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Black Narcissus


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#1 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 27 December 2007 - 02:18 AM

This is sort of a must-see for cinematographers, one of the best-photographed 3-strip Technicolor movies of the 1940's. Jack Cardiff's use of color, or sometimes reduction of color, is masterful, especially considering the low ASA rating of the day (probably around 10 to 12 ASA by this period).

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#2 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 27 December 2007 - 04:15 AM

The Criterion DVD has a great documentary about Jack Cardiff. In one sequence, he talks about how he was inspired by Van Gogh's painting "Cafe in Arles" to use complementary colors for the climax of the film, adding green gel to the fill lights and making the key pink and orange to emulate early morning sunlight.

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This was kind of a revelation for me in terms of how to use colored light when I saw this several years ago.
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#3 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 27 December 2007 - 04:20 AM

The above frame immediately inspired this (along with a healthy does of John Ford's "The Searchers"):

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BTW, I think it's amazing that all of "Black Narcissus" except for the final shot was shot on the studio backlot or on a stage in London. The day exteriors are very convincingly lit and art directed, standing in for the remote wilderness of India.

Edited by Satsuki Murashige, 27 December 2007 - 04:22 AM.

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#4 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 27 December 2007 - 04:42 AM

I haven't seen this film in years. I had forgotten how beautiful the cinematography was in it. Considering how low the asa rating was on this it's mind boggling how incredible these low light sequences came out. Wow. :huh:
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#5 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 27 December 2007 - 12:35 PM

One thing they did that was clever was build the exterior building outdoors in real daylight, but surround it with a big wooden cut-out painting of the Himalaya mountain range, with the real sky above. It's pretty convincing in many shots:

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These were combined with some excellent matte paintings:

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#6 K Borowski

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Posted 27 December 2007 - 01:11 PM

One thing they did that was clever was build the exterior building outdoors in real daylight, but surround it with a big wooden cut-out painting of the Himalaya mountain range, with the real sky above. It's pretty convincing in many shots:


It's unfortunate that matte painting has become a lost art. It seems that mattes that are the most seamless are those not placed in the obvious spot: the background above and around the live-action material. I don't have the wizadry (or DVD) to post them here, but there are similar shots in Citizen Kane with the same effectiveness. You have a live-action foreground, matte in the middle, and a live-action background, or a matte foreground and a live-action background. There is one particularly-effective shot, that I didn't see until it was pointed out to me, in Kane where they rear-project the two actors' footage onto a matte painting and then also have a real-life background in the shot.
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#7 Matthew Buick

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Posted 27 December 2007 - 07:00 PM

It's simply incredible that someone has produced such lasting images from such a restricting system. Most of the Three Strip movies I've watched (She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, An American In Paris) look awful in comparison, any rough or stony ground on Yellow Ribbon casts a lot of shadow, night shots look distinctively lit, any many shots feel steamy and hazy, I actually find most Three Strip movies quite depressing because of this. American In Paris was still very good, though not of this level. This film and Gone With The Wind are the best I've seen, though Ziegfeld Follies of '46 was well shot, truly amazing in many places, it doesn't quite match up to this level.

It would be lovely to see modern day Technicolor, I imagine modern stocks, lenses and filters would bring it up to about 100 ASA.
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#8 Saul Rodgar

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Posted 27 December 2007 - 07:46 PM

Jack Cardiff is definitely one of my personal heroes. In the documentary included with the Black Narcissus DVD he talks about something that I found most inspiring and always remember when I read certain discussions in this forum.

He recalls the time when he came home from a long day of shooting at the studio only to arrive and have a message saying he had to drive back immediately to meet the Technicolor folks. He lived an hour away from the studios, so he was very reluctant to head back. Technicolor had sent some executives to interview cinematographers (who in those days were considered little better than technicians) to be trained in the then new Technicolor process, but only one candidate would be chosen.

When he finally did get back to the studio he was gloomy about his prospects of being picked for training since he was not the most technical of the cinematographers the studio had on payroll. But when he was actually meeting with the Technicolor folks, he was surprised to find them more interested in finding a candidate who was more of an artist rather than a tech wizard. Cardiff had extensively studied Rembrandt paintings and was able to recall where the light was falling on from in such and such painting, the quality of his lighting and like details. He got the gig. And he did so because he was deemed to be able to make the best of the Technicolor technology as an artist, than the other more technical cinematographers.

