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We say Conrad Hall & Greg Tolland were the best...


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#1 Daniel J. Ashley-Smith

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Posted 19 April 2005 - 07:32 PM

I'm honestly not trying to attack Greg Tolland or Conrad L. Hall here, after all I'm a fan of Conrad, but how great *were* they in comparison compared to other DP's?

I mean, switch over to MTV2 and just spend 5 minutes looking at some of the great videos they have on there, the cinematography is just out of this world. I know music videos and film are two very different things, but just point out one amazing scene in a film and look at these music videos, it just seems like what they did in Road to Perdition e.t.c. isn't exactly all that unique and hard to do. (For a pro DP I mean) I mean they're doing it all the time in music videos.

Check out this video, if a film was to be made with cinematography like this the DP would probably be rated as one of the best in the business (Or atleast I can't see why, because most of this work is far more complex than anything in Road to Perdition, from a non-professional opinion anyway):

Enjoy - Movie

Edited by Daniel J. Ashley-Smith, 19 April 2005 - 07:33 PM.

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#2 Kevin Zanit

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Posted 19 April 2005 - 09:54 PM

Well, I am going to avoid just yelling at you, because it just comes down to taste. My taste is different than yours. That said, I don't agree with you.

Most of those videos look quite good, but I don't know if I would call it amazing. Certainly there have been even better looking videos. (Ava Adore anyone?)

The biggest thing lacking in a lot of videos is subtlety. Conrad Hall's work had so much feeling to it. I can't/ won?t even begin to describe what about Conrad Hall's work was so special.

The thing is, the DPs you mention are not only famous for their amazing work but for being innovative. Many of techniques in those videos exist because of Hall and Toland (and many many others). There is nothing wrong with using someone else's techniques, but it is good to be aware of it.

There is some amazing work being done in videos (and some horrible garbage). That Blink video is one of my favorite looking (of theirs, and in general).

I don't have much to say on this thread other than I don?t completely agree with you, but I do get your point.

I am just amazed you were able to find music videos; they don't play them over on this side of the pond. I can, however, tell you who is rolling on 22s . . .


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#3 Gordon Highland

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Posted 19 April 2005 - 10:16 PM

Not to downplay music videos as art, they're some of my favorite things to watch for innovative techniques (esp. Michel Gondry, although not for the cinematography per se), but they're a bit miniaturist when compared with the scope of a feature and the scene-to-scene consistency and emotional impact and all that, which takes more craftsmanship in my opinion. To me, the most impressive part of most music videos is accomplished in an Inferno or Flame suite, not on the set.

I wonder what the ROI of an average non-heavy-rotation video is, considering the price the band is paying for it? (the record company is only loaning them the money) Given their miniscule royalty rate, how many albums do they have to sell before they're making that $200K back? With a popular act with virtually guaranteed airplay, no doubt it's worth it to maintain that level of visibility, but. . . Sorry, going OT there. . .
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#4 drew_town

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Posted 19 April 2005 - 11:27 PM

Most of what some people, hopefully not you, might construe as "good cinematography" in music videos is post-production effects. It's hard to tell from the clip you provided but the clips didn't look super fantastic. They were good, but not better than say Road to Perdition to use your example.

For every good technique embellished in a music video there's also a bad one. I love focus shifts. However if I ever see anyone shake the camera to give a shot an energetic feel I will violently approach and attack them. And while I'm thinking about it, as you'll see in my tag I'm an editor too, I can not stand editing that dips to a white frame between every other shot. You know what I'm talking about. UGG, I just finished watching documentary that used that. I like the energy and the ability to experiment in music videos. And most of the Pumpkins videos are great, such as their music.
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#5 Justin Hayward

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Posted 20 April 2005 - 12:01 AM

This is going to be a 7 page thread.
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#6 fstop

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Posted 20 April 2005 - 07:17 AM

Daniel, what you must appreciate is Toland, Hall and the many other masters IN CONTEXT. From there you'll see just how FAR more impressive their efforts were compared to these MTV DPs.

