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70's filming techniques- how to replicate?


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#1 Joseph Konrad

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Posted 16 December 2008 - 03:52 PM

Hello all,

I'm new here, but I have been studying filmmaking and cinematography for a long time, and this is definitely what I want to do with my life. I'm interested in directing and film scoring as well as cinematography.

Anyway, I am a huge fan of the old look, the look seen in movies from the 70's and early-mid 80's. Obviously there is no one "look" from this period, but it seems to involve more grain, lower contrast, different framing, and a warmer look. And shooting on actual film of course and cutting on a Steinbeck or Moviola or that type of thing (not sure how this actually affects the look, though- as I understand it even films shot on film today are scanned into the computer and then printed out again at the end. Surely this has some kind of different effect?)

It seems like it's very difficult nowadays to get this look without actually going back to the processes used back then. For example, the new Indiana Jones movie was supposed to look like the old ones, but it looked completely different in my opinion. I remember Janusz Kaminski saying something to the effect that it might look different because arc lights are no longer used anymore(?)
I was wondering if any experienced cinematographers here could perhaps summarize the differences in lights, stocks, etc. used back then and the ones used now, and how one would go about shooting films this way today. Would you just purchase old equipment and lights? How would this be done?

Please don't hesitate to speak in technical terms if necessary. I haven't gotten an adequate answer from anybody so far but since you are actual working cinematographers I thought you might have some ideas on this....

Thanks so much,
Joe
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#2 Matthew Buick

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Posted 16 December 2008 - 04:08 PM

I certainly no expert, but the stocks used at the time were a lot slower than today. 50-100ASA, I don't know if they would have push processed for more sensitivity. It also seems to me that they used fairly hard light sometimes. If you watch TV shows from the seventies like Ironside or somthing it doesn't seem much attention is payed to making the light realistic, it seems to me the just stick a light in the person's face regardless of where the light would be coming from. You can often see a single soft shadow at about equal height of the person or main subject. It's a real pet peeve of mine.

David Mullen could dole out some fantastic answer on this topic. ;)
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#3 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 16 December 2008 - 06:05 PM

You have to separate style from technology issues for a moment, plus consider how you are currently judging this old movie -- on DVD? On Blu-Ray? An old print? A new print? This may have an effect on the look.

35mm Kodak color negative stock was 50 ASA, tungsten-balanced, in the 1960's, until Kodak released 5254 in 1968, which was 100 ASA tungsten-balanced. It was replaced eventually by 5247 in the mid 1970's but it was a messy two-year transition period because many people did not like the first batch of 5247 stock. 5247 was also 100 ASA (re-rated to 125 ASA by Kodak in the 1980's) but was finer-grained and more contrasty than 5254, and a little "colder" in some people's minds. It was also a little more saturated than 5254.

As a point of comparison, "Jaws" was shot on 5254 but "Star Wars" was shot on 5247. "Close Encounters" used 5247 for their 35mm anamorphic photography but the older 5254 for their 65mm efx photography.

There was much disagreement at the time as to which was better, 5254 or 5247, though it all became moot when 5254 was obsoleted in late 1976.

A lot of 1970's photography was either a continuation of studio trends of the 1960's, or a rejection of it in favor of softer images with softer color.

Graininess was partly due to the trend of push-processing the stocks to get more speed out of them. In NYC, there was a lab called TVC that offered a chemical fogging / push-process called "Chemtone" that was responsible for the gritty look of a number of movies like "Taking of Pelham 1 2 3" or "Taxi Driver". Even "Superman: The Movie" credits some Chemtone sequences.

Other movies used flashing to soften the contrast (exposing the negative to an overall weak amount of light to fog it).

Some movies used diffusion filters (Fog Filters, Low Cons, or Double-Fogs) to soften the color and contrast.

But there was also a number of glossier movies that were still being shot in a harder-light style without diffusion, usually by older DP's coming out of the studio era.

Zoom lenses were popular back then, and they weren't particular sharp and were lower in contrast. Anamorphic zoom lenses in particular, which were used on a lot of Robert Altman's movies (along with flashing or filtration.) And even most prime lenses back then were not as sharp and contrasty as the ones used today.
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#4 Max Jacoby

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Posted 16 December 2008 - 06:06 PM

Have a look at some of James Gray's films, especially 'The Yards' shot by Harris Savides, or 'We Own The Night' and 'Two Lovers', shot by Joaquin Baca-Asay. A lot of it is art direction, but they also underexposed and/or pulled the film to create a more 'dirty' textured look.
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#5 Tom Hepburn

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Posted 16 December 2008 - 07:10 PM

"I am a huge fan of the old look, the look seen in movies from the 70's and early-mid 80's"

Old look! Man that's cold Joseph :)

Edited by Tom Hepburn, 16 December 2008 - 07:10 PM.

