Blog Post 6 – Lessons Learnt

Coming into the course, it was clear that the study involved would allow me to think deeper, and in new ways, about the analysis of film. In a reflective fashion, I feel the course has been difficult but has taught me plenty about the fundamental aspects of film, including the roles each key crew member has. Prior to this course I had no idea what a cinematographer does, but I can certainly appreciate their work now…

Given the opportunity to critically examine cinematography concepts in two movies I had never seen before the course, this gave me the opportunity to assess them without prior favouritism or bias. Granted, I’d still personally enjoy them had I seen them before the course, but this helps apply critical thinking without getting too attached to the film.

I’d learnt that there are always new and interesting ways to unpack a film. Discussions in class, while at times an interesting experience, allowed me to see the subtext or other major themes in the film which I did not originally notice. Using theory like this, in combination with a renewal of practice-based and qualitative research (that I had not used since high school) allowed me to understand that everything in a film – shot selection and length, motivated lighting, editing, etc. – is there for a reason and benefits the overall product in some way.

In the process of researching for assessments 1, 2 and 4, the application of information to the essays proved to be rather difficult. Despite the somewhat recent nature of the two films I had selected – Gravity and The Revenant – later finding out that the cinematographer you had picked doesn’t like performing interviews all that much makes the role secondary research so crucial. Using plenty of interviews from others who had worked on the two films allowed for an interesting look at Emmanuel Lubezki and how he weaves his cinematography style into the films. Of course, it was necessary to find references that actually contributed to the project as a whole – on occasion with my speech, I found myself using references that did not provide accurate or effective reasoning towards my chosen topic and I feel that hurt the quality of it somewhat.

Of course, there are times when it was possible that I could go deeper into the film theory on offer to me. The gargantuan amount of articles, interviews and videos on these two films, due to their critical success, meant that I was never lost for content, but if I wanted to explore the ideas further, there was a lack of critical analysis on the subject. This made certain parts of the final assessment, especially locating data on Lubezki as an auteur.

Still, the assessment has taught me to critically assess movies in a deeper fashion when watching them casually, in order to see how different films are held together by their film characteristics, so to speak. Being involved in the course has given me a greater understanding of the major principles of contemporary film-making, and now I can apply these ideas towards movies in the future.

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Blog Post 5: Director and Cinematographer

Considering Emmanuel Lubezki’s work with directors Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity) and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (The Revenant) stems from a mutual friendship and working relationship in their early, this allows him to garner a fair amount of trust from the two.

Of course, in general, Lubezki’s role – the role of the cinematographer in the typical film project – is “to visually represent the director’s vision” and take “careful control over lens selection, lighting, exposure, composition camera movement and image manipulation.” (Holben, 2016) This becomes evident when you witness the choices in cinematography that Lubezki makes in conjunction with his directing counterparts.

Lubezki admitted that for The Revenant, the starting point of the story was more about emotion rather than feel:
“We drove more than 10,000 miles together and then we walked a lot [over the course of] months and all the walks were very important because I was able to understand what was important for each scene. When you are looking for a location for a specific scene you are walking and walking and you find a place and he starts talking about the blocking of the scene and a lot of the times he’s talking about what he doesn’t like.” (O’Falt, 2015)

This indicates that Lubezki plays a significant role in determining the overall look of a shot, and this combined with the cinematography techniques he applies to The Revenant shows he takes on a significant role in affecting mood, emotion and place in a shoot. He admits that the openness of the challenge is what drives him in his role:

“There are no rules or regulations or something from a book, you have to be finding it and trusting your instincts and the instincts of the director, that’s what I like.”  (O’Falt, 2015).

Cinematographer Cybel Martin explained some of these roles and ideas that make an effective cinematographer/director partnership, including visual references (“My director must have a clear idea of how the film should feel and look. It need not be finalized but they should have some tangible means of explaining their vision”) and technical flexibility (“It’s enjoyable when a Director approaches with the project’s desired mood and trusts me to get us there technically.”) (Martin, 2014)

It is essentially an understanding of the roles and responsibilities between both cinematographer and director that helps create some of the sights we see in both Gravity and The Revenant. Lubezki’s friendship with Cuaron and Inarritu helps produce something of a healthy and unique working relationship, but in most cases the director would take account for what happens on screen, while the cinematographer is responsible for that looks.

References:

Holben, J. (2016.) Behind the Lens: Dispatches from the Cinematographic Trenches. Accessed 18th August, 2016. http://www.indiewire.com/2015/12/the-great-collaborator-revenant-cinematographer-emmanuel-lubezki-on-working-with-inarritu-cuaron-and-malick-40996/

Martin, C. (2014.) S&A 2013 Highlights: 5 Things Cinematographers Look For In A Director & Project Before Taking A Job. Accessed 17th August 2016. http://www.indiewire.com/2014/01/sa-2013-highlights-5-things-cinematographers-look-for-in-a-director-project-before-taking-a-job-162734/

O’Falt, C. (2015.) The Great Collaborator: ‘Revenant’ Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki on Working with Iñárritu, Cuarón and Malick. Accessed 18th August 2016. http://www.indiewire.com/2015/12/the-great-collaborator-revenant-cinematographer-emmanuel-lubezki-on-working-with-inarritu-cuaron-and-malick-40996/

 

 

Blog Post 4: Gravity

2013’s Gravity, directed by Alfonso Cuaron, pushed the limits of CGI and forced cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki  to reconsider the way in which he projected his ideas onto the screen, in addition to how mood and emotion was seen in the film. With no obvious way to film on location, given the outer space setting, Lubezki had to resort to filming on set, using a number of long, sweeping shots that mashed together to resemble one continuous shot.