Toland was about the most daring cinematographer of his age, and on Citizen Kane especially he ANNIHILATED every formal rule present in the artform of lighting and exposure: mega high contrast, low (often no) fill, shafts of light all in combination with deep focus and DETAILED composition on limited emulsions that most were convinced couldn't handle such delicate intracies. Toland also upset many conservative Hollywood DPs who were very opinionated on the use of SuperX b/w stock by going off and breaking the rules in favour of a new unseen aesthetic. Toland also invested all of his faith in a young director/actor at a time when he could have played it safe with any old Hollywood Maverick like William Wyler, went in with no assumptions and helped Orson Welles come out with a groundbreaking, visual masterpiece.

Connie Hall was at the forefront of the new wave of Hollywood cinematographers who were knocking down the artifice and theatricality of film lighting and exposure opting instead to innovate with available light faster films/pushed stocks and faster lenses. Before the likes of Hall, Wexler, Kovacs, Fraker, Kline, Roizman, Alonzo, Zsigmond, Willis, Watkin etc. movie lighting was taught through the studio system with codes and regulations learned over decades training as a teaboy/AC/operator, three point studio rigged lighting was the only way to do it and the slowest filmstocks were the way to go as to not upset anyone with intrusive film grain. Hall and friends came along from a whole host of different non-Hollywood backgrounds such as documentaries, commercials, corporates all psyched up and inspired by the rule-less filming principals of Godard, Truffaut, Antonioni, Lester etc and with them they brought a less rigid more versatile approach to cinematography, incorporating available light, verite-style operating, faster lenses, pushing the stock, zooms - Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid brought Hall an Oscar and really shouted out to commercial cinema that the world was changing. You look at any colour Hollywood movies shot in the 1960s or by older cinematographers such as Philip Lathrop, Joe Laschelle or Lucien Ballard and you'll see all of the cliches and artifice that have dated the era: hard, largely frontal light with multiple shadows for every set-up photographed on the most saturated colour film stock of the day, very safe, very samey, everything metered for to obtain one consistent, entirely squeaky clean image-

Take a look at this still from HOUR OF THE GUN (1967) shot by Lucien Ballard, A.S.C.- the standard look for a Hollywood Western- not much had changed since the days of John Ford and the older DPs were now standing their ground with the way Sergio Leone was revolutionising the genre by way of David Lean in Europe. Colours are safe and primary, hardly adding anything or putting emphasis on what the art director and costume designer started off with, the sky is uniform blue, the depth of field is so sharp it feels carved and the frontal lighting is sculptural with every artiste given the same treatment. STANDARD uniform Western look:

Posted Image

- now LOOK at Butch Cassidy and the sundance Kid (1969):

Posted Image

Soft, available light derived from documentary technique, varying degrees of exposure, more intimate composition and shallow depth of field- next to HOUR OF THE GUN you'd think these movies were made many decades apart! Hall was right there with all of that new wave of "enfant terribles" and everyone else had to catch up. Lucien Ballard actualy went on to work on a few films with Sam Peckinpah who injected a much more graphic depiction of the wild west (to the crowd-cheering youth of the day) in films like THE WILD BUNCH, but eventually Peckinpah dropped Ballard in favour of his STRAW DOGS DP John Coquillon, B.S.C., a documentary cameraman and one of Hall's contemporaries, and obviously a big fan of the Butch Cassidy approach. Check out PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID to see just how Peckinpah ran with the new rule breaking!

This certainly isn't to say that this new wave of cameramen could ONLY do a more naturalistic approach- as with Hall's last work ROAD TO PERDITION (very stylised, unnaturalistic) these guys were all very capable of selecting the right look for the job , however they made the conservative Hollywood cinematographer fall out of fashion and opened up the door for the visual possibilities on offer to a director.

Now when you look at VH1 or MTV2 or whereever you see and appreicate that the work that excites you today simply wouldn't exist (or would have been oppresively delayed for sometime) had it not been for the masters such as Toland and Hall who had the integrity to stand up and literally send a SLEDGEHAMMER into the face of the conservative way movies were being shot.

Edited by fstop, 20 April 2005 - 07:17 AM.

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#7 Nathan Milford

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Posted 20 April 2005 - 08:20 AM

I must say, Tim, that that was a delightfully articulate posting.