And so I learned that memorizing all the tech specs from manufacturers a good cinematographer does not make; that the aesthetic aspect is more important than the technical, but a good balance helps.
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#9 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 27 December 2007 - 08:31 PM

Most of the Three Strip movies I've watched (She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, An American In Paris) look awful in comparison, any rough or stony ground on Yellow Ribbon casts a lot of shadow, night shots look distinctively lit, any many shots feel steamy and hazy, I actually find most Three Strip movies quite depressing because of this.

I was also not impressed with "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon" until I saw a print of the film. Watching an original IB print was like being bathed in color for two hours. Winton Hoch definitely deserved his Oscar!

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I think that the other thing to remember is that British/European DPs like Jack Cardiff and Oswald Morris had a different frame of reference for the use of color which came from painters like Vermeer and Rembrant, whereas the American DPs were less inclined to be as expressionistic. Of course, working for John Ford tended to be an exception because of his heavy Expressionistic leanings.
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#10 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 27 December 2007 - 09:57 PM

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Those are painted wooden cutouts and a matte painting??!!!! I reiterate.....WOW!!! Who did they manage to get the look of distance and haze in the mountains? I'm assuming they first of all had an enormous space, then it was a combination of lens choice and misting the area between the exterior sets and the mountain cut outs. What truly amazes me aside for that is how they managed to get the colors exactly right. The matte painting is also perfect. The lighting on the ravine seem to match the set lighting perfectly. The detail is utterly unbelievable. If you hadn't told me those were not realized that level of reality would have been possible to achieve. I would have thought they might have used photographs and blown them up or something like that. Amazing! :blink:
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#11 Matthew Buick

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Posted 28 December 2007 - 03:34 PM

I was also not impressed with "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon" until I saw a print of the film. Watching an original IB print was like being bathed in color for two hours. Winton Hoch definitely deserved his Oscar!

Yellow_Ribbon_01.jpg

Yellow_Ribbon_06_small.jpg

Yellow_Ribbon_07_small.jpg

I think that the other thing to remember is that British/European DPs like Jack Cardiff and Oswald Morris had a different frame of reference for the use of color which came from painters like Vermeer and Rembrant, whereas the American DPs were less inclined to be as expressionistic. Of course, working for John Ford tended to be an exception because of his heavy Expressionistic leanings.


My word! That is simply beautiful! I do wish the facilities were present in the UK to watch old classics. This movie just isn't given justice in a DVD.

Thanks so much for sharing those images, Satsuki. :)
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#12 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 29 December 2007 - 03:56 AM

My word! That is simply beautiful! I do wish the facilities were present in the UK to watch old classics. This movie just isn't given justice in a DVD.

Thanks so much for sharing those images, Satsuki. :)

Sure, no problem Matthew. My DVD copy is also really desaturated compared to the print I saw, so I took the liberty of upping the color saturation in Photoshop on these stills to more closely approximate how I remember it looking on the big screen. BTW, Winton Hoch shot all of of Ford's color films like "Drums Along the Mohawk," "The Quiet Man" and "The Searchers." The first two are Three Strip Technicolor films as well - "The Searchers" was Eastman color negative and VistaVision. Definitely check those out if you haven't already. :)
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#13 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 29 December 2007 - 12:41 PM

Winton Hoch shot all of of Ford's color films like "Drums Along the Mohawk,"


Actually Bert Glennon shot "Drums Along the Mohawk" (along with Technicolor cameraman Ray Rennahan.)

And Ford's last big western, "Cheyanne Autumn", was shot in 65mm by William Clothier (best known for "The Alamo").
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#14 Leo Anthony Vale

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Posted 29 December 2007 - 03:16 PM

Those are painted wooden cutouts and a matte painting??!!!! I reiterate.....WOW!!! Who did they manage to get the look of distance and haze in the mountains? I'm assuming they first of all had an enormous space, then it was a combination of lens choice and misting the area between the exterior sets and the mountain cut outs. What truly amazes me aside for that is how they managed to get the colors exactly right. The matte painting is also perfect. The lighting on the ravine seem to match the set lighting perfectly. The detail is utterly unbelievable. If you hadn't told me those were not realized that level of reality would have been possible to achieve. I would have thought they might have used photographs and blown them up or something like that. Amazing! :blink:


There's quite a lot of matte paintings in 'Black narcissus'.

