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Unconventional Period Cinematography


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#1 Ravi Kiran

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Posted 27 March 2014 - 05:04 PM

What are some period films that have unconventional cinematography not typically associated with films set in those periods? For example, most Victorian era films have a certain staid, painterly look to them. It seems to me that handheld camerawork isn't often used in films set in a pre-cinema era, but it doesn't seem to be particularly common for films set in the 20th century before the 70s, either.


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#2 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 27 March 2014 - 06:08 PM

for some reason Apocolypto springs to mind; though I don't know if you could really call that period-- it's more historical. Personally I make a distinction in the two. Umm, Tree of Life, perhaps as well, since a lot of it is in flashback but without the need for filters ect.


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#3 Dan Dorland

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Posted 29 March 2014 - 01:49 PM

Umm, Tree of Life, perhaps as well, since a lot of it is in flashback but without the need for filters ect.

 

I thought Tree of Life was a mix of convention and breaking convention. On one hand, the understated, natural color scheme was perfectly 1950's, but on the other hand, steadicam was used just as often as the present-day scenes. That was kind of confusing to me at first, but I think it was meant to make the difference of time irrelevant.


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#4 James Martin

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Posted 06 July 2014 - 10:02 AM

Public Enemies.

 

Looked awful. Sorry, but it does.


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#5 Freya Black

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Posted 06 July 2014 - 10:51 AM

Public Enemies.

 

Looked awful. Sorry, but it does.

 

I think it looks kind of like a really low budget tv movie but I think if you approach it from that point of view it looks sorta okay.

Oddly the B&W bits looks really, really awful which is strange as I would have thought those would have been easier to pull off.

 

Seems to work way better than Benjamin Button however which just looked really awful. One of the worst films I have seen and not just for the cinematography, as it actually has some other nasty problems. I couldn't work out for ages why everyone was raving about it till I discovered who the director was.

 

I think the problem is that people have often experimented with stuff in recent years but the experiments have not been successful.

 

Freya


Edited by Freya Black, 06 July 2014 - 10:52 AM.

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#6 Freya Black

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Posted 06 July 2014 - 10:56 AM

Okay how about "The Wrestler" and also "The Fighter":

 

https://www.editorsg...m?ArticleID=935


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#7 Freya Black

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Posted 06 July 2014 - 11:00 AM

It seems to me that handheld camerawork isn't often used in films set in a pre-cinema era, but it doesn't seem to be particularly common for films set in the 20th century before the 70s, either.

 

I think that might be down to the fact that before the 70's there wasn't much in the way of handheld camerawork in the actual movies shot back then.

 

Freya


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#8 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 06 July 2014 - 11:12 AM

There are two basic philosophies regarding shooting period movies -- one is that the image should be treated to create some visual distance or palate similar to older stocks and processes (if the period is within the era of photography) or paintings of the day, and have some of the feeling of a memory.... and the other is that it should be shot in a modern style like any other non-period movie to retain some immediacy and let the production design, costumes, and setting create the period feeling -- in other words, you should feel like you were experiencing the past as a person back then would, as the present, not some fading memory.

 

Both are valid approaches and most period movies create a mix of the two philosophies.  For example, the past in "Titanic" is shot with modern dynamic camera moves and is fairly colorful, but yet everything was shot with a 1/4 ProMist filter to romanticize things a bit.  I remember Gordon Willis feeling that "The Godfather" shouldn't feel too modern as if it were a modern snapshot processed at the local photo lab, hence the underexposure, push-processing, and use of older lenses.

 

A good comparison would be between "Saving Private Ryan" and "The Thin Red Line" -- both have modern camera movements and are fairly immersive experiences, and yet the first has a softer, grainier, desaturated image that gives you the feeling (in color) of b&w newsreel documentary photography, whereas the second has a clean, large-format feeling, more like a National Geographic Kodachrome slide.

 

I don't think there is a right or wrong choice here.  Recently, however, I've noticed that most people making period movies tend to shoot handheld to avoid that static painterly look, best personified by movies like "Barry Lyndon" (yet that film also has some handheld scenes, and the lighting is fairly realistic -- and yet the effect is reminiscent of paintings of the period, by design.)

 

"Public Enemies", to me, is an interesting experiment -- take a period story and give it the feeling of reality TV shot today on video.  Obviously it rubs many people the wrong way but I sort of accepted it for what it was.  It is a pretty extreme example of going against any "period" feeling to a period movie but is nothing new, I seem to recall those Peter Watkins movies of the 1960's where he shot period battle recreations in a modern newsreel documentary style.


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#9 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 06 July 2014 - 11:13 AM

There's a few handheld shots in "Barry Lyndon".

 

Handheld shots in movies seems to have become more common in the 1960s ( For example "Tom Jones" ), although you had them in newsreel footage from much earlier.


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#10 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 06 July 2014 - 11:18 AM

Keep in mind that one reason why handheld was rarer in movies made before the 1970's simply was that you'd have to shoot the scene MOS using something like an Arri 2C and ADR everything later, because there were no handholdable sync-sound silent 35mm cameras before the Panaflex and Arri-35BL.


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#11 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 06 July 2014 - 11:18 AM

I personally think people need to get beyond the location of the script-- both in time and in place-- and go more towards the point of the script. God help you if that's just the plot. In something like Barry Lyndon, for myself, the painterly quality-- that trappedness-- spoke primarily to the fact that Barry himself is trapped in who he is. Despite climbing so high, he remains statically himself, changeless really, and timeless. This being the thought I get from it, i see the compositions as existing to give a feeling not necessarily of period, but of unchanging "history," unchanging "reality."

