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The first thematic lens flare in cinema history?


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#1 Jeff Bernstein

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Posted 09 May 2018 - 11:23 AM

Hello, friends! Recently I posted the following short text on my website devoted to Kubrick. Is anyone here happy to expatiate on thematic uses of lens flares?

 

The text:

 

I googled "thematic lens flares" and received zero results.

 

Eyes Wide Shut: Dr. Bill is invited by Sally to come inside.

 

Is (1.57.43) a momentous shot in cinema history? Is EWS the first film to utilise a lens flare in a thematic way? "Where the rainbow ends" -- is death.

 

Reflections on the camera lens are used thematically at (1.54.30): Christmas light reflections overlay a door, behind which sits a nervy Dr. Bill. The colored lights indicate his agitated state of mind -- recalling the usage of colored dots visible behind his head at (57.37): "You're a long way from home."

 

We see a rainbow flare while Alma is preparing the poisonous omelet or omelette (depending on your position) in PT (1.54.00).

 

What might be a thematic use of a lens flare: While Jack talks to Ullman, Jack's foot neatly taps, yes, a lens flare (6.43). Whether he knows it or not, Jack is already consummately integrated with the Overlook (as he tells Wendy later: "it was as though I had been here before").

 

 


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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 09 May 2018 - 03:36 PM

Though not the first, Rashomon (1950) was famous for pointing the camera lens up at the sun coming through the trees as the woodcutter walks through the forest. It emphasizes the heat of the day that drives the characters actions, and suggests things that will come to light. Plus it contrasts with the rain in the present story time.
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#3 Dom Jaeger

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Posted 10 May 2018 - 10:07 PM

This little vid is a good potted history of lens flares in cinema:

 

 

Conrad Hall gets a lot of credit for introducing accidents or mistakes into the cinematography lexicon, with Cool Hand Luke (1967) often cited as an early example of lens flare used as a deliberate visual element, but as David noted, there are certainly earlier examples, particularly in cinema from outside the US. The late 60s seems to be when it really took off though, with copious flares popping up, usually suggesting either heat or a sense of realism borrowed from the documentary or cinema verite genres. Certainly Eyes Wide Shut was not the first film to use flares thematically.

 

I stumbled on this curious article with an example from 1945 that someone cited as the first motivated lens flare, which may or may not have been deliberate:

http://www.roundtabl...ens-flares.html


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#4 Jeff Bernstein

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Posted 11 May 2018 - 01:53 AM

In the specific case of EWS, I mean -- wonderfully eccentric as it sounds, but Kubrick has done it -- a lens flare associated with lines of dialogue.

 

None of the examples noted above come even remotely close to this use in EWS -- or the possible use in The Shining.


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#5 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 11 May 2018 - 06:10 PM

There are anamorphic lens flares in the opening of "A Star Is Born" (1954) at a Hollywood premiere.

 

In "Wuthering Heights" (1939) Gregg Toland has a lightning flash in the window behind Catherine's head that flares around her when she says "I am Heathcliff!" He had bright lights hitting the lens in "Citizen Kane" as well.

 

Before lens coatings were invented in the mid 1930's, there was more concern about pointing the camera into a bright light because a lot of the image could get whitened/washed out if you weren't careful.

 

There are the opening shots in "Persona" (1966):

 

I think there is a low angle of Gasim with the sun behind him in "Lawrence of Arabia" (1962).

 

There is the climax of "Day of the Locust" (1975):

 

And of course there is "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (1977).


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#6 Jeff Bernstein

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Posted 13 May 2018 - 09:19 AM

Thank you for those examples, Mr. Mullen. Every film you mention is, of course, marvellous in the extreme (silly to even say so?). Now I will expand on my original post, in order to clarify my theme.

 

*

 

The first thematic lens flare in cinema history?                

EXPANDED COMMENTARY.

 

The following is in two parts: Part I poses a question; Part II provides commentary.

 

I. GENERAL QUESTION

 

1. If EWS was shot over fifteen months of continuous shooting;

2. If the Sonata Café scene was shot three different times in three different locations;

3. If the Hotel Jason scene, about three minutes in duration, required a week of shooting;

4. If Domino’s character (occupying a running time of about eight minutes) took three months to film . . .

 

If these examples are true, does it stand to reason that Kubrick would ignore a rainbow lens flare that occupies a prominent amount of frame-space (and overlays the film’s male star) for almost TWO CONTINUOUS MINUTES of screen time?

 

[1. is well documented; 2. reported by Todd Field; 3. by Alan Cumming; 4. by Vinessa Shaw.]

 

II. COMMENTARY

 

1a. “Don’t you want to go where the rainbow ends?” Gayle and Nuala attempt to seduce Dr. Bill, who responds: “That depends where that is.” At this early moment in EWS, the audience does not yet know “where the rainbow ends”.

 

1b. Experiencing the visible world—being alive—is experiencing the phenomenon of color. There is nothing visible to us without, first and foremost, color. Form without color cannot be seen by human eyes.

 

1c. There are over two dozen spoken references to “see” or “seeing” in EWS.

 

2a. When Dr. Bill enters the Inner Room of Rainbow Fashions, he enters into an existential, metaphysical realm. Most of Kubrick’s films inhabit Rainbow Fashions. (1) Milich is dressed like a dishevelled Jack in Shining; (2) eighteenth-century garments recall Barry Lyndon; (3) location’s dimensions, and camera movement revealing location, recall opening shot of Clockwork; (4) daughter (Lolita), and Spanish garments (Carmen is a running theme throughout the book Lolita); (5) “Have you no sense of decency?” is the classic phrase from American McCarthy era (Strangelove); (6) floor rug, its shape and color, recalls monolith; (7) mannequins recall Killer’s Kiss.

 

2b. For human beings, the phenomenon of being alive requires assuming a role (or roles) for a lifetime, and living in the artificial environment of human civilization. Dr. Bill, emblem of logic and reason, believes himself a free-thinking individual. Actually, unwittingly, Dr. Bill is a character inside an artificial construct of which he has no idea. The Inner Room of Rainbow Fashions has the existential, absurdist vibe of Samuel Beckett and Pirandello.

 

2c. Kubrick built a set of Manhattan to—for one reason—demonstrate how what we call “real life” is itself as artificial as any art. EWS demonstrates how logic and reason are oases within a larger dream story.

 

3a. Dr. Bill visiting Sally’s apartment commences an unbroken continuum of fifteen minutes of running time occupied with the theme of death (HIV-positive Domino; Death stalking Dr. Bill; Ex-Beauty Queen fighting for life; Mozart’s Requiem as coffee shop muzak; dead in the morgue). Inside Sally’s we see the prominent rainbow lens flare.

 

3b. This rainbow lens flare is associated with (a.) the dialogue at Ziegler’s and (b.) the thematic presentation of Rainbow Fashions. This lens flare is the culmination of a running theme of the film. This lens flare, in fact, explains a running theme of the film.

 

3c. CONCLUSION: Inside Sally’s apartment, the rainbow lens flare reveals a fundamental thematic concern of EWS: that the “end of the rainbow”—is death.

 

4. QUESTION: In what other film has a lens flare not only been associated with, but REVEALED a thematic meaning?

 

Speculation awaiting confirmation: The thematic lens flare in EWS is the first of its kind in cinema history.


Edited by Jeff Bernstein, 13 May 2018 - 09:22 AM.

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