The First Cinematographer I Studied – Thierry Arbogast part 1 – Leon: The Professional

I’ve been looking back at the first Cinematographer that I studied—Frenchman Thierry Arbogast. Stateside he is best known for his work with Luc Besson—earning a Cesar for Best Cinematography on The Fifth Element and Cesar nominations for La Femme NikitaLeon: The Professionaland The Messenger. In France he is also known for his work with Jean-Paul Rappeneau, earning two Cesars for Best Cinematography on Bon Voyage and Horseman on the roofAdditionally, he holds Cesar nominations for his work on The Crimson Rivers directed by Mathieu Kassovitz, and Ridicule directed by Patrice Leconte.

My initial intention was to write a single comprehensive article about Arbogast and his work, but after a month of revisiting his films, I realized it would be more approachable as a series. And to start things off we are going to look at The Professional.

Before setting foot on my path toward a career as a Cinematographer, I was a fan of Luc Besson and it was Leon: The Professional in 1994 that got my attention. By the time I started film school, Besson had made The Fifth Element, and was writing and producing action films like Kiss of the Dragon, and The Transporter. When I started to express my interest in Cinematography, my directing professor Dan McKinny told me to start thinking about where the light came from and why. He also told me to pick a Cinematographer I liked and do some research. I remembered how the opening restaurant scene in The Professional made me feel. There was something about the scene that completely drew me in—commanding my full attention, respect, and admiration. So, this was the film I chose to “start thinking about” and Arbogast was the DP I began to “research.” 

It’s important to note that Besson operates his own camera—creating an unconventional relationship between Director and Cinematographer. So, It’s hard to say who makes the decisions when choosing the lens, placing the camera, composing the shot, et al. So, in a way this is more a study about collaboration than it is about a solo Cinematographer. However, it is my understanding that Arbogast makes the lighting decisions. 

When studying the scene, I first observed that there were a lot of nuances coming together really well. So well, that the culminating effects resulted in a heightened state of verisimilitude—the appearance of being true or real.

Verisimilitude is achieved through the collaboration of an entire film crew. Primary roles include Producing, Screenwriting, Cinematography, Production Design, Editing, Sound, and Music—all serving the director’s vision. Most of the work happens in pre-production but once on set, the Cinematographer is generally the one who has the broadest perspective on how it’s all coming together. Especially in the film days when he was the only one who understood what the image would look like when it came back from the lab. Now we have huge monitors onset that can display a near-final image for all the crew to see. The challenge is to collaborate on such a level, that when all these elements come together in front of the camera—it appears perfectly natural, effortless, and authentic to the subject matter—this is verisimilitude—there are no distractions and nothing calling attention to itself except for the drama that is unfolding. In effect the audience is completely transported into the universe of the film—entering a trance-like state, completely absorbed and invested in the drama.  All while a character’s tie in the wrong color or edit in the wrong place can through everything off.

An unbreakable verisimilitude maintains trance and facilitates tone—triggering a viewer’s emotional response. If verisimilitude were a construct, the tone is a primary result of that construct. 

In The Professional—we can see how this all works. The film starts in the middle of the day with a sequence of ariels starting over Central Park in New York, landing in Little Italy, and moving into an Italian restaurant that is completely blacked out inside.

Leon The Professional Frame Grab

Leon The Professional Frame Grab

Very quickly, using only visuals, we know we are in the Little Italy neighborhood of New York City, and that this is going to be an Italian story. This brings to the surface of our brain all the Italian mafia stories and themes we’ve ever been exposed to. Then, the darkness of the restaurant, and how nobody is walking in or out—evokes a sense of fear, trepidation, and secrecy. If we walked in, we might witness something that could get us killed. But the director invites us in anyway—into complete darkness until an image fades up on someones hands and a glass of milk. 

Leon The Professional Frame Grab

As the table cloth bridges the Italian theme, the milk—a child’s beverage—signals a soft naive side to this mysterious character. The size of the glass—an everyday wine glass, commonplace for Italians—subtly emphasizes how unusual the milk is. The contrast between the size of his hands and the size of the glass invokes a sense of delicacy and the placement of his hands—a sense of precision.

