As scarce time in a very busy life permits, I try to study cinematography, both to increase my appreciation of the art, and so that the documentary work I do from time to time, recording lives in the political-philosophical association with which I work, may benefit. As a former pro photographer, I recall the explosion of erotic and frankly pornographic photography books in the ‘80s. Not my interest. Likewise, in recent books and some DVDs on cinematography, I often find more references and homage to films with graphic sex, violence and horror than I would care to spend my time with. I’m not saying there’s nothing to be learned, just that I prefer to learn it through other “courses.” I have studied so far perhaps two dozen books and DVD’s on various aspects of cinematography and video, covering both technical and aesthetic aspects, from classics such as The Five Cs to recent ones.
I’m not interested in adrenalin-pumping special effects, and my hot-blooded adolescence is decades past. The work to which I have dedicated my adult life, is concerned with starting a renaissance in economics and culture. I hope to leave some record, in video, of what my associates and I have done, and are doing, as a documentary reference for some truly talented filmmaker in some future decade, who decides to tell the story in some way.
WHAT WOULD HELP ME, given my time limitations, is the ability to study, in detail, just a few films, not necessarily documentary, though that would be beneficial, but examples of masterfully handled lighting and camera work not dependent on Hollywood budgets and crews and equipment such as maxi-brutes and sky cranes that I will never use. Good storytelling, elegantly presented, enhanced by superb editing.
If anyone would care to offer a suggestion or two of films that I can get my hands on without a significant investment, I would be most grateful.
I must say I'm a little confused by what your aims are. You say you want to an "economic and cultural" renaissance, but you have limited time so you want to study just a few films? You don't describe much, but what you do tell sounds a little incongruous. For me, this sort of pursuit is all or nothing. If you really want to understand, to KNOW cinematography, you can't limit yourself to a best-of assemblage, a cinematic gist. You've gotta get your hands on anything and everything. Check videos out of the library if you can't afford to buy DVDs. Watch a lot of TV. Study everything, both great and lousy. I've found I've gotten as much out of watching bad cinematography, sometimes more, for you learn what NOT to do. As far as great BW camerawork, anything by Wong Howe, Gregg Toland or Sven Nykvist, to name a few. If you want to get really old school, check out Rollie Totheroh and Billy Bitzer, who photographed nearly all of Chaplin and Griffith's films, respectively. For colour work, the Late Great Jack Cardiff is a must, as well as Storaro and Almendros. For image manipulation, I love Vilmos Zsigmond, and his use of filters and flashing techniques. As far as the best working today? My vote is for Roger Deakins. David Mullen is the coolest by far, and is a frequent poster here. I've gotten so much invaluable feedback from him. But this is a short list. There are dozens out there waiting for you to discover them. There are tons of "Best of" lists here in the forum. Search for them. Read reviews from Variety. Look for names.
As for lousy work, get anything shown on Mystery Science Theatre. I especially like "Monster A Go Go," as a step by step on how NOT to photograph a movie.
But getting back to the original point. Dive in. Changing the world isn't just a weekends and evenings kind of thing. You've got to devote everything to it. I'm sure work is an issue. I work 9 to 5 for a prod company, so I know the feeling. But you've just got to be focused on the goal. Others have managed it. Frank Shorter trained for and won the Olympic gold in the marathon, all while studying as a law student!
Brian, you are right, and I understand what you are saying more than you could guess from my sketchy comments; I could not agree more, in principle. This is not the place to offer a long response. I will say, simply, that as a photographer, I immersed myself--I breathed it. In the past decade, my circumstances have not permit that, as I have had not only (in addition,more recently, to a day job with 3 hours of commuting) family with special needs, but also other obligations to the mentioned association. Thus, to do as much as I am doing in video is a stretch. Nonetheless, it is something I am committed to doing as well as I can, knowing that I can not immerse myself as I once did in the medium of choice. So, that means grasping fundamental principles of the language by reading, then studying how they are applied in practice, and trying to apply them in my own work. My request for a few films was one dictated by necessity.
Best wishes to all. I learn much from these forums.
Edited by Philip Ulanowsky, 24 May 2009 - 08:46 PM.