Magazine article American Cinematographer

Cinematographer as Storyteller

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Cinematographer as Storyteller

Article excerpt

In theory, true cinema is a primarily visual experience. Many popular films of today, however, seem to use images to merely augment plot structure and storyline, rather than to make powerful thematic statements of their own. The inarticulate nature of images perhaps gives them a less broad appeal, yet therein lies their potential to have strong thematic and emotional impact. Emotion is also of an inarticulate nature. These films may be beautifully, even stunningly photographed, but still unable to exploit the visual possibilities of cinema. The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Sven Nykvist, ASC, director of photography) is a welcome exception to this trend.

Dialogue is not unimportant in this film, but it is a partner, rather than a dictator, to the screen image. There are many long stretches with little or no dialogue that are directly and inextricably tied to character and story development. Here the cinematographer's role goes beyond mere moodsetter and towards storyteller. These stretches are not the tired musical montage sequence in which a series of shots conveniently and shallowly shows a budding romance. The Prague street riot scenes and intercut shots of Tereza and her camera are a revelation for the audience. They give us an effective sense of her growing identity and a better understanding of an aspect of her personality than reams of dialogue could evoke. The audience is not spoon fed this understanding, and as a result, some may find her subsequent defection from Tomas incongruous. …

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