Okay, so…the technical side of filmmaking went over my head for quite some time. In many ways, it still does. However, I think that may be one of the reasons why I find it so captivating as a medium. In short, the fact that technology and coding can be skillfully manipulated to create a movie is something that’s perpetually magical to me.
One well-known technical aspect is cinematography- how a movie is shot. This is a crucial part of the piece’s creative development, as good cinematographers can use their camera artistry to secure a certain aesthetic for the movie, or perhaps elicit a particular feeling from viewers.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of my favorite Hollywood camerawork…and I’ll share why I find it so effective. (Note: Because I can’t readily embed videos here, we’ll have to settle for GIFs!)
1951: An American in Paris (Alfred Gilks and John Alton) The Gershwin brothers’ musical masterpiece is the standard by which all musical films are judged. From its dynamically-shot street scenes to that glorious 17-minute fantasy ballet, this movie’s cinematography oozes artistry. No matter how many years have gone by, it is still so easy to get enveloped in its dreamlike bubble of a time long gone.
1993: The Piano (Stuart Dryburgh) Bloody hell…if you’d told me that I may someday have an urge to “jump the bones” of Harvey Keitel, I’d have said you were bonkers! But damn, does the camerawork in this love story make him look good! Aside from that, every angle in the movie is finely crafted and feels deliberate, like you’re watching events unfold in real-time. For me, that’s a hallmark of any great period piece.
1998: The Big Lebowski (Roger Deakins) This cult “modern noir” flick from the Coen Brothers is an acquired taste for sure. But I can promise you, man- part of the reason you’ll find that taste is due to the movie’s slick yet dizzying camera antics. You get first-person views from the inside of a bowling ball (seriously) as well as a nice closeup shot of John Turturro’s tongue. Yes…it’s beautiful.
2001: Amelie (Bruno Delbonnel) This colorful romance- which, if a person says they’ve only seen one French film, it’s probably this one- has been called a “true cinematic movie.” That could sound redundant, but what it means is that the film employs every camera trick at its disposal. Thankfully, this was done to incredible results. Viewers are in for a pleasure cruise through Montmartre as well as a firsthand look at its heroine’s psyche.
2003: Kill Bill Vol. 1 (Robert Richardson) The saga of assassin Beatrix “the Bride” Kiddo is a rollercoaster ride from start to finish, and the camerawork won’t let you forget it. The cinematography of both “volumes” in the Bride’s story is remarkable because it presents a tonal shift; we go from hyperactive-samurai-mania in the first to subtle introspection in the second. One thing is certain: the rapidly-changing angles and clever use of perspective enable the camera to almost act as another narrator.
2015: Carol (Edward Lachman) Considering that photography is a major plot point in this movie, it would have been colossally embarrassing if the cinematography were not pitch-perfect. Fortunately, this wasn’t the case, and we got an exquisite-looking period piece with some real pathos. Dramatic closeups of Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara- among other things- highlight the expressiveness of both actors and pull us right into their worlds.
For you, what films got the best cinematographic treatment? Share in the comments!