The art of cinematography is often overlooked by the casual viewer and critic who concentrate their attention on the director as the Svengali figure. We all know Alfred Hitchcock, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola but few can name the cinematographers who helped give their films their visual style and individual flair.
The latest book in the Film Craft series by Focal Press gives cinematographers their rightful place in film history. Authors Mike Goodridge and Tim Grierson detail the careers of twenty-one outstanding cinematographers from around the world. Lavishly illustrated with full color photographs throughout its 192 large format pages, the book includes personal interviews conducted by the authors.
The book concentrates on cinematographers still active in the film industry but includes “Legacy” portraits of important cinematographers who have passed away. These feature Jack Cardiff and Freddie Young from the UK, James Wong Howe from China/USA and Sven Nykvist from Sweden.
Matthew Libatique is a new generation cinematographer who was nominated for an Oscar for his work on Black Swan (2010) starring Natalie Portman. He has worked with Jon Favreau on both Iron Man movies and Cowboys & Aliens (2011). The book details Libatique’s working process which includes an initial deconstruction of the script of each film into color coded scenes. He also discusses the role of the cinematographer. “In terms of an actor’s performance, I don’t think we’re essential like the director is… We’re called cameramen, but the instrument is a shared tool that we use in service of the script and the characters.”
Caleb Deschanel has worked with Francis Ford Coppola and is a five-time Oscar nominee who describes his work as ‘a visual symphony.” Ed Lachman’s work ranges from Taxi Driver (1976) to Erin Brokovich (2000). He describes his craft as a “projection of the emotions.” Vittorio Stararo shares Lachman’s emphasis on emotions. “My idea was to make the relationship between life and light; different emotions compared to different colors.” His Oscar winning work on Apocalypse Now (1979), Reds (1981) and The Last Emperor (1985) clearly reflects his philosophy.
Cinematography explores these personal philosophies and detailed working methods of acclaimed “cameramen” in a manner that that not only informs the reader but enlightens them. The relatively new technology of 3-D is also discussed by cinematographers embracing new ways of working in a medium that offers so much scope for creativity. Mike Goodridge (editor of Screen International) and film and music critic Tim Grierson have produced an excellent book that I highly recommend to anyone interested in the art of filmmaking. Published by Focal Press. With thanks to Becky Sahm at Big Picture Media.
Review copyright Paul Green 2012. All rights reserved.