Leon The Professional Frame Grab

The lens choice boxes us in creating tension—augmenting the serious tone of the performances. The low light level in the middle of the day continues to narrow our vision, evoking that sense of secrecy. The warmth of the primary light source—indicative of a light bulb or candle—evokes intimacy and familiarity. On the mysterious character (Jean Reno) the warmth and wrap of the light shield us from the prying eyes of cooler daylight. But on the gentleman sitting opposite (Danny Aiello) there is a hint of daylight painting the side of his cheek—aesthetically motivated by the glass door and windows—while backlighting the smoke. Also, it is thematically motivated by Aiello’s character—foreshadowing his role as Reno’s handler, showing face to his clients (the outside daytime world)—protecting Reno’s anonymity.

Leon The Professional Frame Grab

Leon The Professional Frame Grab

The cigarette signals that hard-boiled tough guy—I don’t care if it kills me—factor. Its smoke gives us a classic Hollywood atmosphere and the crackling of burning tobacco creates an ominous sound in cadence with the dialog and pacing of the scene.

The camera wanders around on Aiello’s face, making a landscape out of it.  And when it cuts to Reno, it embraces the foreground obfuscations, giving us continuity with Aiello’s cigarette smoking, and underlining the theme of Reno’s anonymity.

Leon The Professional Frame Grab

Leon The Professional Frame Grab

The sunglasses add another layer of anonymity, guiding our eye to look through him at the reflection of the table setting and Aiello. But curiously the daylight on Aiello is not there—maybe they tried it but decided it was the wrong tone which could break the verisimilitude, thematically compromising the anonymity, mystery and intrigue.

The edit precisely drives the scenes story arc. It takes us from a very brief exchange of pleasantries, to talking business, to a call to action—all in one minute and two seconds. There is a visual beat to accompany each shift in the conversation designed to set the movies pace and tone. Lighting the cigarette starts the pleasentries, putting out the cigarette signals that its time to start business, and drinking the milk accepts the call to action. It all feels perfectly natural—that’s the art of it—but it was planned and choreographed very carefully. The mannerisms also keep the scene moving with almost constant movement—keeping the scene fresh and alive, ready to move on to the next which helps to keep the audience engaged, wanting to see more.

Leon The Professional Frame Grab Leon The Professional Frame GrabLeon The Professional Frame Grab

Right now, Leon: The Professional is available to watch on Netflix or rent from platforms such as Amazon Prime and Apple TV.

Credits and Specs

Directed by Luc Besson
Produced by Claude Besson
Written by Luc Besson
Starring Jean RenoGary OldmanNatalie PortmanDanny Aiello
Music By Éric Serra
Cinematography by Thierry Arbogast
Production Design Dan Weil
Edited by Sylvie Landra
Production Company: Gaumont (presents), Les Films du DauphinColumbia Pictures
Release Date: November 18, 1994
Running Time: 1hr 50min, 2hr 16m (uncut) (france), 2h 13min (International)
Aspect Ratio: 2:35:1
Camera and Lenses: Arriflex 35 BL4, Arriflex 35-III, Technovision/Zeiss Super Speed, and Angenieux HR Lenses
Negative Format: 35 mm (Eastman EXR 200T 5293, EXR 500T 5296)
Printed Film Format:16 mm (Eastman EXR 7386), 35 mm (Eastman EXR 5386)
Cinematographic Process: Technovision (anamorphic)
Country: France, United States
Language: English, Italian, French

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Ága, sincere authentic filmmaking on the snow covered fields of Siberia
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Ága, sincere authenticity on the snow covered fields of Siberia

This month, I’m looking at Ága–a film that was on my list for a while—brought to my attention by filmmaker and collaborator Bogdan Darev and Filmabee, a platform he founded in 2019. The platform brings together filmmakers, artists, writers, and educators from diverse cultures. And its mission is to help connect these individuals to niche audiences who are most likely to enjoy their work and provide support. Ága was screening on Filmabee for a limited time and is now available on Apple TV and Vudu. Treat yourself to this worthy addition to the canon of sincere and authentic filmmaking.

