Wednesday, May 15, 2013

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Moving About, Looking Good: Cinematography, 1973

My marathoning the films of 1973 tells me at least one thing: Cinematography was rarely flashy back then.

Cries and Whispers cinematographer Sven Nykvist

Nowadays, we know what movies are going to get nominated in this category, usually from the color palette or use of shadows...or whether or not it's an FX-driven extravaganza. Yet the nominees here are unique for their inconspicuousness -- only Cries and Whispers and The Exorcist go bold with their choices. The Sting is lovely too look at, The Way We Were is competent, and Jonathan Livingston Seagull acquits itself well with its nature footage, but put them up against the work from Sven Nykvist and Owen Roizman and they seem almost...plain.

Perhaps it comes from a now-ancient interpretation of great cinematography. Often we get caught up in the "pretty picture" aspect of it -- it is painting with light, after all. Yet many forget about the whole "motion" aspect of motion pictures, and while we often look to brilliant execution of mobile shots to praise directors, let us not forget the DP's input. If he is to arrange the lighting just so, then he must also stage out where the camera is, where, and how, so that the damn thing can be lit.

This I think is the great strength of the nominees here. The Way We Were has two fantastic sequences where the camera roves through chaos: in a nightclub in New York, and at Union Station in LA. Jonathan Livingston Seagull relies on aerial photography of actual seagulls, and executes it well. The Exorcist has a number of shots where people run up flights of stairs, the camera finds someone in a crowd, or a bed levitates. The Sting has a great foot-chase sequence.

Overall, it's a pretty solid year for the category. Let's take a look:


Sven Nykvist for Cries and Whispers

Oh, Sven, no one gets a golden chill like you do! His shadows swallow the actors at just the right moments; the rare breaches of sunlight become more eerie because of it. The final outdoor sequence has the beautiful melancholy of a beloved yet distant memory. And how about that warm orange glow when Liv gets her man? Who else but Sven can be simultaneously hot and cold?

Owen Roizman for The Exorcist

That's what I'm talking about! Not just incredible use of lighting for full creep effect, but also effective execution of a mobile camera, to mount the terror. Probably should have gone with the iconic image of Father Merrin arriving, as it's such a frosty, eerie shot, but these two are just as dreadful -- as in literally filling me with dread.

Jack Couffer for Jonathan Livingston Seagull

Some neat-looking aerial and nighttime photography, with definite moments of "now how did they--?" Even on a washed-out VHS transfer, the quality pops.

Robert Surtees for The Sting

That brownish-yellowish tint adds a hint of sepia, which meshes well with the costumes and Scott Joplin ragtime. Shadows are put to effective use, especially in that card game between Paul Newman and Robert Shaw. Part of me wonders what it would look like if it had gone full-sepia, or even black-and-white, but I think what we have is appropriate. Good old-fashioned fun.

Harry Stradling, Jr. for The Way We Were

As you can see, the love scenes are attractive, and it seems like our Golden God Redford is projecting his majesty onto the waiting Barbra. But Stradling also excels in capturing the beautiful chaos of Union Station, the Copacabana (I think), and a university dance. Well-done.


Oscar chose Sven Nykvist's Cries and Whispers work, getting off The Sting's nuts for one category while once more by-passing The Exorcist. It's a tough choice, as both Cries and Exorcist create tension within a home effectively. I'm kind of in love with my choice, though, so. You know. I choose:


Hey, there we go!

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1 comment:

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