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Entries in Cinematography (146)

Monday
May202013

Early Bird Oscar Predix Nearly Finished !

Working as fast as I can through the first wave of Oscar charts. I realize 'fast as I can' this year is snail-paced but you have to agree that this year has been a slow-starter anyway. Not that things haven't started now. Cannes is in full swing and in addition to the awards speculation for the Palme D'Or, Cannes prompts film sales, too, and thus distributor shuffling. Stephen Frears Philomena (currently in post) was picked up by the Weinstein Company and given that they had a full slate already -- especially for Best Actress since they're also representing Streep & Kidman in August and Grace -- it must have been more than Judi Dench that prompted the high priced sale. I've added it to the previously completed charts because it's just one of those projects that felt right to me when I first heard about it. Isn't it about time for Stephen Frears to get his mojo back? I've added that new contender to the prediction charts.

But for now, let's talk about the visual and aural categories. What follows is not my predictions but just a few thoughts to kick off a conversation. You can see predictions on the charts here (for visuals) and here (for sound) 

 

Cinematography
It may finally be Emmanuel Lubezki's year. The truly great cinematographer has always been overshadowed by non-discriminatory love for competing films in his nominated years -- in fact he's one of the very rare frequent below the title nominees that does not require any degree of Best Picture heat to be in the conversation. In fact only 20% of his nominations come from Best Picture nominated films. So you know they really love his work and it's not just coattails from the movies. This year he has the now-important advantage (sigh) of working with a ton of visual effects with his frequent collaborator Alfonso Cuarón's Gravity. For reasons that are still unclear to me Oscar voters now view Cinematography as an extension of the Visual Effects category; in the last four years the winners of both categories have been the exact same film. This is a terrible trend since cinematography is an art that's been producing myriad breathtaking works long before anybody had ever heard of CGI. Still... if this is what it takes to finally get Lubezki the Oscar... [more]

Click to read more ...

Thursday
May162013

The Mysterious Yearning Secretive Sad Lonely Troubled Confused Loving Musical Gifted Intelligent Beautiful Tender Sensitive Haunted Passionate Talented Mr. Ripley.

Last night I posted the Best Shot group roundup of The Talented Mr Ripley, but not my own choice. Why? Well every time I began I wanted to start over. If this blogpost were a passport I would have been defacing my own photo. I chose eight shots - at least -- but each one seemed to beg for a wholly different article to accompany it. Which is not to say that the film is any more gorgeously shot than others we've covered in this series (though John Seale easily deserved the best Cinematography nomination he was denied) but that it is several films at once. Which is why I've titled this post with its less condensed but truer title. Those sixteen extra shuffling adjectives in the brilliant title design say it all. 

Light bulb! 

Not actual light bulbs but figurative ones (we'll get to the actual ones in a minute) though actual lights figure into this perfect shot of Marge, backing through a hallway in what would handily be my choice if I thought of this film as only a thriller. This moment is just terrifying, aided immeasurably by a virtuousic turn by Gwyneth Paltrow. [more...]

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
May152013

Visual Index ~ The Talented Mr Ripley's Best Shot(s)

For this week's edition of Hit Me With Your Best Shot, we stayed another summer in Italy. We didn't follow an American spinster this time but a young shapeshifter known as The Talented Mr Ripley. He was sent to Italy to fetch trustfund baby Dickie Greenleaf but he likes Dickie's life so much he fetches it for himself instead. 

Outside the film's actual narrative, based on the famous novel by Patricia Highsmith (whose work is oft-adapted - The Two Faces of January is next) things were just as dramatic. The movie was a Prestige Event since it was Anthony Minghella's (RIP) follow-up to his Best Picture winner The English Patient (1996). It wasn't quite a slam dunk with Oscar, despite the pedigree and the quality (I prefer it to Patient, myself), though it sure was a thing of beauty. The Talented Mr Ripley featured one of the most impressive collections of young stars at seemingly simultaneous points in their careers ever assembled; the world had just fallen for Gwyneth Paltrow (hot off Shakespeare), Jude Law (hot off stealing Gattaca), Matt Damon (still glowing from Good Will Hunting), and Cate Blanchett (hot off Elizabeth) and writer/director Anthony Minghella (RIP) managed to corral them all for the same movie.

