Kaufman, 56)
Kazan's collaborator, the German-born Boris Kaufman, is one of two cinematographers (the other: Harry Stradling Jr. with A Streetcar Named Desire) who I think securely caught the ravishing, seedy feel of Tennessee William's world.  
 
The Bad and the Beautiful (Robert Surtees, 52) 
Surtees takes his cue from the film's inquisitive title to expose the heavy blacks, the bystanding greys, and the hopeful whites of this withering, flip-flopping Hollywood tale.  

Badlands (Tak Fujimoto and Stephen Larner, 73)   
Fujimoto and Larner set the template for all Terrence Malick movies to come.   

Barry Lyndon (John Alcott, 75)
Perhaps the greatest example of film photography.  Kubrick revolutionized the craft with his use of the Zeiss lens (developed for outer-space photography) that enabled he and Alcott to film whole scenes with only candles as light source.  But Barry Lyndon impresses beyond that, to the point that exterior scenes often become indistinguishable from paintings from the era in which its story occurs.  Another film which is impossible to believe it was not filmed in its time setting.

Battleground (Paul Vogel, 49)
Perhaps the most beautifully photographed 40s-era war movie, William Wellman's Battleground seems, often, as if it were filmed yesterday.  Vogel's photography sees the future, maybe because of its snowy setting, which lends a slightly adventurous, overexposed grace to its look that was then unusual for films of its type.  

The Bear (Phillippe Rousselot, 88)  
One of the most unusual and eloquent amalgamations of documentary and narrative filmmaking ever attempted--a secretive throwback to silent movie days.     

Beauty and the Beast (Henri Alekan, 46)
The legendary Alekan--who, 40 years later, achieved another career high with his work on Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire--concocted a slew of unforgettable, highly evocative images for Cocteau's extravagant reading of this famous fairy tale.  

Begotten (E. Elias Merhige, 90)
Not even the works of David Lynch or Guy Maddin can approach the supernatural, silent-movie-influenced quality of Merhige's debut film.  There is simply nothing out there like it.  
 
Belle De Jour (Sacha Vierny, 67)
Vierny athletically catches both the vivid dream world of Bunuel's lead character, as well as her suffocatingly bland real world.   

 Ben-Hur (Robert Surtees, 59)   
The epic, as it was meant to be.


Bicycle Thieves (Carlo Montuori, 48)
Post WWII Italy, as seen through the eyes of its downtrodden veterans, and filmed with Montuori's  unfailing eye.   
 
The Big Combo (John Alton, 55)
The king example of noir photography.  The film was so low budgeted that Alton decided he would build the sets with light rather than with solid set work.  The experiment prevailed with magnificent results.  

Bigger Than Life (Joseph D. McDonald, 56) 
A family disjointed, illustrated though composition and color.

Black Hawk Down (Slawomir Idziak, 2001)
Ridley Scott's war movie, set in Somalia during a bloody stand-off between American and native forces, is a swaying blend of studied handheld work and steady, highly-contrasted cinematography.  

Black Orpheus (Jean Bourgoin, 59) 
The bright colors of one the world's most florid events, Brazil's Carneval, are seized in film forever.
  
Black Narcissus (Jack Cardiff, 47)
Cardiff--perhaps film's finest cinematographer--achieves his pinnacle alongside his treasured collaborators Michael Powell and Emeric Pressberger.  

Black Rain (Takashi Kawamata, 89) 
The nuclear slaying of Japan, seen through its victims and survivors eyes in horribly contrasting black and white.  

The Black Stallion (Caleb Deschanel, 79) 
In a film controlled mostly by sound, music and image, Deschanel made his his first and perhaps deepest mark.  There is not one shot in this movie that is not outstanding.  

Black Swan (Matthew Libatique, 2010)
It's the frenetic movement, and the flashy use of multiple images, that get this film on the list.  
 
Blade Runner (Jordan Cronenweth, 82)
For now, let's disregard the special effects shots and the overwhelming art direction: it's Cronenweth's smoky, detailed lighting throughout that transports us both into the future and into the past at exactly the same time.   Absolutely one of the finest examples of the art of cinematography.