The FilmAuthentic filmmaking, Aga Frame Grab

Ága (2018), directed by Milko Lazarov and shot by Kaloyan Bozhilov centers around an Indigenous Yakut couple, Nanook and Sedna, who live in a yurt on the snow-covered fields of Siberia. They live as their ancestors did—as reindeer herders, alone in the wilderness, living off the land. We come upon them in the twilight of their lives as hunting becomes more difficult and animals around them die of strange wounds. But they are no strangers to this challenging life. And even while Sedna endures ongoing pain from an injury to her abdomen, what worries them most is the absence of their estranged daughter, Ága.

Records about the Yakut culture date back to the tenth century–they were hunters, fishermen, reindeer herders, and raised cattle and horses. They’ve suffered an all too familiar story. When they first encountered Russians in the 17th century. The Tsarist regime began taxing them, invading their territories, laying claim to their land, and converting them to a Russian Orthodox religion. When they fought back, they were met with an unbeatable force whom also infected them with diseases like smallpox. As a result, they experienced a 70% drop in their population in just forty years between 1642 and 1682.

Discoveries of gold and diamonds brought more and more Russians into their region. By the 19th century, most Yakut had transitioned into a more urban lifestyle.

When Stalin came to power in the 1920’s Yakut territories were officially absorbed into the Soviet Socialist Republic, and systematic persecution began. With help from an armed force of anti-communist Russians, the Yakut were able to take a last stand against the Red Army. They were victorious in their first battle but were ultimately defeated–leaving them vulnerable to ongoing persecution while experiencing another decline in their population. At that point, they were only numbering 236,700.

In the 1970s, their population began to recover. In the 2010 census, almost a million ethnic Yakuts were registered. Those who carry on a traditional Yakut lifestyle struggle with a worsening climate every year.Authentic filmmaking, Aga Frame Grab

Ága was shot on 35mm with an Arricam lite package and anamorphic lenses for a 2:35 presentation. I had the pleasure of speaking with Kaloyan last week—the movie’s Cinematographer. I first asked him about the rounded corners included within the aspect ratio of the final presentation. He said he wanted to take advantage of the entire image area on the negative and show that there was no cropping or reframing. To express why this is significant, here is a little background:

There is hardware in an analog film camera that functions as a window—framing the area on the negative where the image is exposed—we call it the “gate.” The corners of the gate are not perfectly square but slightly rounded. Usually, these rounded corners would be cropped out for the final presentation, but Kaloyan opted not to do that. Many of his compositions were dependent on action happening at the edges of the frame, and he didn’t want to compromise that. He was also thinking like a purist and wanted to show that he did not crop his images
 
This purist approach started with still photography—a medium that largely embraced cropping and reframing as an acceptable standard since its advent. But even then–as early as the 1880s–some photographers didn’t believe in cropping or manipulating their images. These photographers became known as the “purists.” Notable “purist” photographer Paul Strand became one of the movement’s significant influencers in the early 1900s.
 
Cropping in the motion picture analog era was also reserved for achieving the desired aspect ratio. Another way to achieve 2:35 was to crop off the top and bottom of a 4:3 image (square image). The filmmakers would use 2:35 frame guides in the viewfinder and monitors to set up their compositions. They’d often allow lights and other film equipment to be seen outside the frame guides–a practice used to achieve a certain quality of light or discourage the reframing of their work. And sometimes, the filmmakers would compose for both a 4:3 and 2:35 presentation when making films for both the big screen and TV—resulting in two versions of the film. Cropping and reframing for the sake of adjusting composition were very rare during this period.
 