Sometimes this board (and others) loses its educational aspect in the many religious, format and style debates and fails to provide a substantive contribution to the debate as opposed to ad hominem attacks, soft data and other vituperative nonsense that normally flies about.

Outstanding, Tim. You made my morning.

- nate
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#8 Jonathan Spear

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Posted 20 April 2005 - 08:39 AM

That's like comparing Mozart to Mick Jagger.

Sure, Jagger was innovative, young, a rebel, smooth with the ladies, etc..

But Mozart was -- well, actually, Mozart was pretty much the same.

I think the secret here isn't picking who's the best, or deciding who's work is more influential -- it's realizing that C. Hall and the DP's of the music videos you mentioned are, at a certain level, equally talented.

IMO, what's more important is what you can learn from these guys. And that means that there's no reason for someone to blindly follow Hall or any other DP for that matter.
99% of the time its due to professional courtesy anyway, right?
Kind of like Citizen Kane.
Every pro on this board probably sweras by that film. I saw it, gave it the respect it deserves -- then moved on.
Sure it's a great moive, great cinematography, acting directing etc... but to treat it like scripture and scoff at anyone who thinks it's a piece of crap is not only ridiculous -- it's spineless.

You certainly wouldn't want to live in a world filled with Conrad Halls.
One is enough..

Couldn't agree with you more on this, Dan.
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#9 Mike Williamson

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Posted 20 April 2005 - 08:54 AM

Beautifully articulated, Tim. I would say also that it's hard to pick any one or two cinematographers, slap the label "best" on them and expect to get some kind of consensus on it.

The important point is that any film being made is a product of the films that have preceded it. As Tim eloquently points out, the images you see today would not exist without the advances and innovations of past cinematographers and directors. Vittorio Storaro talks about this as well, saying that art is historical and that knowingly or not, it always builds on the art of the past. And I would mention that this does not imply that everything being made today is qualitatively "better" or should be seen as an "improvement", only that new possibilities and directions exist based on the work that has already been done. Looking at the stills that Tim posted from the two westerns, you can begin to see how innovative Hall's work is, but I don't think it would've been possible without the work of Raoul Coutard, the New Wave/Neo-Realism cameramen, Gianni Di Venanzo and so on.

And honestly, we're all still working in the shadows of someone like Caravaggio. Have you seen anything "better" on MTV lately?

Edited by Mike Williamson, 20 April 2005 - 08:57 AM.

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#10 Ignacio Aguilar

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Posted 20 April 2005 - 08:58 AM

Great post, Tim ;)

Lucien Ballard actualy went on to work on a few films with Sam Peckinpah who injected a much more graphic depiction of the wild west (to the crowd-cheering youth of the day) in films like THE WILD BUNCH, but eventually Peckinpah dropped Ballard in favour of his STRAW DOGS DP John Coquillon, B.S.C., a documentary cameraman and one of Hall's contemporaries, and obviously a big fan of the Butch Cassidy approach. Check out PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID to see just how Peckinpah ran with the new rule breaking!


I believe that the main reason Peckinpah had to use Coquillon on STRAW DOGS instead of Ballard was just that the film was set in England and he felt that Ballard -a classic american cinematographer- wasn't the right DP for that project. In fact, Ballard worked again with Peckinpah the following year on two films: THE GETAWAY and JUNNIOR BONNER.

Many music videos look stunning, but as Tim has said, on films you have to take into account the context of the scenes. For example, the dark, underexposed look Gordon Willis gave THE GODFATHER may not be my favourite cinematographic style, but it was exactly what that film needed. Some of the best photographed films ever followed that rule.

The best cinematography is not always the coolest...
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#11 Jonathan Spear

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Posted 20 April 2005 - 09:00 AM

"And honestly, we're all still working in the shadows of someone like Caravaggio"

Says who?
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#12 Jonathan Spear

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Posted 20 April 2005 - 09:04 AM

Watch out, Dan!


SHEEPLE!!!!


:o
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#13 Mike Williamson

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Posted 20 April 2005 - 09:17 AM

I think the secret here isn't picking who's the best, or deciding who's work is more influential -- it's realizing that C. Hall and the DP's of the music videos you mentioned are, at a certain level, equally talented.