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#6 Matthew Buick

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Posted 16 December 2008 - 07:28 PM

You have to separate style from technology issues for a moment, plus consider how you are currently judging this old movie -- on DVD? On Blu-Ray? An old print? A new print? This may have an effect on the look.

35mm Kodak color negative stock was 50 ASA, tungsten-balanced, in the 1960's, until Kodak released 5254 in 1968, which was 100 ASA tungsten-balanced. It was replaced eventually by 5247 in the mid 1970's but it was a messy two-year transition period because many people did not like the first batch of 5247 stock. 5247 was also 100 ASA (re-rated to 125 ASA by Kodak in the 1980's) but was finer-grained and more contrasty than 5254, and a little "colder" in some people's minds. It was also a little more saturated than 5254.

As a point of comparison, "Jaws" was shot on 5254 but "Star Wars" was shot on 5247. "Close Encounters" used 5247 for their 35mm anamorphic photography but the older 5254 for their 65mm efx photography.

There was much disagreement at the time as to which was better, 5254 or 5247, though it all became moot when 5254 was obsoleted in late 1976.

A lot of 1970's photography was either a continuation of studio trends of the 1960's, or a rejection of it in favor of softer images with softer color.

Graininess was partly due to the trend of push-processing the stocks to get more speed out of them. In NYC, there was a lab called TVC that offered a chemical fogging / push-process called "Chemtone" that was responsible for the gritty look of a number of movies like "Taking of Pelham 1 2 3" or "Taxi Driver". Even "Superman: The Movie" credits some Chemtone sequences.

Other movies used flashing to soften the contrast (exposing the negative to an overall weak amount of light to fog it).

Some movies used diffusion filters (Fog Filters, Low Cons, or Double-Fogs) to soften the color and contrast.

But there was also a number of glossier movies that were still being shot in a harder-light style without diffusion, usually by older DP's coming out of the studio era.

Zoom lenses were popular back then, and they weren't particular sharp and were lower in contrast. Anamorphic zoom lenses in particular, which were used on a lot of Robert Altman's movies (along with flashing or filtration.) And even most prime lenses back then were not as sharp and contrasty as the ones used today.


See what I mean Joseph! :lol:

Anyway, that answers a few question for me. I didn't know what the consequence of flashing a negative was..until now. That explains a lot of the 70's look to me, also the thing with the push processing.

How far would these sorts of film have been pushed? How far would it have been safe to push? Two stops at best I'd reckon.

Edited by Matthew Buick, 16 December 2008 - 07:32 PM.

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#7 Joseph Konrad

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Posted 16 December 2008 - 08:10 PM

"I am a huge fan of the old look, the look seen in movies from the 70's and early-mid 80's"

Old look! Man that's cold Joseph :)




Ha ha! I'm sorry....I meant old in comparison to now. I don't consider the 70's old at all, and I think many of the best films came out of the 70's:) I will definitely check out more Robert Altman and James Gray.

Thank you so much for that reply, Mr. Mullen. I know there are a whole slew of creative and stylistic differences between films back then and more current films, which I am very familiar with, but what I'm interested in is the technical side, which you covered really well...Very interesting about flashing the negative and Chemtone.

So in general this gritty look came from a combination of slower film stock and push-processing to get a higher speed. This would give you the look of movies like "Taxi Driver," "Rocky," "Saturday Night Fever," etc. whereas bigger studio movies like "The Godfather," "Logan's Run," and "Jaws" to name a few were shot more in line with what they were doing in the 60's?

After reading about the stocks, Kodak 5254 is what I'm most interested in. Too bad it is obsolete now.

"...consider how you are currently judging this old movie -- on DVD? On Blu-Ray? An old print? A new print? This may have an effect on the look."