Digital filmmaking technology began to emerge with the digital intermediate (digitized film for color grading). Minor creative adjustments to composition became commonplace. And as 4K settled in—major adjustments to composition became prevalent in certain circles—surpassing creative needs into time and budget savings onset. Going to the extremes of cropping a wide shot to get a medium shot, a two-shot to get a single, and a single to get an extreme close-up. Most Cinematographers strongly disagree with this practice—myself included.
 
Lenses and compositions are chosen to best evoke emotions and authenticity. Visual story arcs in a film are designed around and with these choices. The nuances of lens and composition characteristics play a significant role. For example—the emotional response to a wide lens close up vs. a long lens close up is very different. So, if a filmmaker decides to start cropping in for close-ups, he or she is losing out on this ability to orchestrate emotions. And it risks disrupting verisimilitude in the entire film. The optical characteristics of a zoomed-in and reframed image are very different from an original composition’s optical characteristics. When the two are cut together within a film sequence, it can create a jarring effect that takes the audience away from the story. However, the yin to this yang is—if you want to disorient or confuse an audience intentionally, this could be a technique to use. 

Authentic filmmaking, Aga Frame GrabAga Frame Grab

When starting conversations about the cinema language and shot design for the film, director Milko Lazarov gave Kaloyan a lot of autonomy in bringing his own sensibilities to the story. Thus Kaloyan made a bold choice for keeping the camera static throughout most of the film. Compositions were chosen based on certain essential moments in the scene, allowing the characters to stand up out of frame or briefly hang out behind a prop or piece of set dressing. He thought this approach would add a layer of authenticity and gravity to the film while not distracting the audience with camera movement. He also felt that the action in the movie didn’t motivate or need any camera movement. I agree with him, and I think it paid off–the film was a visual feast in terms of location and sets. The fixed camera often forces the viewer to scan the frame and take in the surroundings as if we were there, with them, sitting or standing quietly, just observing. It was meditative while both surreal and authentic. At times you could feel the cold. 

The camera did move in at least two shots in the film. First, in a pivotal moment as Nanook hurries home to his wife. Technically the camera was still static–it was mounted to Nanook’s sled in a fixed position, holding Nanook in a medium shot as he runs behind the sled. This gave us a frenetic feel, complimenting Nanook’s sudden anxiety—also emphasized by the stillness of all the surrounding shots and serving as a visual segue, transporting the audience into the final act.  

Secondly, the closing shot of the film is an aerial. The camera moves slowly out of a diamond mine—where Nanook goes to find his daughter Aga—and into the clouds as the credits fade up. This shot book ends a visual theme through the film, designed by the director to express the decay of culture and environment. It’s one of those visual motifs that can mean different things to different viewers, so I’ll leave it to you, dear reader, for further discovery. That’s part of the fun!Aga Frame GrabAga Frame GrabAga Frame Grab Kaloyan’s lighting was kept simple and motivated to further service the narrative’s authenticity. Outdoor’s on the icescape it was mainly bouncing and reflecting the sun. Inside the yurt, he motivated light from above—augmenting the natural daylight coming through the typical skylight at the yurt’s crown. Kaloyan positioned 4K HMI’s outside—making additional openings in the roof to facilitate different angles. The only instruments he brought inside were reflectors and bounce cards. Otherwise, there were no windows in the yurt. So the only other source of light came from the wood-burning stove and kerosene/oil lamps.

Aga movie, film Frame GrabAga movie, film Frame GrabAga movie, film Frame GrabWhat touches me most about this film is how it invites us to see inside such a treasured lifestyle at a time when its characters and environment are at their most vulnerable. Thank you, Milko and Kaloyan, and cast and crew.

