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The Cinematography Discussion #1

Discussion in 'Movies' started by JohnRice, Mar 14, 2002.

  1. JohnRice

    JohnRice Executive Producer

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    For folks following this thread by email, I just updated my last post with a 20 image gallery from The Man Who Wasn't There.
     
  2. Tim RH

    Tim RH Second Unit

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    JohnRice,

    Thanks for the beautiful screenshots of THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE. They look great!
     
  3. JohnRice

    JohnRice Executive Producer

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    I wish I could take credit for them. Roger Deakins, and others did the work.
     
  4. Marc Colella

    Marc Colella Cinematographer

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    John,

    thanks for posting the screen captures.

    You've defintely chosen the best scenes to capture.
     
  5. JohnRice

    JohnRice Executive Producer

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    I actually missed one because I wrote down the wrong time code when I was watching the film. It is the high shot looking down as Ed is walking out of the building after visiting the psychic. I thought about going back and grabbing it once I figured out which shot was missing, but I have a nice even 20, so I just left it.
     
  6. Adam_S

    Adam_S Producer

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    Is discussion still open? I'd like to post on Man in the Moon, and will try to have my thoughts up tomorrow evening if discussion will be open the rest of this weekend.

    Adam
     
  7. JohnRice

    JohnRice Executive Producer

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    Adam,

    Discussion is still open. At this point, while we work out some issues, you can discuss either of the previous films as well as general cinematography. The only topics I ask folks not to discuss is the upcoming films. Please leave those comments for when we are officially discussing them. I also have finally worked out the ability to do captures, so I should be able to provide stills of any scenes you mention from The Man in the Moon.
     
  8. JohnRice

    JohnRice Executive Producer

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    Adam,

    I hope you are still planning to post on The Man in the Moon.
     
  9. Rob Tomlin

    Rob Tomlin Producer

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    The Man Who Wasn't There is an excellent film in every respect. Deakins' cinematography is stunning, and it is some of the best work I have seen in quite some time. The black and white cinematography is simply gorgeous.
    Great work by The Brothers Coen once again! Highly recommended!
    [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
     
