Magazine article American Cinematographer

President's Desk

Magazine article American Cinematographer

President's Desk

Article excerpt

Dripping With Light!

I feel compelled to write about the current fashion in cinematography, what we might refer to as "extreme realism." Extreme - and controversial - it certainly is. Where some cinematographers have left their impressions with closely controlled lighting and precise balancing, others have made their signature with unorthodox lighting and framing approaches, relying heavily on available light and spontaneous, handheld camera movement. But how do you know when something is genuine as opposed to a trick or a fad?

There is historical precedent. For instance, the New Wave cameramen broke with a tradition of formalism and encouraged a fluid reality defined by inspiring camera movement and unpretentious lighting. But in today's world, digital capture has provided us with the ability to register available-light situations that can be absolutely riveting - or plainly boring and uninteresting.

I recently ran into Andrzej Bartkowiak, ASC, and when I spoke to him about the naturalism he has so eloquently executed during his career - specifically in Prince of the City - he smiled and commented that he used a lot of light. I was aware of rumors that he preferred to light with the "stray light" of carbon arcs and that his hard-gel budgets could demand many thousands of dollars - but, in the end, who cares? He created a most wonderful and unique realism in Sidney Lumet's signature dramas.

Then there is the late Harris Savides, ASC, who infused American Gangster's naturalism with poetry; Roger Deakins, ASC, BSC, whose images of undeniable reality for Prisoners are hauntingly unforgettable; and, most recently, Greig Fraser, ASC, ACS, whose visual language in Lion is so eloquently explored and emotionally strong that it made me cry.

What sometimes makes me cry for altogether different reasons is the "DSLR fad" that assumes you can follow the style of the cinematographers mentioned above by simply setting the chip to 3,200 ASA and dialing the iris like a wheel of fortune.

Searching for some common factor that separates the exceptional from the mundane regardless of style, I turned to art, and juxtaposed in my imagination the works of Rembrandt and Jackson Pollock.

Rembrandt can be seen as the extreme of realistic perfection. …

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