Magazine article American Cinematographer

President's Desk

Magazine article American Cinematographer

President's Desk

Article excerpt

There comes a moment in Woody Allen's Crimes and Misdemeanors (photographed by Sven Nykvist, ASC) in which his character, Cliff Stern, is visiting his parents at their apartment in Brooklyn. Finding himself in something of an existential crisis, Cliff plaintively pesters his off-camera father with complaints about life in general, and concludes with a simple but eternally perplexing question: "Why were there Nazis?" The elder Stern's reply from the next room always strikes me as hilarious. "I don't know how this can opener works, and he wants to know why there were Nazis? " This is not just funny; it's clever. Besides the obvious intent, Allen is making a point that's worth a closer look.

Any sentient being will identify with his feeling that we're living in a world turned upside down. Despite all our amazing advancements in such areas as medicine and technology, it seems humanity is never able to get ahead of itself in terms of how we deal with one another, whether it be on our own streets, in our cities or across national borders. True and lasting peace is a tenuous concept, and though we'd like to believe our elected officials are doing their best on our behalf, we know that's rarely the case. I'm not defending them, but how can they? In order to function in their arena, morality must be malleable and its application tailored to the situation they're facing. Does virtuous behavior always draw its meaning from the same source, or does it merely reflect what someone says it does in order to suit the desire of a specific moment? The willingness of an individual to make this distinction can be vetted for any number of meanings, yet in every case it marks the dividing line between good and bad character.

Loyalty, Progress, Artistry. You'll notice which word the ASC's founders chose as the lead in their motto when they formed the organization in 1919. Though I suppose it carried significant weight to the people of that time, the choice seems quaint in our postmodern world - and that's unfortunate. When you consider that cinematographers generally do not collaborate with one another, you realize there are no accepted rules or codes governing our behavior. …

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