Here are the 15 images that the 17 wide Best Shot club went a little mad for. Click on the link for the corresponding article and refresh your screens since more articles are bound to come in (including my own). Next week's film is Disney's grand 40s experiment Fantasia (special instructions here) and you should join us.

BEST SHOT(S)

Click to read more ...

Saturday
May112013

Visual Index ~ Summertime (1955)

When I scheduled Summertime for the "Hit Me..." series I admit I expect a huge drop off in participation due to its lack of any significant or least still-discussed reputation in the careers of David Lean and Katharine Hepburn. So I was pleasantly surprised to see such a crowd hopping on the water buses in Venice with Kate as Jane Hudson (hee. no, not that Jane Hudson).

What a difference a year has made in this series. Last year, I couldn't get a crowd for Bonnie & F'in Clyde. I almost retired the series. So thank you to the many new participants and the very reliably regulars who have stuck with this series through its popular and fallow episodes. There are only three episodes left before a June hiatus and I hope you'll stick around and get reenergize from a month of No Viewing Assignments. I am a taskmaster I know... but a benevolent one! I bring you good movies.

5/15 The Talented Mr Ripley (1999) 
5/22 Fantasia (1941... special instructions)
5/29 Hud (1963) 50th Anniversary!

But for now, let's look at the selected Best Shots from Summertime in narrative order (though I fear my order is off here since the film isn't very plotty). It's like watching a slide show of your neighborhood spinster's summer vacation!

Y'all packed? Let's go...

Click to read more ...

Thursday
May022013

Double Indemnity (Pre 'Body Heat' Post Coital) 

Hit Me With Your Best Shot Episode 4.8

Double bourbon is fine, Walter."

As a baby cinephile in the 1980s I grew up with Body Heat (1981) as my noir of choice. Before I had any biblical knowledge of my own, I was utterly enthralled by Kathleen Turner's come-hither challenge and roaming hands, William Hurt's 'not-too-smart' insatiable lust and that broken window in a sticky Florida summer. For reasons that seem immature/absurd now, I avoided Double Indemnity for many years afterwards feeling 'I'd already seen it'. Never mind that Body Heat was less a remake than an "inspired by" or that Body Heat's reign as the Best of the Neo Noirs does nothing to diminish the bewitching "rotten to the core" vortex of Double Indemnity's scheming plot and sexual shenanigans.

Different noirs for different eras. But the long shadow that Body Heat cast on my early views of this entire genre is probably why my choice for this week's "Best Shot" is this seemingly minor one from Billy Wilder's 1944 classic. 

Seemingly.

This shot occurs at the end of a long "love scene" early in the picture between Phyllis (Barbara Stanwyck --  the collected Best Shot articles have many insightful comments about this unimproveable star turn) and Walter (Fred MacMurray) as they dance around their sexual and murderous desires. The scene is filled with talking in the shadows -- I could watch Stanwyck plot silently and minimistically for another two hours on loop --  and three bits of physical intimacy, an arm grab, a kiss and a 'comforting' embrace. The scene is then interrupted by a narrative flashforward. When we return to the scheming duo, they're presented to us like so. Phyllis side-eyes her willing rube, gazes at her hands (a repetitive gesture... just how much blood is on them?) and stands up to leave with this bit of disingenuously banal needinees...

will you phone me?

Double Indemnity has many gorgeous shot compositions involving diagonal shadows and I love all of them. But its visual prowess and ideas extends beyond venetian blinds. This is an atypical shot in the film's visual composition because, despite the square frame, it's very horizontal... as befits a post-coital tableau.