Sure it's a great moive, great cinematography, acting directing etc... but to treat it like scripture and scoff at anyone who thinks it's a piece of crap is not only ridiculous -- it's spineless.

You certainly wouldn't want to live in a world filled with Conrad Halls.
One is enough..

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


You're missing the point on a number of levels, Jonathan. First of all, recognizing and understanding how cinematography has changed has nothing to do with endorsing imitation. Whether or not you want another Conrad H. Hall, you won't be getting one, so you can set your mind at ease. In my opinion, understanding the history of cinematography makes a person LESS prone to imitate because they realize that they can't repeat something from the past, it's impossible.

And to say that treating "Citizen Kane" (or any other film) as masterpiece is spineless is simply ignorant. Personally, I'm still totally in awe of that film, because of both the quality of the work and its innovations within the context of when and where it was made. That sense of awe is very important to me because if I lose it, I lose touch with why I'm making films in the first place. The day I'm no longer wowed by Welles, Toland, Willis, etc., I'm going to be very worried because it means that I've lost touch with my love of cinema.
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#14 Mike Williamson

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Posted 20 April 2005 - 09:21 AM

"And honestly, we're all still working in the shadows of someone like Caravaggio"

Says who?

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


Me and anyone else who can honestly acknowledge that we're working in a medium that lends itself to creating naturalistic images with a dramatic bent. Do you think art has always represented the world in exactly the same way?
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#15 Riku Naskali

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Posted 20 April 2005 - 10:15 AM

I hate most of those mtv videos, they all look just the same. Heavy post-processing and grading, uninteresting lighting techniques, etc. and a lot of "cool" tricks thrown in.
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#16 Sam Wells

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Posted 20 April 2005 - 10:32 AM

Looking at the stills that Tim posted from the two westerns, you can begin to see how innovative Hall's work is, but I don't think it would've been possible without the work of Raoul Coutard, the New Wave/Neo-Realism cameramen, Gianni Di Venanzo and so on.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


I've always sort of thought Conrad Hall's greatness in part was the abilty to engage both the above and aspects of Hwood "classic" tradition at the same time...

-Sam
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#17 fstop

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Posted 20 April 2005 - 11:14 AM

Agreed Sam.

Ignacio-

from what I was told Coquillon was chosen for STRAW DOGS because they had to a hire a DP for the UK production and they saw he was available among others who later proved to be busy (I like to think one of them was Dick Bush ;) ). Apparently both Peckinpah and Coquillon hit it off like a house on fire. Coquillon was then unavailable to shoot GETAWAY and JUNIOR BONNER as well as any other Peckinpah movies he didn't end up shooting right up until Sam's death (he was a pretty prolific DP). I'm glad they both got to shoot Sam's final picture, THE OSTERMAN WEEKEND- too sad however that both gentlemen died far too early. :(

In my opinion, understanding the history of cinematography makes a person LESS prone to imitate because they realize that they can't repeat something from the past, it's impossible.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


Couldn't agree more- as with anything we must analyse the past to progress for the future.
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#18 Boone Hudgins

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Posted 20 April 2005 - 11:21 AM

I do belive that Gregg Toland was one of the first to try to incorporate naturalistic lighting into the studio, with movies like The Grapes of Wrath. Although more touted for his dynamic camera work and use of film stock, his lighting tried to get almost a documentary look, or as one would look at the time, which is especially staggering considering the amount of light he had to have in the first place to get the exposure he wanted. Of course it wasn't the soft, bounced light naturalism that you saw in the late sixties and seventies, it was more expressionistic and high contrast, as it would probably have to be at the time. The combination of stylized camera and natural lighting is something you still don't really see anymore.

Sure music video cinematography is more catchy. There are more tricks, less subtlety. But they're really starting to bore me. You have your three or four stock looks (high contrast, fully saturated hip hop; bleached out, contrastless, indie rock; etc.), which could be cool if there was something to set it apart from the next video after it. You don't really see any exciting shots anymore, it mostly looks like it's thrown together as quickly as possible. It might have something to do with the quickly decreasing budgets of these videos.

Edited by Boone Hudgins, 20 April 2005 - 11:27 AM.