This helped  keep the audience invested in the action, as Lubezki indicates:

When you immerse the audience in those shots, how different emotions come out of that, as opposed to cut, cut, cut. When we are creating very long shots made with different elements, we learned how to stitch them together and how to keep the flow and rhythm.” (Tangcay, 2015).

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Using a wide-angle lense, the opening scene begins with the ship of astronauts Kowalski and Stone (George Clooney and Sandra Bullock, respectively) drifting into view as they begin work on the Hubble Telescope. The sweeping “elastic” shots, as explained by Lubezki, allow for an ease of change between a close-up, long shot and then another close-up, for example. It plays a significant role in the opening scene, as it allows us to see the scale of the operation and the size of space (and thus changing the sense of place in scene), but also get in close enough to see the emotion and reaction from both astronauts.

This style of lengthier cut was reflected throughout the entire film – with only around 200 cuts in previs animation, compared to the 2,000 on average a film would usually have. It provides a significant smoothness to the film in general but also allows the viewer to immerse themselves in the action.

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The use of technology greatly influenced the colour palette on display in Gravity, too – creating a new rig nicknamed the “light box”, this large array of LED panels allowed for accurate reflection of lights in space, to be used on the astronauts’ helmets. This helped bring something of a finishing touch to the project as the pale blue glow of Earth was reflected in their helmets for story reasons.

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The colour palette is combined in this particular shot with the frantic voiceover and the reflection of the planet in Ryan’s helmet, as well as the dark void of space behind her. This combination of colours and motion indicates the severity of the situation and changes the emotion and mood of the scene entirely. The depth of field is affected slightly too, as even though the void of space sees us focus on her already, Stone’s facial expression and especially the spinning reflection warrants singling out. This reflects a change in mood and emotion, as Ryan’s frantic flailing is the only other audio – space’s vacuum means there are little to no sound effects.

References:

Tangcay, R. (2015.) Interview: Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki talks shooting The Revenant and Bear Attacks. Accessed 17th August, 2016. http://www.awardsdaily.com/2015/12/18/interview-cinematographer-emmanuel-lubezki-talks-shooting-the-revenant-and-bear-attacks/

Lang, B. (2013.) How ‘Gravity’ Revolutionised Visual Effects And Blasted Sandra Bullock Into Space. Accessed 17th August 2016. http://www.thewrap.com/how-gravity-revolutionize-visual-effects-and-sent-sandra-bullock-into-space/

Benjamin, B. (2013.) Facing the Void. The American Society of Cinematographers. Accessed 2nd August, 2016. https://www.theasc.com/ac_magazine/November2013/Gravity/page1.php

 

Blog Post 3: The Revenant

In Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu’s The Revenant, a number of cinematographic techniques – some more diverse than others – allow for a creative expression of emotion, mood and place. Through the initiative of cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, particular scenes implemented mise-en-scene and film techniques in order to immerse the viewer in the occasion. Here are just some of the ways mood and tension is explored in the film’s opening scene.

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The film’s opening scene, for example, is an outrageous massacre at a campsite and follows Hugh Glass (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) as he attempts to survive. Much of this scene is shot with a wide lens, but is also considerably longer than most shots in a typical movie. Lubezki admitted on multiple occasions that this is done in order to make the movie “as naturalistic and immersive as possible.” (Baskin, Sanyal. 2016.)

In the opening of this scene, the naked man falls  in the open forest, which provides a contrast to the dense setting of the trees on the left. This helps draw our attention to the drama set to unfold.

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As the scene progresses this contrast continues as Glass’ men continue to be brutally murdered. While the majority of the men on screen stay in the tall, dark cover of the trees, the trapper out in the field is in clear light and therefore susceptible to danger, much like in the earlier picture. It is an interesting duality, given that light is normally associated with safety.

The use of natural lighting throughout the film, something that Lubezki also incorporated to enhance the visceral and immersive nature of the project, plays into these scenes. The soft lighting of the sunset creates an inviting glow, which adds to the surprise of the ambush itself and heightens tension as a result.

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As the long shot of the scene continues and we focus again on Glass, it is interesting to note the shot size and depth of field – DiCaprio is our main focus, but the depth of field is quite large, meaning that we are still able to take notice of the vast landscape around us. With the focus of our attention also off-center, as well as the use of long, sweeping shots of the forest, we are able to pay more attention to the war taking place in the background and therefore the sense of space is thrown into perspective.