Perhaps that doesn't make much sense, I better drink more coffee.


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#12 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 06 July 2014 - 11:40 AM

Keep in mind that one reason why handheld was rarer in movies made before the 1970's simply was that you'd have to shoot the scene MOS using something like an Arri 2C and ADR everything later, because there were no handholdable sync-sound silent 35mm cameras before the Panaflex and Arri-35BL.

 

Panavision had a handheld blimp for the Arri 35 llC, I assume it was a rare late 1960s piece of kit.


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#13 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 06 July 2014 - 03:34 PM

Great point Adrian, I think it's very easy to get stuck in shooting conventions without regard for story or theme. Handheld for this, punch in for a close up on that, etc. I really believe that at least 50% of the work of a cinematographer is done in pre-pro conceptualizing the look, scouting, weeding out inappropriate ideas, solving problems, ordering the right equipment. Then the day becomes just about executing the plan, while leaving some room for improvisation and happy accidents.

Per David's point about the increasing use of handheld in period films, I think a large part of that is also because the handheld look has almost become the conventional default style of shooting versus static locked off shots. So directors ask for it more often as a regular part of their arsenal when before it would have been for a particular effect.
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#14 Freya Black

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Posted 06 July 2014 - 04:38 PM

There are two basic philosophies regarding shooting period movies -- one is that the image should be treated to create some visual distance or palate similar to older stocks and processes (if the period is within the era of photography) or paintings of the day, and have some of the feeling of a memory.... and the other is that it should be shot in a modern style like any other non-period movie to retain some immediacy and let the production design, costumes, and setting create the period feeling -- in other words, you should feel like you were experiencing the past as a person back then would, as the present, not some fading memory.


 

 I seem to recall those Peter Watkins movies of the 1960's where he shot period battle recreations in a modern newsreel documentary style.

 

Wow, I hadn't considered that they might be looking at paintings as almost being the movies and photography of the time! That is soooo interesting! Thanks for that thought. :)

 

Also I completely love Peter Watkins movie about the Paris commune. I stupidly arrived late to see it as it is 6 hours long and I figured... anyway I really regretted it as I watched an hour and a half of it and it was so amazing that I was gutted I missed the first bit. I remember saying to someone during the intermission how I had missed out and that the next 3 hours would just be really depressing as we all know how the story ends. How wrong I was. The next 3 hours were also completely incredible.

 

I remember the movie features two television stations for the two factions and a lot of handheld and there are points in the film when you genuinely aren't sure if the actors are discussing now or then!

 

It is well worth 6 hours of your life and as David implies, probably a great example of this kind of thing! :)

 

Freya


Edited by Freya Black, 06 July 2014 - 04:39 PM.

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#15 Freya Black

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Posted 07 July 2014 - 07:57 AM

I thought this article on early attempts to add colour to photographs might be interesting in this context too:

 

http://edition.cnn.c...?iref=obnetwork


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#16 James Martin

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Posted 07 July 2014 - 04:55 PM

I feel I should point out that whilst I understood what Michael Mann & Dante Spinotti were going for in Public Enemies, it isn't to my taste. I am sure it is to Michael Mann's, and that is what counts.

 

Personally, I feel automatically dropped out of a film the moment I see a shot with an open shutter, as it feels so wrong after being so used to 180 degree shutter. I understand why it is there, and I have had to use it myself, but I still don't like it :(

 

I really loved Barry Lyndon though, as a film & a cinematography thing, which I really wasn't expecting to as classic "period" films are not my bag.

 

I have an ARRI 535B recently arrived here and I am NOT looking forward to handheld with it...


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#17 KH Martin

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Posted 08 July 2014 - 12:20 AM

I feel I should point out that whilst I understood what Michael Mann & Dante Spinotti were going for in Public Enemies, it isn't to my taste. I am sure it is to Michael Mann's, and that is what counts.

 

Personally, I feel automatically dropped out of a film the moment I see a shot with an open shutter, as it feels so wrong after being so used to 180 degree shutter. I understand why it is there, and I have had to use it myself, but I still don't like it :(

 

I really loved Barry Lyndon though, as a film & a cinematography thing, which I really wasn't expecting to as classic "period" films are not my bag.

 

I have an ARRI 535B recently arrived here and I am NOT looking forward to handheld with it...

Agreed and agreed - I didn't last 20min on the Mann film, but a half-hour ago I finished rewatching BARRY LYNDON (first time on bluray though) and it is just gorgeous without the painterly quality being distracting. Loved the handhled for the fight stuff too.

 

It's a good thing for Lucas he didn't get his wish and have STAR WARS looking all diffused like LUCKY LADY ... I doubt that would have translated with any success at all, especially given that he wanted a documentary feel. Doc feel and overly soft whited out scenery seem like a match made in Hell.


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#18 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 08 July 2014 - 01:52 AM

Also on the 535, you can do what Doyle does and tape a pillow around you to rest your arms on. I still recall the "joys" of a BL4 with a 1000' load and a zoom-- hand held. I think it may have weighed more than I. 


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#19 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 09 July 2014 - 01:49 AM

I still recall the "joys" of a BL4 with a 1000' load and a zoom-- hand held. I think it may have weighed more than I. 

I tried that once on a job, said nope, and quickly hired an operator. I'm glad cameras have gotten much lighter since. ;)


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#20 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 09 July 2014 - 01:51 AM

I just hired a brawnier 1AC to rip it off my shoulder at the end of the take. And bought stock in Advil lol


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