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#19 Wendell_Greene

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Posted 20 April 2005 - 11:33 AM

Now when you look at VH1 or MTV2 or whereever you see and appreciate that the work that excites you today simply wouldn't exist (or would have been oppressively delayed for sometime) had it not been for the masters such as Toland and Hall who had the integrity to stand up and literally send a SLEDGEHAMMER into the face of the conservative way movies were being shot.



Excellent point Tim!

Allow me to support what you said with a music video that shows the influence of Conrad Hall and Greg Toland on modern day filmmakers.

Go to:

Madonna - "Oh Father"


Click on "Media" and then "Music Videos", scroll down to the "Like A Prayer" album and then click on the picture for "Oh Father"


This music video was directed by David Fincher (whose favorite film is "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) photographed on black and white negative by Jordan Cronenweth, A.S.C. (who worked with Conrad Hall for years as an assistant and operator ) The entire video is an hommage to "Citizen Kane."


I enjoy and appreciate music videos, and working on them is how I make my living. Music Videos, IMO are only about one thing: selling the artist. Some of them end up being art and will endure and influence, but most have a shelf life that won't outlast a carton of milk. You only have a day or two to shoot, you have an insane amount of set-ups, you never have enough time or money. But they're a great learning experience, you learn to work fast and solve problems. You get to shoot FILM! You get to experiment. And some of the best directors and cinematographers working on features got their start by working on them and I'm sure I'm not the only one here who wants to continue the tradition.


When I was in school we had free screenings of prints of classic films each week. One great film after another from the birth of cinema to modern day. And yet, it always amazed me how few people, who called themselves "Filmmakers" would attend. Their reasons? " I don't want to watch old movies? " or "Why should I watch a film in black or white? ", "D.W.Griffith was a racist", "Man, it's a silent film? Waz up with that? " On and on, ad nauseum. It still boggles the mind.

That's not to say I immediately "got" or enjoyed every film I saw, but I figured I could learn something worthwhile from people who were limited to shooting with film with an ASA of 25 or even lower. Which is why I think it's a mistake on the part of many here to simply discount the work of filmmakers without having thoroughly having researched and watched their body of work.

Conrad Hall is more than "Road To Perdition" and "American Beauty" and Greg Toland more than "Citizen Kane" Go deeper into the rock than what you're hitting.
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#20 Greg Gross

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Posted 20 April 2005 - 11:44 AM

Hello Daniel J. Ashley-Smith,
What I liked most about the the videos was there POV in scenes,1st,2nd,3rd
person. However if this was done in post I don't know if I will stay impressed.
Please do not take this statement as being confrontational. I'm too new to the
film/digital format to know all however I am a professional photographer. My
area of interest is geared toward independent production and to first time film
makers. I've only shot two dv features not yet released but starting to set up
for third one. I get very excited about the the position of the film/digital camera,
perspective and isolation. Unfortunately for me I will probably in the future be
more apt to be working in the digital cinema format than film. Most of the pro-
ducers I've been talking to here in the east want to start going the digital way.
To me there is no film look as film is film and digital/video is just that digital/
video. Hands down I would have to go for film. However I have plenty of room
to respect both formats. I shoot dv weddings as a part of my own business. I
must say the two examples(western scenes) tell it all about the differences be-
tween the two mediums. Have you seen "The Day of The Locust",Conrad Hall
ASC. If not try to get the dvd and view it. I think you'll be impressed. Just to think
about the film stocks available to Mr. Hall at that time impresses me about his
craft,art. Probably one of my most favorite films is "Touch Of Evil" and I can view
it time after time. B&W format and the screen play is by Orson Wells,who I love
because I'm a lot like him. I was born at the wrong time you know and I'm an
"8",17th day, 1+7=8. Contrary to reality I'm creative. I'm not sure if Greg Tolland
shot this film. I'm on location right now with my laptop on wireless near the PA
state capital building. Shooting some brides(models) in a victorian mansion on
dv with PD-170. Going to be used for local tv promotion and wedding/bridal show.
We broke for lunch and I'm going to get some seafood salad(catered). I really
enjoyed your post and the subsequent posts, camera work in "Touch Of Evil "re-
ally moves me. I'm not home so I can't check on who shot it. I'm not a film sch-
ool graduate so I'm not up on film history like a lot of you guys.

Greg Gross
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