Check out this book:

http://syndetics.com...8...t&type=rn12

I would think the distant haze was painted into the mountain cutouts.
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#15 Matthew Buick

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Posted 29 December 2007 - 03:38 PM

Sure, no problem Matthew. My DVD copy is also really desaturated compared to the print I saw, so I took the liberty of upping the color saturation in Photoshop on these stills to more closely approximate how I remember it looking on the big screen. BTW, Winton Hoch shot all of of Ford's color films like "Drums Along the Mohawk," "The Quiet Man" and "The Searchers." The first two are Three Strip Technicolor films as well - "The Searchers" was Eastman color negative and VistaVision. Definitely check those out if you haven't already. :)


Oh I will, no worries.
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#16 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 29 December 2007 - 06:46 PM

Actually Bert Glennon shot "Drums Along the Mohawk" (along with Technicolor cameraman Ray Rennahan.)

And Ford's last big western, "Cheyanne Autumn", was shot in 65mm by William Clothier (best known for "The Alamo").

Oops, thanks for the correction David!

You know, "Cheyenne Autumn" is one of the few Ford pictures I just don't like the look of, parts of it are very flatly lit with multiple shadows and art/costume direction that seems all over the place color-wise. It seems to me like it was meant to be in B&W but somehow ended up in color. It's a far cry from the smoky chiaroscuro saloon interiors of "My Darling Clementine." But I thought Clothier's work on "Liberty Valance" was great. What do you think of the look of "Cheyenne Autumn"?
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#17 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 29 December 2007 - 07:06 PM

Oops, thanks for the correction David!

You know, "Cheyenne Autumn" is one of the few Ford pictures I just don't like the look of, parts of it are very flatly lit with multiple shadows and art/costume direction that seems all over the place color-wise. It seems to me like it was meant to be in B&W but somehow ended up in color. It's a far cry from the smoky chiaroscuro saloon interiors of "My Darling Clementine." But I thought Clothier's work on "Liberty Valance" was great. What do you think of the look of "Cheyenne Autumn"?


I like the exterior photography (except the process shots), but I agree that the interior lighting doesn't match the quality of the exterior work. Part of that is due to the general move in cinematography starting in the 1950's away from chiaroscuro and baroque lighting effects to a sort of simpler, "brutal" style -- at the time, that was considered more "realistic" than the fancier 1940's style, but now it looks a bit crude, the 10K behind the camera look. It's interesting though to look at George Steven's "The Greatest Story Ever Told" because the interiors can be quite dark in that movie, for an epic.
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#18 Jonathan Bowerbank

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Posted 30 December 2007 - 02:29 PM

It's interesting though to look at George Steven's "The Greatest Story Ever Told" because the interiors can be quite dark in that movie, for an epic.


I haven't seen that film in 12 years probably, yet still that shot early on in the film of a single candlelight moving through a dark room has stuck in my mind.
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#19 Leo Anthony Vale

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Posted 02 January 2008 - 03:09 PM

Winton Hoch shot all of of Ford's color films like "Drums Along the Mohawk," "The Quiet Man" and "The Searchers." The first two are Three Strip Technicolor films as well - "The Searchers" was Eastman color negative and VistaVision. Definitely check those out if you haven't already. :)


The current "restored" version of 'The Quiet Man' is digital clean up of either a print or an old Eastmancolor
I/N. Apparently UCLA has the original materials, but restoring them and making a new I/P would have been too expensive.
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#20 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 02 January 2008 - 07:18 PM

The current "restored" version of 'The Quiet Man' is digital clean up of either a print or an old Eastmancolor
I/N. Apparently UCLA has the original materials, but restoring them and making a new I/P would have been too expensive.

Thanks Leo. I posted a question a while back about the soft look of this film on video, so I guess this answers it! Still a great looking film, it's a shame someone won't pay to have it restored properly.
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