Credits and Specs

Directed by Milko Lazarov
Produced by Veselka Kiryakova
Written by Simeon VentsislavovMilko Lazarov 
Starring Mikhail AprosimovFeodosia IvanovaSergei Egorov 
Music By Penka Kouneva
Cinematography by Kaloyan Bozhilov
Edited by Veselka Kiryakova
Production Design by Agi Ariunsaichan Dawaachu
Production Company: Red Carpet
Release Date: September 4, 2019
Running Time: 96 min
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Camera and Lenses: Arriflex Arricam lite, anamorphic lenses
Negative Format: 35mm
Country: Bulgaria, Germany, France 
Language: Yakut
Reported Budget: EUR 1,000,000 (estimated)

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SXSW 2021 Favorite Films

I have another festival favorites edition this month. I didn’t watch every film–that would be impossible. Therefore, out of the forty-eight I watched–here is a breakdown of twenty-eight SXSW 2021 films. Similar to the Sundance edition–The film links point to their festival program page and the synopsis’ come from that same page.

Narrative Feature Films

Inbetween Girl – “Teen artist Angie Chen turns to secret hookups with the heartthrob of her private school after her parents’ sudden divorce.

The Drovers Wife – The Legend of Molly Johnson – “The Drover’s Wife The Legend of Molly Johnson is a reimagining of Leah Purcell’s acclaimed play and Henry Lawson’s classic short story. A searing Australian western thriller asking the question: how far do you go to protect your loved ones?

Gaia – In the depths of an ancient forest, something has been growing. Something older than humanity itself, and perhaps greater too. When a park ranger discovers a man and his son living wild, she stumbles onto a secret that is about to change the world.

Here Before – After new neighbors move in next door, a bereaved mother begins to question her reality in this unsettling psychological thriller.

I’m Fine (Thanks for asking) – When a recently widowed mother becomes houseless, she convinces her 8-year-old daughter that they are only camping for fun while working to get them off the streets.

The Fabulous Filipino Brothers – From Northern California to The Philippines, four brothers confront their issues with love, family, and culture, surrounding a highly controversial Filipino wedding. Told in four vignettes with cockfights, adultery, romance, food, and family.

Bantú Mama – An Afropean woman escapes after being arrested in the Dominican Republic. She is sheltered by a group of minors, in a dangerous district of Santo Domingo. By becoming their protégée and maternal figure, she will see her destiny change inexorably.

Documentary Feature Films

Mau – Mau follows the unlikely story of design visionary Bruce Mau and his ever-optimistic push for massive change.

We Are As Gods – “We are as gods and might as well get good at it,” Stewart Brand wrote in ‘68. The legendary pioneer of LSD, cyberspace, futurism, and modern environmentalism now urges people to use our god-like powers to fight extinction by reviving lost species.

Narrative Short Films

Malignant – Chynna travels to a West Texas health retreat to visit her terminally ill mother. As she learns more about the faith based wellness preached in the commune, Chynna desperately attempts to convince her mother to leave.

The Other Morgan – When a dopey young exterminator discovers there’s another version of her out in the world, she begins to question her life choices.

The Mohel – After celebrating the birth of their first child, James & Lola are faced with family expectations and financial strain as they fly in a Mohel to perform their son’s Brit Milah – The circumcision ceremony.

Plaisir – A lonely American faces unrequited love on a farm commune in the south of France.

Are you Still There? – Safa’s been through a lot. Now her car battery is dead in a strip mall parking lot.

Chuj Boys of Summer – Speaking only his native language, a Guatemalan teenager begins his new life in rural Colorado.

The Nipple Whisperer – Maurice Sanders has a gift. He’s a nipple whisperer. Once he was known as “Magic Sandy”. But that was years ago, before Doris, a famous model and Sander’s muse, fell ill. Now, after more than a decade, Doris wants to meet Maurice again.

Soak – A 16 year old tries to convince her runaway mother to return home.

Sales Per Hour –  A young woman faces a moral dilemma when she witnesses a sexual encounter in a dressing room at the clothing store where she works.

Marvin Never Had Coffee Before – Marvin Wexler tries coffee for the first time and desperately tries to talk about it with anyone who will listen.

Femme – When Jordan gets into the car of a flirtatious drug-dealer, his night takes a dangerous turn.

Doretha’s Blues – Doretha goes out for her evening drink at her local watering hole when a news story dredges up old memories.

