Part 3: Cinematography
Section 1 - Quality
This section explores some of the elements at play in the construction of a shot. As the critics at Cahiers du cinéma maintained, the "how" is as important as the "what" in the cinema. The look of an image, its balance of dark and light, the depth of the space in focus, the relation of background and foreground, etc. all affect the reception of the image. For instance, the optical qualities of grainy black and white in Battle of Algiers (Gillo Pontecorvo, Maarakat madinat al Jazaer, Algeria, 1965) seem to guarantee its authenticity. On the other hand, the shimmering Technicolor of a musical such as Singin' in the Rain (Stanley Donen, 1952) suggests an out-ofthis-world glamor and excitement.
Early films were shot in black and white but the cinema soon included color images. These images were initially painted or stencilled onto the film but by the 1930s filmmakers were able to include color sequences in their films. Apart from the added realism or glamor that a color image could provide, color is also used to create aesthetic patterns and to establish character or emotion in narrative cinema.
In Federico Fellini's extravagant Juliet of the Spirits (Giulietta degli Spiriti, 1965) colors separate the bourgeois reality and the fantasy daydreamings of the title character, who partyhops between black and white and reds and purples.
Juliet of the Spirits was the first Fellini film in color, and he intended to make full use of it. In order to further enhance the contrast with his previous work, he cast his favorite actress and wife Giulietta Massina, the protagonist of Fellini's earlier successes such as Nights of Cabiria (Le Notti di Cabiria, 1957) in which she plays a destitute hooker in a grim suburban environment. Now Fellini has the same actress play a rich housewife in luscious technicolor, obviously signaling a clear turning point from his early Neorealism-inspired films.
Contrary to popular belief (and Goethe), colors do not necessarily carry exclusive meanings. Compare the use of red in Ingmar Bergman's Cries and Whispers (Viskingar Och Rop, 1972),
and Zhang Yimou's Ju Dou (1990), for example.
While Zhang exploits red as a cliched signifier of unrestrained passion, Bergman associates the color with stagnation and contaminated blood.
The ratio of dark to light in an image. If the difference between the light and dark areas is large, the image is said to be "high contrast". If the difference is small, it is referred to as "low contrast" Most films use low contrast to achieve a more naturalistic lighting. High contrast is usually associated with the low key lighting of dark scenes in genres such as the horror film and the film noir. A common cliche is to use contrast between light and dark to distinguish between good and evil. The use of contrast in a scene may draw on racist or sexist connotations.
For instance, this shot from Orson Welles' Touch of Evil (1958) employs high contrast to further emphasize racial differences between a blonde American woman and a menacing Mexican man.
Like deep space, deep focus involves staging an event on film such that significant elements occupy widely separated planes in the image. Unlike deep space, deep focus requires that elements at very different depths of the image both be in focus. In these two shots from Touch of Evil (Orson Welles, 1958) Besieged (L'Assedio, Bernardo Bertolucci,1998) all of the different planes of the image are given equal importance through deep focus, not only to the characters (like the man peeking at the window in the first image), but also to the spaces (Shanduray's basement room in the second).
While deep focus may be used occasionally, some auteurs use it consistently for they believe it achieves a truer representation of space. Directors like Jean Renoir, Orson Welles, Hou HsaoHsien, or Abbas Kiarostami all use deep focus as an essential part of...
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