Yes, they've 100% just had sex even if they're still in the same clothes as before the flash-forward. We've never seen Walter with his guard this down though Phyllis, inscrutable Phyllis is still the exact same woman. Sealing the deal of this scene's brilliance for me is the costuming and cinematography: Phyllis has never before been clothed in such a tactile way (fuzzy sweaters must have equalled instant boners back in the 40s and 50s); and the lighting choice is provocatively counterintuitive since it's Phyllis, the not so innocent and virginal, who is bathed in soft light while Walter in shadow.

P.S. A runner up...

This shot, from the final confrontation between Phyllis and her conquest, could inspire novels out of context it's such rich and decadent. In context, which is what we should be talking about, it's a triump of both Art Direction and Cinematography; that same living room, which we've returned to multiple times, never feels as sinister in any other shot. The composition also allows Walter's shadow to enter the frame before him, which is telling, and then has both the regretful man and his dark shadow in frame, both separated. It's also my favorite example of Double Indemnity's great use of venetian blind shadows -- usually involving Walter -- and the diagonal tension they bring to each of his scenes withough the film having to resort to anything as crude as canted camera angles.

Straight Down The Link...
Aliston Tooey on Phyllis' spidery web
Amiresque "drive thru beer!"
Antagony & Ecstasy on Stanwyck's unparalleled femme fatale triumph
Cinesnatch this week's film coincides with some Best Picture Oscar revisionism here
Entertainment Junkie loves Stanwyck's satisfaction
Film Actually 'the stillness speaks volumes'
The Film's The Thing 'a messy bit of business in Aisle 3"
I Am Derreck on Walter's double secret life
Pussy Goes Grrr the scorpion and the frog
Victim of the Time considers the 'ugliness' of Double Indemnity
We Recycle Movies talks LA Architecture and venetian blinds

.... or see all the stills in chronological order

Next Week, Wednesday May 8th:
David Lean's Summertime (1955) with Katharine Hepburn in Venice. Join us by selecting your own choice for "best shot"

 

Wednesday
May012013

Visual Index ~ Double Indemnity's Best Shot(s)

 

From the moment they met it was murder."

The fact that Barbara Stanwyck never won a competitive Oscar could drive anyone to the deadly deed!

For this week's edition of Hit Me With Your Best Shot we asked fellow denizens of the web to look at Double Indemnity with us. If you click on any of the still's selected as "Best Shot" after the jump it'll take you to the corresponding article, eleven of them in total.  This movie is a stone cold fox. 

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Apr242013

Best Shot: "A Star is Born"

I have a confession to make. I only selected A Star is Born (1954) for this week's edition of 'Best Shot' as an excuse to talk about one of the all-time greatest movie scenes. I'm talking All Time All Time. The scene is the shot and the shot is the scene and the scene justifies the whole movie's title... although it might be more accurately titled A Star is Reborn. I can't let it stop me that several people have already chosen it as their Preferred Shot though this will have the unfortunate effect of making a quite extraordinary whole movie look a little front-heavy since The Scene comes very early in the film.

Take it honey. Take it from the top...

And so she does, glancing over sheet music, humming the melodic line, and easing herself into her spotlight as the mood sweeps over her. She then unleashes one of the great Garland performances, which keeps shifting incandescendantly between three separate modes: tossed off AM rehearsal goof with the boys, fully detailed showmanship of a PERFORMANCE to come, and internal musical reverie. Judy Garland is giving three spectacular performances at once all of them bleeding into each other organically in this one continuous shot. It wouldn't be half as moving or incredible if George Cukor had broken it up into little bits.

But who needs to jazz up a scene with different camera angles when "The World's Greatest Entertainer" is giving you so many character angles already?

The night is bitter. The stars have lost their glitter.
The winds grow colder. Suddenly you're older.
And all because of the man that got away.

No more his eager call, the writing's on the wall.
The dreams you dreamed have all gone astray.
The man that won you, has run off and undone you.
That great beginning has seen a final inning.
Don't know what happened. It's all a crazy game! 