  10. Adam_S

    Adam_S Producer

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    Sorry, I thought I could have this up last night, but it took longer than I expected, and it's so difficult to make time to get this done (though I love doing it!!).
    Okay let’s start at the beginning:
    The three opening shots of the moon seem to suggest the different sized problems sent to him, some are big and clear like the first large moon we see, other’s aren’t as big, or as clear, the second, medium-sized moon has a fuzzy halo about it, and the last suggest small confused problems with a soft focused moon with a yellow tint to it. The background music playing suggests that the problems are about love, but that’s not really cinematography, but it aids the cinematography to establish moon. The opening and final shots are played as opposites, both include a tree within the ‘moon-frame’, these trees act as their own book ending for the whole movie (as the moon shots do) but they also reinforce the idea of how often nature is used to frame, obscure, or reinforce various action in the frame throughout the movie.
    The very first shot hints at Maureen’s sexuality as she undresses for the night, but a dissolve from the longer establishing shot, into a closer two shot that immediately moves to focus on Dani, drifts our attention away from Maureen onto the central figure of Dani (but this clearly establishes Maureen’s sexuality from the very first scene). In the series of shots that follow, chiefly the characters of Maureen and Dani are in focus, the background is out of focus and distant, even if it is just of their house. This gives us the impression of closeness and sisterhood, reinforced by their equality in the two shots they initially share, Maureen is clearly the elder, but they treat each other equally. At this point it seems as if Dani and Maureen are the only two people in the world at this point. This isolation is further highlighted be the brief long shot, closing the scene, of the house, showing it deep in the country with no neighbors in sight.
    Dani’s age is fairly indeterminate for the early parts of the film; the audience is given no visual clues to how mature she is until her first idyllic run to the spring. As she exits the house, her smallish breasts reveal to be in her early teens, thirteen or fourteen, this is further accented by the tracking shot following her run down the fence row, the barbed wire cuts through her at chest and waist height. Also at this point we are given our first look at the fence gate, an object that will visually be used many times to establish where from the farm the Foster’s is, and parallel Dani and Maureen.
    On Dani’s first visit to the swimming hole at the river she does so in the buff. We are shown this quickly as the camera pans down her running body to her bare legs, tracks along to dissolve into another track that shows her undergarments lying in heaps on the ground, the camera then pans to reveal the naked Dani running and jumping into the river. Here, nature, in the form of brush, is used to preserve Dani’s modesty and also hide sexuality from the audience (this hinting and hiding of sexuality often serves to enhance any actual sexuality; the mystery aspect entices more than blatant nudity does. Consider, which is more ‘sexy’ the opening scene to “Basic Instinct” or Marilyn Monroe trying to hold down her skirt in the “Seven year Itch”?), nature will be used again and again to obscure or enhance such actions on the screen.
    Also early on the role of cars is determined. Billy’s car roughly intrudes into the foreground, it’s colors are out of place, as is he, the Foster’s truck on the other hand fits exactly onto the farm, it doesn’t intrude into the foreground and blends into the earth tones of the farm color palate.
    Soft lighting is used as Ma Foster and Dani’s Ma reminisce about when they were young; very quickly after they talk about 13 and 17 age differences, the camera cuts straight on to Dani, this is one of the few abrupt cuts in the film, and lets the audience consider how similar Mother and Daughter are. This is quickly reinforced by Dani and Court’s discussion of their own ages. Dani’s youth is soon emphasized as she effusively chomps on gum, she is also placed behind Court, giving the camera a perspective of even height, but she seems much smaller and younger, especially when she offers him gum.
    The brief scene of Billy and Maureen establishes the make-out spot of the local town, and here nature is used to separate, they face opposite directions, and a tree perfectly cuts between them, there is no closeness present at all in this scene. Later when Court and Maureen are here, nature is used to emphasize their closeness as trees frame them, close together, while they share a moment.
    Dani is bathed in bright lights as she hums to herself, ebullient, carrying out ‘womanly chores, much to the shock of her mother and sister shown in the background. Soon after soft light is used as Dani asks Maureen about kissing, Maureen is clearly dominant in this two shot, very much the elder, more mature/experienced sister, while Dani is positioned much younger, innocent and naïve. The themes of closeness and sisterhood and closeness are reinforced here, but the sisters are no longer on equal footing, they will continue to separate as the film progresses.
    The first shot of Court on the tractor begins with the tilling blades, panning up to him driving it, foreshadowing his eventual death. Dani runs in bringing him water; this shot that will later be paralleled when Court daydreams how Maureen came running to him just before they made love.
    Water, the river, is the great equalizer in this film, those times are the only times when Dani and Court are on equal footing and age matters very little. It is no mistake that all of Dani’s scenes of budding sexuality take place in or next to the river. This is reinforced later when Dani and Court sit on the porch, she is so much smaller than he when they sit next to each other just before Maureen arrives. This brings up another point: Court and Maureen are always shot at eye level; they match each other perfectly. Dani, on the other hand, is almost always shot from a lower or higher angle whenever she is with Court or Maureen (the exceptions being at the river with Court and Dani and Maureen’s nights on the porch) accenting her ‘trying-to-be-all-grown-up’ attitude, which backfires, showing the audience how young she truly is.