Summer Animals – Living out of a motel, 15 year old Tommy makes a drastic decision in order for her siblings to escape the heat before the summer’s over.

The thing that ate the birds – On the North Yorkshire Moors, Abel, Head Gamekeeper, discovers the thing that is eating his grouse.

Documentary Short Films

Plant Heist – California’s fight to protect valuable native succulents from an international poaching ring.

Joe Buffalo – Joe Buffalo is an Indigenous skateboard legend. He’s also a survivor of Canada’s notorious Indian Residential School system. Following a traumatic childhood and decades of addiction, Joe must face his inner demons to realize his dream of turning pro.

The Box –  The Box is a hybrid documentary that explores the effects of solitary confinement through three people’s harrowing true stories – they’ve spent a combined nine years in isolation, and one of them co-directed this film.

Aguilas –  Along the scorching desert border in Arizona, it is estimated that only one out of every five missing migrants are ever found. ÁGUILAS is the story of one group of searchers, the Aguilas del Desierto.

The Unlikely Fan – “She’s a Sri Lankan born, Dallas-based, retired teacher and mother. She’s also crazy about basketball. Meet “The Unlikely Fan” who knows a thing or two about hoops.

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The Cinematographers Dark Canvas

I’m often thinking about films I want to study, and Ain’t Them Bodies Saints has been on my mind for a long time—the dark painterly aesthetic has been a consistent draw. It’s an aesthetic that I’ve always thought of as “my thing,” but it only works for certain films. I think the appeal comes from an intense degree of creative control over what we reveal and don’t reveal on the screen. In a new addition to the newsletter dubbed “Ponderings,” I pontificate on what darkness means to a Cinematographer—or at least to me. After that, we look at Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, dark cinematography in a Carhart ad, Caravaggio, and a word from the “Prince of Darkness”—Gordon Willis.

Ponderings
Darkness is the Cinematographers canvas. It is not to be confused with thematic darkness unless that theme inspires a beginning, a void, or a nothingness upon which creation is imminent. 

When I was learning about lighting and its relationship to cinema, I was constantly drawn to a dark aesthetic. Films I was looking at included The City of Lost ChildrenIvan’s ChildhoodTouch of Evil, and Blade Runner. But there was a pang of strange guilt associated with this attraction because I equated darkness with sadness, depression, fear, and all those traditional themes. And I had yet to grasp the concept of darkness as a canvas, upon which an artist that uses lighting instruments can express themselves. An expression that can dictate themes in degrees of light, shadow, darkness, and color with limitless potential—exploring every nuance between a black screen and a white screen.

There is also a stimulating parallel with yin and yang—part of the philosophy being that a balance of opposite or contrasting states is necessary for a harmonious experience, happy disposition or productive outcome–childbirth, for example, requires a man and woman. In Cinematography, the closer we get to having a perfect balance of lightness and darkness on the screen, the better, more comfortable, more at ease, or just neutral the audience will feel. And this neutral place is a standard upon which capture and display devices are calibrated for the industry to exist in a harmonious state of capture and display.

This neutral standard feels like a starting point because we—as an audience—don’t think about how the sensor or film is initially blank. And without first having this blankness—or blackness when displayed or printed—no image would ever exist. And without having light to imprint the dark, there would be no image. Thus, to have an image at all—we must have a certain degree of balance between light and dark.

We even have a unit and method of measurement for this balance in the craft of Cinematography—lighting ratios and foot-candles. A lighting ratio represents the degree of contrast between light and dark. And foot-candles measure the intensity of light falling on a subject. Ratios help to establish and maintain a consistent look for a film, monitored by measuring the foot-candle value in light and shadow. The balance of light and shadow can be manipulated to enhance the emotional response to a scene. Some films maintain the same ratio from beginning to end, while others use varying ratios to complement a narrative and character journey. Figuring this out for each film, planning for it, and letting it materialize on set is a big part of a Cinematographer’s job.