Coupled with the very smart screenplay, which aptly describes this very performance immediately afterwards as filled with "little jabs of pleasure" and George Cukor's astute understanding of what to do with Cinemascope (the mise-en-scène throughout the movie is A+), it's a performance for the ages. Garland's emotionally intricate performance (her best ever as she's just as good in the "book" scenes) is, if you stop to really consider what's happening in the frame, explicitly choreographed in every way possible to provide this bracing cocktail of performance, rehearsal, improv, and narrative while also hitting so many marks which work with very smart choices in Art Direction and Cinematography. Consider, for instance, that the dominant color in this scene is red which was also used to character Norman Maine's drunken madness in the film's opening scene but here the red is suddenly warm and cozy rather than garish and unnerving.

That this shot/scene feels so genuine, spontaneous, and possible rather than like a set piece engineered to mechanical perfection is one of the great miracles of Hollywood Showmanship. The crazy part is this: the movie's just begun! Big glitzy awesome musical numbers for Garland are still ahead of us and Vicki Lester hasn't even been "Born" yet but no matter; Judy Garland came roaring back to life right here.

Quite unfortunately just as this killer scene hooks you into the film for the long haul -- and it is a long haul as running times go though the movie is gripping -- it stops looking like a movie and starts looking suspiciously like film stills. I didn't even know it was National Preservation Week when I selected this film for this date in the series. Let's call it a happy accident and thank film preservations everywhere for their efforts. A Star is Born was notoriously butchered during release when the studio suddenly decided they wanted a tighter running time and started chopping scenes. So the movie that Oscar voters screened and voted for (six noiminations but absurdly shut out of Picture & Director) was not the version that many Americans saw in late 1954 and early 1955 as it made its way around the country. The version that's most readily available now is this Frankenstein version which tries to stitch in the missing scenes where they would have appeared in the film.

Esther Blodgett becomes Vicki Lester, contract player. They don't want to see her face!

On one level it's thrilling that these shards of old scenes are there since the movie itself is so wise and "deliciously sarcastic" (thanks, Vince) about The Hollywood Machine in all of its devouring glory. But I think the reason that A Star is Born is so enduring -- and I swear it improves on each viewing it's so sophisticated -- is that it combines this biting wit with genuine empathy for the Willing Human Casualties of that machine.

On the other level, these half-scenes distract me from the pleasure of the picture and I'd almost rather watch the compromised version that survived. A Star is Born tries to make peace with its own compromises in the Maine marriage, very movingly. On this particular viewing I was quite struck by two bookend shots from Esther's Vicki makeover. 

If I can't have the whole "Man That Got Away" shot, I'll take this second one as my best shot

In this first shot, Norman is forcing Esther to wash off the horrible studio mandated makeup but she objects already convinced that she has an "awful face" and "no chin". Norman only objects to the first comment and Esther finally laughs aloud at his aggressive but supportive commands. In the second shot, Norman is still controlling her but he's unearthed her natural beauty and "extra something" that stars have and has forced her to see her it. Maine's occassionally violent always controlling Svengali instincts are maddening but the complexity and tragedy of the marital drama in A Star is Born is that "Esther Blodgett" has always needed his heavy hand to finally realize her inner "Vicki Lester" and she may be truly lost without him. By the movie's end she's abandoned both women in favor of "Mrs. Norman Maine."

NEXT: DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944) on May 1st

Nine Stars Waiting For Their Big Break...
She Blogged By Night on Norman Maine... "like a child with a blow torch"
We Recycle Movies "How A Star is Born Changed My Life" 
Film Actually gets uncomfortably privy to Norman Maine's headspace
Cinesnatch Vicki Lester Steals a Moment
Antagony & Ecstacy on the Judy Garland Meta Narrative (and more)
Amiresque shares four vivid memories of this picture
Dancin' Dan a master class in how to shoot a musical sequence 
Alison Tooey sees a good sense of distance between the characters
The Film's The Thing looks at ALL THREE film versions. Overachiever!
...or see all the choices Sequentially