Well, I'm still in college, so I'm too young to have seen most of these in the theater, although I've seen a couple 70's/80's movies rereleased in a theater and it looks fantastic. But most of my experience would be seeing these movies on DVD or television. Now I know the grain probably looks quite a bit different with the MPEG compression on a DVD, and the look also varies depending on whether the movie has been "restored", although I'm getting wary of that because in some cases, like "Star Wars" or "The Godfather" I think they artificially punched up the colors and removed the grain. So it's sometimes hard for me to tell what these films actually looked like in the theater.
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#8 Joseph Konrad

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Posted 16 December 2008 - 08:28 PM

Oh, and could you comment any on the the difference in lighting technology between the 70's and 80's and now? I know it involves not using HMI's and using more light and not crunching the blacks the way it's often done nowadays. Again it depends on the movie, but on some movies (Rocky comes to mind) it looks like they didn't light it at all...it looks like they just set up the camera and shot it. How did they pull that off I wonder?

Again, thank you so much to everybody. This is making a lot more sense to me now.
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#9 Josh Silfen

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Posted 16 December 2008 - 11:01 PM

And shooting on actual film of course and cutting on a Steinbeck or Moviola or that type of thing (not sure how this actually affects the look, though- as I understand it even films shot on film today are scanned into the computer and then printed out again at the end. Surely this has some kind of different effect?)


Cutting on a Steenbeck or Moviola would have no effect on the look of a film, unless you were watching a work print, which would be full of splices and grease pencil marks, but I doubt that's the look you are going for. These days many movies (thought not all) are scanned into a computer and printed back out through the DI process, but people were cutting movies on Avid long before the DI. The Avid cut generated an EDL (edit decision list), which a negative cutter would use to conform the original negative, which would then be used to make prints (or interpositives and internegatives which would be used to make release prints).
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#10 Matthew Buick

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Posted 17 December 2008 - 08:33 AM

After reading about the stocks, Kodak 5254 is what I'm most interested in. Too bad it is obsolete now.


5254 is a wonderful stock. Maybe Kodak's nicest looking colour negative. I believe there was a thread on CML once asking Kodak to bring it back! I know if it was released on Super 8 I'd want for nothing else.
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#11 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 17 December 2008 - 09:20 AM

Cutting on a Steenbeck or Moviola would have no effect on the look of a film, unless you were watching a work print, which would be full of splices and grease pencil marks, but I doubt that's the look you are going for. These days many movies (thought not all) are scanned into a computer and printed back out through the DI process, but people were cutting movies on Avid long before the DI. The Avid cut generated an EDL (edit decision list), which a negative cutter would use to conform the original negative, which would then be used to make prints (or interpositives and internegatives which would be used to make release prints).


I suspect it may effect the pacing of the film, in that editors may be tempted to cut much faster because they're commonly viewing the material on a smaller screen and with less projection of a cut onto a large screen. With a large screen the scene's detail and the nuances in a performance become more apparent. Although the ping pong editing tends to be more used in television, it could become more tempting if you're cutting on a smaller screen

Edited by Brian Drysdale, 17 December 2008 - 09:21 AM.

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#12 Simon Wyss

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Posted 17 December 2008 - 11:39 AM

I like the ping-pong cutie.

Edited by Simon Wyss, 17 December 2008 - 11:40 AM.

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#13 Josh Silfen

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Posted 17 December 2008 - 12:11 PM

I suspect it may effect the pacing of the film, in that editors may be tempted to cut much faster because they're commonly viewing the material on a smaller screen and with less projection of a cut onto a large screen. With a large screen the scene's detail and the nuances in a performance become more apparent. Although the ping pong editing tends to be more used in television, it could become more tempting if you're cutting on a smaller screen


This may be true, but there is no reason why an editor must cut a film in a certain way just because they cut on a computer. It opens up options and makes it easier to try out new editing styles, but if they wanted to try to replicate the pacing of a movie from the '70s, they could easily do that too. I'm just saying that cutting a film on a computer doesn't inherently alter the look of the film.
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#14 Joseph Konrad

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Posted 17 December 2008 - 12:48 PM

Cutting on a Steenbeck or Moviola would have no effect on the look of a film, unless you were watching a work print, which would be full of splices and grease pencil marks, but I doubt that's the look you are going for. These days many movies (thought not all) are scanned into a computer and printed back out through the DI process, but people were cutting movies on Avid long before the DI. The Avid cut generated an EDL (edit decision list), which a negative cutter would use to conform the original negative, which would then be used to make prints (or interpositives and internegatives which would be used to make release prints).


Oh, OK. So although editors might be tempted to cut differently as Brian said, cutting with Avid on a computer is no different than cutting the film itself- exact same result.