    Despair, anger, and general bad times are shown quickly after Dani’s mother goes to the hospital. The sharp lines of the hospital cinder blocks, and the harsh hospital lighting give the audience a sense of danger. The first long fade I noticed was here as well (I noticed several long fades after the characters experienced an intense emotional moment) where the lines of the cinder blocks are visible for quite some time. The levels of rain when Dani’s father arrives home are reminiscent of Kurasawa; it seems to signify the despair and helpless anger of the father, soon confirmed when he whoops Dani with his belt. Maureen is a fuzzy blur in the background; she is only an observer. A cut to a two shot of Maureen’s reaction as her father passes confirms that she wants to help, but knows there is no point with so many raw emotions in play, she can only passively observe.
    The next scene with Dani and her father at breakfast clearly shows his dominance of her in the two shots they share, but the context of the dialogue and the scene show us that it is the relationship of a loving much larger parent and a small child. Dani later forgives her father in a long emotional scene (framed inside of his comfortable truck), and a strong father daughter bond is clearly present. We’re also distanced from this moment of great emotional cutting to a long shot as they embrace, this serves to give the audience a chance to contemplate the character interaction and apply it to their own lives instead of overwhelming them with the pathos of the moment. It also serves as a preservation of privacy of characters, and a reminder that the audience is an observer not a participant.
    Quite often the audience is brought slowly into each scene as the characters are smoothly moved from a long establishing shot into a wonderfully framed two shot, there is an excellent example of this at about the 55 minute mark {but I forgot to actually write down what was happening and just jotted down that it was an excellent bit of editing and cinematography).
    Later we see Maureen and Court along on the porch where they will share their first kiss. This is entirely appropriate for at least two reasons. One, the porch, from the first scene, has been clearly established as a place of intimacy. Two, Maureen and Court first met just outside the house, practically on the porch, so it parallels nicely Dani and Court’s first meeting place (which was also the location of their first kiss together).
    I must mention a bit on how the two trucks (Court’s and Dani’s father), are used to frame action when nature is not being used. The trucks fit their drivers like a glove, or a boot, in fact at about the 69 minute spot, just as the father arrives home from the hospital (before rushing back), the truck frame cuts out the shape of a basic boot shape. This may or may not be intentional, but I was struck by the framing of the truck with the father behind the hood as he got out, a beautifully composed, shot that may or may not have any meaning, but I liked how the classic truck shape created a boot outline. [​IMG] Both trucks fit the farm, and I love the way the trucks enter and exit in this scene, as one leaves the camera picks up the next one, bringing a smooth motion to it, that emphasizes how they match their character, and fit the setting (unlike Billy’s car, see above).
    Dani and Court’s relationship begins to separate now that he has met Maureen. In their next scene together, a bubbling Dani tells Court about the new baby. He studiously ignores her, working steadily on repairing a wall on the foreground section of the barn, this wall is emphasized as Dani retreats into the distant background, hurt he is ignoring her, and perhaps noticing the wall being erected between them.
    Dani is bathed in dark light and shadows when the family returns home to find Maureen gone. This moves us into the aftermath of Court and Maureen’s consummation. They are bathed in a very soft light, and have a post coital glow about their characters. Nature once again obscures the one shot we see of them ‘close together’ so the audience is told what went on by the soft focus and lighting used to infer what they were doing (and if they didn’t pick it up the shots of the panties going up and the bra being strapped on should be quite a hint). In fact Maureen’s highly sexualized dressing is the complete opposite of her earlier asexual undressing at the start of the film. Maureen returns home from her first lovemaking session in an almost identical shot of Dani returning from her first kiss, both look over their shoulders, are a bit disheveled (Maureen’s blouse is half tucked in) and have a look of rapture on their faces. Dani, seeing Maureen, reacts badly and runs off. The gate in and out of the yard is repeated many times in this sequence, which will pay off with Father crashing through it very soon.
    The shot of Court returning to the tractor have the blades framed along the bottom, foreshadowing his demise. He flashbacks to the last hour or two he had, and these are bathed in a very heavy light lending it a dreamlike and fantasy quality, soft focus and idyllic setting. However the tree limb he hangs his hat on is in very sharp, focus, giving it a grasping, weapon like quality that also foreshadows Court’s doom. As Dani arrives, Court’s bloody body is obscured by nature, the audience is distanced from the grisly view and also shows that nature is not discriminating, it will hide sex and shield violence and death (both from Dani and the audience). Slow fades are used many times in the following scenes as both Dani and Maureen experience an individual and later mutual catharsis.
    Dani and Maureen are clearly separated initially; the brooding family dinner, far apart on the porch steps, not even both going to the funeral services, they are separated even there.
    I have to say I love the two shot of Dani asking to go with her father, which then pans around the room so we watch Dani through the various windows as she joins her father. This is a brilliant and beautiful shot from the artistic perspective, and it also serves the purpose of severing the need of awkward and unnecessary dialogue of Dani asking to go with her father.
    A few final shots nature is again present, framing, Dani and Maureen, bringing them together as they mourn over Courts grave. A shot of the tangled branches of a large tree that pans down to Dani and Maureen once again bonded as sisters, this speaks to me as metaphorical, tangled branches, tangled lives, but they are still all connected.
     
