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Aim Tears of Compunction Here


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#1 Andy O'Neil

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Posted 20 June 2005 - 05:17 PM

Can a movie with a bad story have good cinematography?
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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 20 June 2005 - 06:10 PM

Can a movie with a bad story have good cinematography?

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Sure, but that won't make it a good movie. Good cinematography can make a movie more watchable, make the story as clear and effective as it can, perhaps even suggesting greater depth than is actually on the paper -- but it can't make the end result a good movie.

I don't know if they are bad movies, but certainly I watch a lot of mediocre movies over and over again for the cinematography. I've probably seen "Istar" more than anyone else here... (and that IS a bad movie.)

I like to pop in and watch "A Bridge Too Far" a number of times for Unsworth's photography; it's an OK movie, an interesting historical recreation, but a good movie, I don't know. It's certainly rewatchable.

"Sleepy Hollow" and "Snow Falling on Cedars" have been major influences on me, but I can't say they work overall as movies.

John Ford's "The Fugitive" is one of the best photographed b&w movies EVER, but the story is pretentious and weak. "Ryan's Daughter" is drop-dead gorgeous in 70mm, but not a particularly good movie.

But I don't want this conversation to devolve into knocking down movies....
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#3 Andy O'Neil

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Posted 21 June 2005 - 05:01 AM

After posting this, I realized that this was probably the most ridiculous rhetorical question I could have asked. Thank you, David, for diluting its lameness. I do not intend for this to turn in to a "movie-knocker-downer." I guess I was trying to get to the essence of what "good cinematography" is to everyone here, and whether or not story was more "important."

I'm hung up on the notion that all sectors of filmmaking are dependent upon story and nothing else. In other words, if a skilled dp were to take their favorite lens and their favorite camera and employ their experience to the full degree to photograph a pitbull pooping on plush grass, it's still a pitbull pooping on plush grass. And no matter how you edited it, it's still just that.

If good cinematography is photography that lends itself to the story and nothing more, I gotta wonder that if the story is "bad," does that deplete all chances of the cinematography from being good? I understand that this notion must be considered under a movie-by-movie basis, and it's purely subjective, which unfortunately makes this a pretty uninteresting question.
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#4 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 21 June 2005 - 11:13 AM

If good cinematography is photography that lends itself to the story and nothing more, I gotta wonder that if the story is "bad," does that deplete all chances of the cinematography from being good?

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Well, it's more complicated than that. If a story is bad, it could rob the potential of the movie AND the cinematography being truly great, because great (not good) implies the perfect fusion of style and content, and if the content sucks...

But certainly the cinematography can be quite good even with a weak story. It also depends on how you define a weak story. Some films have weak PLOTS and a thin storyline but are still good stories.

Certain types of stories, even good ones, can limit the expressiveness of the cinematography. You could probably write a kick-ass screenplay about two guys locked in the bathroom of a gas station but there could be limits on the breadth and excitement of the cinematography. Or look at "My Dinner with Andre" -- there would be limits to even what Storaro or Richardson could do with that, and there SHOULD be.
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#5 Mark Allen

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Posted 21 June 2005 - 12:30 PM

There are a couple moments in the movie TAPE (which takes place entirely in a hotel room with mostly two actors) where you can tell the director must have started feeling like the needed to do some trickier cinematography and they start doing these swish pans between actors on dialogue and it is the only moment of cinematography I remember in the movie and I remember it because it was really fake and awful.

(Quick movie review.... A third into the movie I thought it was going to be awful, but it ended up having some respectible and interestnig drama in it and I was glad I hadn't turned it off assuming it was gong to be "another" "two guys in the desert talking tough" movie.)
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#6 Shawn Murphy

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Posted 22 June 2005 - 04:11 AM

...Or look at "My Dinner with Andre" -- there would be limits to even what Storaro or Richardson could do with that, and there SHOULD be.

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'My Dinner with Andre' is my number one inspiration and example of what can be done with so little... so little lighting, location, and camera moves that is; needless to say it is also a great example of how MUCH can be done with great acting and a great screenplay (assuming this style fits your taste, as it did mine)

If I HAD to choose, I'd choose poor lighting over poor writing any day, and I say that as a non-writer behind the camera.

*I loved Sleepy Hollow, but I almost always understand that many people might not like the things I like, or even for the reasons I like them; then again, one of my fantasies is to do a quasi documentary on what I deem 'The Psychology of Why People Like the Films They Like', so much of it is personal and beyond debate.
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#7 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 22 June 2005 - 11:32 AM

If I HAD to choose, I'd choose poor lighting over poor writing any day

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Luckily that's never a choice since they occupy two radically different spheres of film production, and usually are done by different people.
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#8 Jon Rosenbloom

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Posted 22 June 2005 - 11:55 AM

The question is, if you think the script is terrible, but you need the work, what do you do with it? Fortunately, being a DP is really fun, and really absorbing, and usually you've got enough stuff going on so that concerns about the overall quality of the project get blocked out. Or, as one director said to me "I need your photography to be really good to make up for my bad narrative"!
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#9 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 22 June 2005 - 01:10 PM

You do your best to enhance the narrative, but it has to be appropriate still for the story. You wouldn't shoot a romantic comedy, even a badly written one, in the style of a horror film unless that's what the story suggests.