But isn't it true that the DI process WOULD have an effect on the look, unlike the Avid EDL process? Because at that point you're not cutting the negative...you're printing out a completely new negative.
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#15 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 17 December 2008 - 01:16 PM

Digital color-correction versus photo-chemical color-correction does affect the look, though you can choose to keep the look as close to a normal photo-chemical color timing as possible, just that no one does, you always end up playing around with the gamma and saturation to make shots match better.

Now, in absence of some of the film stocks and whatnot of the 1970's, some would argue that using the D.I. process may give you more flexibility to recreate that old look rather than just using modern stocks and doing a standard photochemical post.

I actually don't think the particular look of 5254 or 5247 is as critical as some people think. For one thing, as I said, we are judging the look of these old movies based on memory or DVD's or old prints or new prints, prints made from YCM's, new prints made from faded negatives, new prints made not using the same process as the old prints (such as the obsolete dye transfer process, the obsolete CRI process, etc.) So considering how all those factors affect the look of a print, we can't really know for sure what the look was exactly of the original stocks IF they were fresh today. So it is much more of an issue of capturing the feeling and texture of those older movies based on perception and memory rather than scientific analysis.

I think you could get the same feeling using a modern stock like 5218, for example -- it has enough grain to get you some texture to the image. In fact, I think the lenses used back then perhaps are a bigger contributor - anyone who has put an old 25-250mm Ang. zoom up on a camera can't help but feel that the image feels a bit "un-modern". Older uncoated lenses, older Cooke Panchros or B&L Baltars increase this feeling even more.

Not to mention lighting styles or even the haircuts of the day.

One thing I've noticed about a lot of those grittier films of the 1970's (like "French Connection", "Straight Time", or even "Paper Chase") is that they eliminated make-up for the most part, whereas today it's hard to avoid that -- we've gone back to making everyone look as good as possible.
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#16 Joseph Konrad

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Posted 18 December 2008 - 11:23 AM

So it is much more of an issue of capturing the feeling and texture of those older movies based on perception and memory rather than scientific analysis.


Of course. The differences are mostly artistic- the way shots are framed, shot length, music spotting, acting style, the pacing, the uncontrived staging...all the things that come together to make a great movie, in my opinion. All of these elements I have a good intuitive grasp of (or I'd like to think so). But I couldn't help noticing the radical difference in the color saturation and the grain and the way the film caught the light, even after these older movies are restored. So I'm trying to find out what technologically is different now that would have a major effect on the look of the film.

Now, in absence of some of the film stocks and whatnot of the 1970's, some would argue that using the D.I. process may give you more flexibility to recreate that old look rather than just using modern stocks and doing a standard photochemical post.


True. I don't want to deliberately date my movies though. It's just that aesthetically I really like what was being done back then a lot more than today's look.

And just to recap, Technicolor and CRI are now obsolete? There would be no possible way to do that today?

One thing I've noticed about a lot of those grittier films of the 1970's (like "French Connection", "Straight Time", or even "Paper Chase") is that they eliminated make-up for the most part, whereas today it's hard to avoid that -- we've gone back to making everyone look as good as possible.


Yeah, tha'ts one of my biggest pet peeves. Actors are all in heavy makeup nowadays- they look like mannequins. It's even worse in those movies where they're always in extreme-closeup and they cut back and forth every second (the "ping-pong" style, like Brian said). I miss the realism, grittiness, and impact of older movies.

----------------

I would love to hear more about the different lighting style used back then as opposed to now. All I know is to not use HMI lights because they didn't exist back then and they give a colder, bluer light. Is there anything else that comes to mind that was done differently on a consistent basis? To go back to the example of "Rocky," it looks they used almost entirely practical lights. Is that true? And if so, could it be done that way today?

Thanks so much- I'm learning a lot here. The issue of lenses is very interesting- I need to do more research on the ones you mentioned...

Edited by Joseph Konrad, 18 December 2008 - 11:24 AM.

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#17 Simon Wyss

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Posted 18 December 2008 - 11:38 AM

Who only thought of a look of their films in the past ? When has that sordid word only come into use ?

Let me be a little provocative, you all. Let us be honest. One always worked with what one had. There was absolutely no question of how my picture looks but of what it tells or asks. The superficiality of the question bores me to dust. I have eyes in my head and I know what I see, I don't need an image image.
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#18 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 18 December 2008 - 11:40 AM

Thank God CRI's don't exist anymore, it was a terrible system, basically making a reversal duplicate of the negative to create a dupe negative for printing. Turned out to be archivally unstable. Plus you have to whole issue of the emulsion being on the "wrong" side when you skip a generation, since most contact printing is emulsion to emulsion. I'm not sure if they just printed through the base with CRI's or not.