  11. JohnRice

    JohnRice Executive Producer

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  12. Mike Broadman

    Mike Broadman Producer

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    I just came from the backlashing thread, so now I need to write about something good to balance out my karma.

    Just got finished watching The Man Who Wasn't There (must do as John Rice says, ). Cool flick.

    Before I say anything about this film, lemme fill y'all in on where I'm coming from. Up until I got into this DVD / HT stuff about two years ago (and only seriously one year ago), I pretty much gave up on movies, being only exposed to what was coming out at the time, which was pretty much just awful drivel. I didn't think film could be art, or even more than mildly entertaining. It was seeing Hitchcock and Scorsese that opened my eyes. I figured out what it is that's wrong with the type of movies I don't like: no real characters. I was always a big reader, and I didn't know it, but it was because of my fascination with characters and what they go through. How, then, can a movie interest me if the characters are plastic and if I'm being presented with all this flashy pretty stuff with no substance behind it?

    Recently, I started seeing a few "noir" films and will be exploring more. The timing of recommending The Man Who Wasn't There, then, couldn't be more perfect. I was just so in the mood to see something like this. Needless to say, I very much enjoyed it. Moody, slow and cool but not boring, and lots of sorta-famous actors who I like.

    One thing that hit me about the film, and was stated point blank by Deakins (yes, I watched the intervie- I'm a good boy) was that black and white allows one to focus on composition, eg, light and shadow. The way the shadows were framed around and through the people was remarkable.

    How do they do that? Is itt just a bunch of trial and error? I mean, how can you plan for how a shadow will look when you film it?

    In the interview, Deakins stressed the importance of story over style, and even suggested that cinematography is successful if the viewer doesn't notice it. That's so great to hear! Keep It Simple, Stupid. With the exception of movies like Pulp Fiction and Requiem For A Dream, all the fast edits and hyper-nauseating cuts of modern movies don't do anything but make me sea-sick. I swear, I was born in the wrong decade.

    While watching the movie, I did notice the drastic lighting, but maybe that was because I was specifically watching for it after reading this thread. However, Deakins stated that there were moments that they were going for a "B movie" type effect, like when the lawyer is going on about the Heisenberg Principle.

    I noticed the shadows the most when Thornton was alone. This is one way that the cinematography was used to actually help tell the story, as if it were an "actor." I mean, let's face it, Thornton didn't really do that much. He just kinda stood around. It was everything around him that made the movie, with him acting as a passive observer from a mood angle.
     
  13. JohnRice

    JohnRice Executive Producer

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  14. Mike Broadman

    Mike Broadman Producer

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  15. JohnRice

    JohnRice Executive Producer

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  16. Jeremy-P

    Jeremy-P Stunt Coordinator

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    First I'd like to thank you for this great thread, John, and thanks to the contributors for all the info provided. I don't want to hijack the thread or anything, but I have a question that needs to be asked after staying up way too late reading the whole thing: how does someone interested in photography like myself, with no real experience get started? I never took a photography class in high school, and the ones offered in college always fill up so fast, but I'd like to learn more about it and give it a try. Any tips?
     
  17. Mike Broadman

    Mike Broadman Producer

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    John, about the shadows, I was thinking more about their role in the composition and how to set that up. If one wants to have an angled shadow cover the right side of Billy Bob Thornton's face but not the left, do they just have the actor stand there and they start shining lights all over the place until they get what they want? Do they just do multiple takes with different lighting and pick one later? I'm imagining it's some combination of both as well as other stuff I'm missing. I just have trouble envisioning someone arranging shadows around a person or object on purpose and in detail.
     
  18. JohnRice

    JohnRice Executive Producer

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    Jeremy and Mike,

    I have responses for both of you, and I hope to muster the energy to post some stills referred to in Adam's post. I'll try to get back with that stuff later today.
     
  19. David Tolsky

    David Tolsky Supporting Actor

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    Mike Broadman

    As for your shadow question, it's all in the placement of the light (s). Experienced cinematographers pretty much know where shadows will strike in accordance with the placement of a light. Generally an actors stand-in will stand or sit for the actor while the shadow is "placed" in the right spot. Shadows have been used to convey all kinds of emotions in filmmaking from way back when. One of my favorite exercises in "shadowing" is in Storaro's work in Apocalypse Now in the scenes where we first catch glimpses of Colonel Kurtz (Brando). Study those scenes sometime and really see what power a DP has in the storytelling process!

    The placement of the light, whether you spot it or flood it,

    it's angle of projection and it's height all have an effect on the type of shadow you will see.
     
  20. Seth Paxton

    Seth Paxton Lead Actor

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    My latest update to John was that I just bought and installed a new DVD ROM in the CPU, so my cap capabilites are up and going again.
    I spent this last week getting ready for my big engagement Friday night along with Finals week, so you can understand how I got pulled away.
    With the new fiance (yes, she said yes [​IMG]) headed out of town on biz for a few days, I will have plenty of time to finish up my Out of Sight commentary...finally. Again, sorry all. :b [​IMG]
    BTW, while listening to the Ebert commentary on the C Kane DVD, I was again informed on just how much say a DoP can have on a picture. The low ceiling creation by Toland was something I hadn't really heard discussed before. The guy was a bad ass...so far to me he seems to have been the all-time best DoP. If not I look forward to exploring the work of those who were/are better than he was.
     

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