Blood and Sand (Ernest Palmer and Ray Rennahan, 41) 
An egotistic bullfighter finds his red flag.  

Blow Out (Vilmos Zsigmond, 81)
In its latter third, Zsigmond's work is generously bathed in reds, whites and blues (as its final scenes take place on July 4th).  But, before that, Brian De Palma's movie is cast is more stark blacks and whites, with some truly memorable uses of effects and specially-ground lenses.  Plus, the camera is asked to do some pretty extraordinary movements, including numerous and repeated 360 degree pans.  
 
Blow-Up (Carlo Di Palma, 66) 
The premier document of Swinging London circa the mid-60s, with jetting, jagged colors amidst washed-out backgrounds.  

Blue Velvet (Frederick Elmes, 86)
Elmes thoroughly melded the 50s-era brightness of Douglas Sirk and Peyton Place with the then-new  darknesses of David Lynch in this still unmatched masterpiece.  

Body and Soul (James Wong Howe, 46)   
The brutal life of the boxer, inspected for the first time on film by the invincible, Japanese-born James Wong Howe 
 
Bonnie and Clyde (Burnett Guffey, 67) 
A new view of violence blends in with studied nostalgia in old-timer Guffey's chance-taking work with new-mown movie director Arthur Penn.  

Bound for Glory (Haskell Wexler, 76) 
The first half of the film makes us feel as if tan dust is in our eyes as we watch Woody Guthrie gear up to face the world.   Then, in the latter half, we are amazed that things seems as clear as they are.   Hal Ashby's film is filled with images we thought we might never see.  

Brazil (Roger Pratt, 85)
A head-spinning whirlwind of color, movement, distorted vision, and harsh light, meant to illustrate a world beyond all control.  
 
Breaking Away (Matthew Leonetti, 79)
A movie I love for its grainy beauty and realism.  
 
Breaking the Waves (Robby Muller and Per Kirkeby, 96)
The handheld, faux-documentary look will probably never feel as sublime as it does here.  From what I understand, the film was shot on Super 16mm, blown up to 35mm, then transferred to video, and then transferred back into 35mm, thereby upping the size of the grain in some shots.  Then, in contrast, the chapter stops (and probably the film's final moment) were filmed by Kirkeby in ridiculously clear and detailed fashion.  It looks like nothing I've ever seen.  

The Bridge on the River Kwai (Jack Hildyard, 57)  
The first of David Lean's audience-envoloping sagas.   
 
The Bridges of Madison County (Jack Green, 95)
Every glass of tea, every car ride, every love scene, every diary entry...they feel and look like magic.  
 
Bright Star (Grieg Fraser, 2009)
A staggering sense of love in bloom, with a ridiculous commonality in its set decoration and costume design.  
 
Broadway Danny Rose (Gordon Willis, 84)
Willis' photography here, like his work with Woody Allen in the black-and-white Manhattan, make New York City look like a place that exists wholly out of the construct of time.  
 
Brokeback Mountain (Rodrigo Prieto, 2005)
Prieto's heroic lens acquires both the intimacy of humans and the looming steadfastness of nature, often in the same shot.  

Broken Arrow (Ernest Palmer, 50)  
The peaceful meeting of cowboys and indians is gorgeously lit by Palmer.  
 
The Brown Bunny (Vincent Gallo, 2003)
Say what you will, but there is nothing like the deliberate and focused camerawork in this misunderstood movie, particularly when it is working in extreme close-up. 
 
Bugsy Malone (Peter Biziou and Michael Seresin, 76)
The cameramen had to transform their worldview, down to the eye-level of the miniature heroes of this film.  The term "one-of-a-kind" is bandied about a lot, even by me.  But has there ever been another movie like this, in which the sets and costumes, and the photography, had to be scaled down to afford its view?  
   
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (Conrad Hall, 69)
Conrad Hall won his first Oscar for photographing two of the world's great movie stars, in trying and relaxed circumstances, while filming in a wide variety of interiors and exteriors.  His final shot--literally frozen in time--is one of the most iconic in film history.