The whole visual style was set out before we shot one foot of film. We talked about the contrast between good and evil, light and dark. How we’d really use darkness, how we’d start out with a black sheet of paper and paint in the light.— Francis Ford Coppola on The Godfather, cited by The Guardian in “Gordon Willis Obituary”

 

Film
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (2013), directed by David Lowery and shot by Bradford Young, won the Cinematography award at Sundance in 2013 for the U.S. Dramatic Category and was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize. In the same year, it littered top ten lists from critics worldwide—many praising it for its fresh look at the Bonnie and Clyde paradigm.

It gives us a contemporary look at a dark aesthetic—an aesthetic that Bradford Young has built a career on. The photography swims with the narrative in a game of hide, seek and reveal. As insights into the plot and characters are held back by quiet reflection and solitude, the photography is dominated by shadows—made authentic by using location and time of day. Now and then, as the characters hit milestones along their journey, the screen may get a little brighter, but it’s all very subtle because the protagonist has to stay physically hidden to get what he wants. His wife has to hide too, but she has to do it in plain sight. Her cloak is in deception—her surroundings only bright enough to project a facade and dark enough to evoke her secrets. And until she reunites with the protagonist, she is stuck in this duality.

The feel of the movie is intimate and handmade, as if Lowery were renewing, lovingly and poignantly, the landscape’s ruined landmarks and infusing them with his own memories and dreams.-The New Yorker

Downloadable Resources 
Frame Grabs

Credits and Specs
Directed and Written by David Lowery 
Produced by Cassian ElwesToby HalbrooksJames M. JohnstonAmy Kaufmanmore
Starring  Rooney MaraCasey AffleckBen Foster
Music By Daniel Hart
Cinematography by Bradford Young
Edited by Craig McKayJane Rizzo
Production Design by Jade Healy
Production Company: Sailor Bear
Release Date: Aug 16, 2013 
Running Time: 96min
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Camera and Lenses: Arricam LT, Cooke S4, Zeiss Master Prime and Angenieux Optimo Lenses, Panavision Panaflex Millennium XL2, Panavision Primo Lenses, Panavision Panaflex Platinum, Panavision Primo Lenses
Negative Format: 35mm (Kodak Vision3 250D 5207, Vision3 500T 5219)
Printed Film Format: 35 mm (anamorphic), D-Cinema
Cinematographic Process: Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format), Super 35 (3-perf) (source format)
Country: USA
Language: English

Painter
Caravaggio, (1571-1610) is known for bringing a new level of emotional painting to the arts scene in Italy and his paintings in the Contarelli Chapel made him the most famous painter in Rome. His style of heightened chiaroscuro, detailed realism and dramatic lighting greatly influenced forthcoming Baroque artists such as Rembrandt and Bernini. And he could be the most referenced painter in the Cinematography universe. Vittorio Storaro uses him as a constant source of inspiration—he has written books and given lectures about him. And shot the 2007 film, CaravaggioHere is a Storaro commentary about the painting, The Calling of St. Matthew, one of the Contarelli Chapel paintings.

This is one of the only paintings that I know that has such a specific delineation between light and darkness, between the divine and the human being. The symbology that was used in The Conformist was light as a consciousness and darkness as the unknown—as unconscious. This was exactly the structure of the character—he had to hide something in himself, in the darkness. And then there was something that he presented to you as a reality which was the conscious side. So this specific relation in painting was for me the same symbology I was trying to portray with lighting. Specifically, not only the character, but the entire principle of The Conformist.

Ad
Carhart, directed by Douglas Avery and shot by Max Goldman, is a great example of how a dark aesthetic doesn’t have to invoke dark, depressing themes. Instead, it is used to show how Carhart’s clothing can stand up to the toughest jobs in the toughest conditions. A concept that the brand is certainly proud of and built on.

Quote
I am not a great believer that you have to see an actor all the time on the screen. I believe that the scene has to be played properly, but sometimes it’s better not to see what is going on until a given point in the scene. Then you see something. – Gordon Willis, AKA The Prince of Darkness

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