I'm only saying this because I hate it when a director says "this is a boring scene, let's shoot it in an exciting manner" because often that conflicts with the narrative needs of the scene, even if it is a boring one. Doing a lot of whip pans and snap zooms and whirling the camera around could be detrimental, not helpful. Even for a bad scene, the style has to be organic to the narrative.
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#10 Shawn Murphy

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Posted 22 June 2005 - 01:49 PM

Luckily that's never a choice since they occupy two radically different spheres of film production, and usually are done by different people.

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you don't say... I was being rhetorical David ;-)
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#11 Rik Andino

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Posted 22 June 2005 - 03:22 PM

...as one director said to me
"I need your photography to be really good to make up for my bad narrative"!

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See that's the thing...
Cinematography can't save a bad movie...no matter how good it is.
& the reverse: a good movie can't be destroyed by mediocre cinematography.

A movie's strongest point is its story...
That's why MOST people go to see the movies
Because they want to see a story.

When everything is working as it should be:
A good story is strenghthen by good acting, good editing, & good cinematography.
And every other aspect (good art direction, good locations, etc...)
When it all comes together nicely then you have a fantastic movie...
But the most important piece is the story...without it nothing will work.

In fact all you need is a good story
If you have just that you might have a good movie.

I mean Clerks is a good example of this...
A movie with medicre cinematography, not-so-great acting...medoicre editing...
But the story stood out above all the imperfections
And it made Clerks a unique outstanding film.

And now look at how many big-studio films with the best actors and DPs
And million dollar set design and wonderful locations...
Have still be worthless peices of crap because the story wasn't good.

Bottomline is the movies are about the story...
Everything else is secondary.
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#12 Mark Allen

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Posted 22 June 2005 - 04:26 PM

In fact all you need is a good story
If you have just that you might have a good movie.
...
I mean Clerks is a good example of this...
A movie with medicre cinematography, not-so-great acting...medoicre editing...
But the story stood out above all the imperfections
And it made Clerks a unique outstanding film.
...
Bottomline is the movies are about the story...
Everything else is secondary.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


Your entire argument here assumes that the screenplay is the only place a story is told.

A story is told through the cinematography - the costumes - the beats in between lines when actors are simply sharing the space together - the art direction. Everything that is placed in front of the camera and everything that is added later is part of the story telling. If it is not, it is not being done well.

For example - costumes - perhaps the easiest example. If in Lord of the Rings all these characters walked on the set with nice, freshly built costumes, it would look ridiculous. No matter how good the writing is, you'd keep being distracted by the silly costumes - you would not be "taken there" - so the costumers distress the costumes - but they don't just whack it around, they figure out who these characters are: Would the knees wear out first? Was this clothing used in battle? They are telling the story with their tools.

You can absolutely tell when a department is letting the story down. There is no life being added, it feels incongruent.

Now, I don't particularily like Kevin Smith's movies (except Chasing Amy). Nothing against him personally, but I feel like I've met a lot of the people he has in his movies and they bored me to death with their endless banter trying to prove how intellectual they are. But to each his own on that one. I do, however, agree that if there is no story, no amount of brilliant cinematography or design is going to save it - because there is nothing for the departments to work from or with.

Stories are simple - everything that comes after them determines the degree of greatness of the movie. Blad Runner would not been nearly as groundbreaking and fantastic had it not been for the storytelling that went into all the design work.
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#13 DavidSloan

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Posted 23 June 2005 - 01:05 AM

Camera work is essential to making a good film! This happens to be a visual medium...If you don't think cinematography is that important go write books, and don't waste our time.

Sorry for being so harsh but this whole story vs. cinematography is old, and silly. You can't make a good film without a well thought out photography plan. All the greatest filmmakers have employed unique, superior visual techniques to articulate themselves...look at Tarkovsky, Kurosawa, Malick, Wenders, Kubrick, WKW, Jodorowsky, Murnau, Lang, Tarr, the recent work of Van Sant, etc... These guys are all about creating provoking shots. A cinematic "story," is told in a succession of shots, remember? The formal structure of the presentation is just as, if not more, important than the content. Heard of samuel beckett? this is what he had to say when asked about James Joyce:

"Here form is content, content is form. You complain that this stuff is not written in English. It is not written at all. It is not to be read ? or rather it is not only to be read. It is to be looked at and listened to. His writing is not about something, it is that something itself."
?On Joyce?s Finnegans Wake: Dante...Bruno.Vico..Joyce, 1929

The idea of form as content, you say? RADICAL, MAN!
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#14 Andy O'Neil

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Posted 23 June 2005 - 09:20 AM

it's silly to apologize for being harsh. if you're gonna be harsh, be harsh.

i would argue that a book is a visual medium, but that may be silly and over-discussed or it may be totally inappropriate in a cinematography forum. nonetheless, i won't go there.

images are undoubtedly important. never said they weren't.
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#15 Adam Frisch FSF

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Posted 23 June 2005 - 11:03 AM

Can I say, if nothing else, this thread's is a brilliant script/film title.

Tears of Compunction.

It sounds like an Oscar-winner already.



:D

Edited by AdamFrisch, 23 June 2005 - 11:04 AM.

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#16 Alvin Pingol

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Posted 24 June 2005 - 06:23 PM

Can I say, if nothing else, this thread's is a brilliant script/film title. Tears of Compunction.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


Similarly, with little else to say, I AGREE. :lol:
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