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While much of the scene is shot to appear as one continuous scene, the use of what appears to be a camera rig, as well as clever editing, allows for smoother pans, but also maintains an unstable movement, making the shot feel tense and heightening the action in frame.

Reference:
Baskin, D. and Sanyal, R. (2016.) Emmanuel Lubezki: ‘Digital gave me something I could never have done on film’. https://www.dpreview.com/interviews/4663212665/interview-with-three-time-oscar-winning-cinematographer-emmanuel-lubezki

DVP210 – Session 3: The Untouchables (1987)

In Brian de Palma’s The Untouchables, the use of cinematographic techniques in particular scenes allows for a more gripping, unique telling of the story and helps to convey tension, mood and emotion.

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The use of space in the now famous Union Station scene helps create a sense of vastness, seclusion and size. To use an establishing extreme wide shot, this makes the main characters appear small, but as the scene continues, this changes…

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After the tracking shot comes in close towards George Stone walking down the stairs, it tilts up towards Elliott Ness, but in a low-angle shot. This gives off a sense of height and power, but also indicates that Ness has a good vantage point to see out above the large scale of the station. This shot continues for a short while, but is mixed in with a different style shot: a POV shot.

The use of point-of-view (POV) shots for this scene give the viewer a better sense of scale and allows us to get a better understanding of the situation that Ness faces.

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From shots of the station entrance and the clock, to the vast empty station hall, it gives the scene a sense of seclusion, but also increases the tension as Ness and Stone expect their enemies to arrive at any given moment. These constant, sharp cuts of shots, which last no longer than around 10 seconds, heighten the drama.

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This particular shot, however, of the lady attempting to carry luggage and her baby down the steps is a unique example of space. As it appears most of the passengers entering the station are walking on the other side of the railing, away from the lady, it gives off a stark contrast, making the lady seem small or helpless as the commuters walk down the other side of the stairs hurriedly.

As Ness offers to help bring the pram up the stairs, the amount of POV shots increase, along with the sudden sharp movements and cuts, which again ramp up the tension as Ness begins to believe he’ll be attacked. This sudden change in shot selection gives the viewer a look at how the mood drastically changes from suspense to fear as Ness brings the pram up the stairs.

The usage of dutch tilts, slow motion and low angle shots during the ensuing shootout helps to create tension. In addition, much of the colour scheme – plenty of dark whites and greys from the columns, hard lighting with strong shadows and plenty of darker coloured costume choices – gives off a very bleak, moody and somewhat dangerous feel to the mise-en-scene.

DVP210 – Session 2: Drive (2011)

From effective use of lighting and camera work, to costume and set design, every shot in Winding Refn’s Drive had purpose and meaning in telling the story of the Driver.

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The opening scene of the movie is a great example of how Refn combined these techniques to effectively create mood and emotion. From the slow tilt, showing the map of the downtown LA area, we reach the softly lit figure of the Driver staring out the window. The lighting, while somewhat isolated and dark, is also motivated; it creates the soft reflection of the Driver on the glass and therefore a sense of mystery.

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Another scene of merit is when the Driver spends the afternoon with Irene. The use of lighting – in particular the warm, soft afternoon light – creates a very inviting and gentle mood, one which helps reinforce Driver’s desire for Irene and in a way, his ideal scenario: to be with her. These are just some of the techniques that Refn uses in Drive; from mystery and tension to contentment and desire, the use of effective lighting, amongst other things, helps the mise-en-scene flourish and in conjunction with cinematographic techniques, helps express certain emotions or changing scenarios in the film.

Learning about the craft of cinematography, it was important to recognise the amount of different ways a film can effectively create emotion for the viewer. The art of cinematography – to “express the shifting moods in the story…(or to) express a more personal set of concerns” (Keating, pg.1) – is very much of an expressive nature. This link between cinematography and mise-en-scene helps reinforce particular story-driven elements

For example, much of the film’s mise-en-scene looks to reinforce the skills of the Driver. This can be done through his long, awkward pauses when engaging in social situations, and attention to detail when planning a getaway. This can also be seen through the use of costuming: in the case of the Driver, it is his white jacket and brown driving gloves. This link, however, is magnified by the use of certain camera techniques to enhance the character.

For example, this effective use of camera placement and angles contributes to the connection between characters. When Driver meets Standard for the first time, for example, Standard is seen at a high angle, used to convey his sense of weakness and helplessness. When Driver meets eventual antagonist Bernie in the workshop, Driver is seen from a low angle, making him seem larger and more of an authoritative figure towards Bernie. Making these “photographic decisions” (Gibbs, pg. 1) in both cinematography and mise-en-scene helps portray the characters in different ways and while sometimes unbeknownst to the viewer, it helps push deeper meanings and reinforce story-driven elements in the film.

 

References:

Gibbs, J. (2002). Mise-en-scene: Film style and interpretation. New York: Columbia University Press.

Keating, P. (2014). Cinematography. Rutgers University Press.