It's a crime though that Technicolor dye transfer printing disappeared. Incredibly stable for archival reasons, reds so intense that they were practically 3D, rich blacks, etc. It was briefly revived in the 1990's but died out again. Required a special printing machine which was complicated and slow compared to modern high-speed printers, and expensive now. The major cost was in making the b&w matrices for dye transfer onto a "blank" roll. The cost of the matrices was so high, and added a month to the post schedule in terms of timing them and whatnot, that only huge orders of prints (because the blank roll with the dye mordant was fairly cheap) were cost-effective, but the prototype dye transfer printer built from scratch in the 1990's did not have a large capacity so the whole system was never efficient.

And nowadays, studios are used to dropping off dupe negatives to two or three labs and having four thousand to six thousand release prints made within a week for shipping to theaters.

There was an experimentation in the 1970's with more documentary lighting approaches -- putting brighter bulbs in practicals, pushing the film stock to shoot in low-light (thus an increase in grain and contrast), living with color mismatches like mixing tungsten sources with Cool White fluorescents, etc. Sometimes it looked more natural, other times it just looked cruder -- you could tell a movie light was being used but it was underexposed, harsh, etc. for a grittier look.

Someone once said that many 1970's movies looked "overlit and underexposed" (thin negatives) whereas modern movies looked "underlit but overexposed" (i.e. rich thick negatives.) There is some truth to that though the grittier movies shot by NYC cinematographers often looked both underlit and underexposed.

I think what you see back then in movies like "Rocky" is an avoidance of "prettiness" -- modern movies are realistic-looking but everything is improved to look more beautiful, what is called sometimes "romantic realism". The perfect light, though natural-looking, falling on beautiful actors in interesting locations. Back in some 1970's movies like "French Connection" or "Fat City", there was an interest in the textures of ugly reality. Not that those movies weren't lit either, but the lighting was often very minimal.
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#19 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 18 December 2008 - 11:52 AM

This may be true, but there is no reason why an editor must cut a film in a certain way just because they cut on a computer. It opens up options and makes it easier to try out new editing styles, but if they wanted to try to replicate the pacing of a movie from the '70s, they could easily do that too. I'm just saying that cutting a film on a computer doesn't inherently alter the look of the film.


The size of the image they're viewing does seem to influence some editors and it's very easy to start over cutting material just because you can.

Certainly if you wish to replicate a 70's film, the editing tool itself doesn't affect that.
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#20 Mike Washlesky

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Posted 18 December 2008 - 12:03 PM

Thank God CRI's don't exist anymore, it was a terrible system, basically making a reversal duplicate of the negative to create a dupe negative for printing. Turned out to be archivally unstable. Plus you have to whole issue of the emulsion being on the "wrong" side when you skip a generation, since most contact printing is emulsion to emulsion. I'm not sure if they just printed through the base with CRI's or not.

There was an experimentation in the 1970's with more documentary lighting approaches -- putting brighter bulbs in practicals, pushing the film stock to shoot in low-light (thus an increase in grain and contrast), living with color mismatches like mixing tungsten sources with Cool White fluorescents, etc. Sometimes it looked more natural, other times it just looked cruder -- you could tell a movie light was being used but it was underexposed, harsh, etc. for a grittier look.

Someone once said that many 1970's movies looked "overlit and underexposed" (thin negatives) whereas modern movies looked "underlit but overexposed" (i.e. rich thick negatives.) There is some truth to that though the grittier movies shot by NYC cinematographers often looked both underlit and underexposed.

I think what you see back then in movies like "Rocky" is an avoidance of "prettiness" -- modern movies are realistic-looking but everything is improved to look more beautiful, what is called sometimes "romantic realism". The perfect light, though natural-looking, falling on beautiful actors in interesting locations. Back in some 1970's movies like "French Connection" or "Fat City", there was an interest in the textures of ugly reality. Not that those movies weren't lit either, but the lighting was often very minimal.


Do you have any knowledge about what stock and the lighting approach was used in "Serpico"? I love the look of that film and it will always be ingrained in my mind of how New York should look.

Edited by Mike Washlesky, 18 December 2008 - 12:04 PM.

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