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Visions of Light
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by Natasha Theobald

"A glimpse at the creators of images that linger long after the credits roll"
5 stars

William Fraker. Haskell Wexler. Vittorio Storaro. Michael Chapman. Conrad Hall. You may or may not be familiar with their names, but you have undoubtedly seen what they do. They are among the cinematographers who have haunted us with images that stay with us long after the lights go up. This is a documentary which gives a small taste of the history of the art, what it can achieve, and how the masters of their craft do what they do.

The cinematographer is an equal storyteller in the collaborative process of making a film, but he or she is responsible for illuminating the tale through its images. They create an emotional response in the audience, often without the audience's awareness. People have a response to light, and cinematographers use that to show them where to look. Their visual language is more complex than words, because it is illusive. It reaches the viewer somewhere beyond the place of external, easy understanding. The audience is affected without necessarily knowing how or why.

Cinematographers tend to be mavericks and explorers. The good ones are never content with easily doing what has been done before, preferring to get into trouble to see if they can get back out. If there is nothing that can accomplish what they need to accomplish, they invent the thing that will get them where they want to go. They embrace mistakes as a way of learning how to push further and do more, because there really are no mistakes if the audience is moved in the right direction.

This film looks from the early days of silent film, when the camera was freer to move and roam, through the introduction of sound, the switch to color, changes in film speed and size, etc. The best in their field share the history of their art and explain the way things have changed and will change, never losing sight of the basic purpose and mission of what they do. They teach how to look at films in a new way, offering a fresh perspective of the richness that is available to those who know how to see it. Using film clips from classics and modern classics, from Citizen Kane to The Godfather and Taxi Driver, explanations are given for why the things we remember are so memorable.

Some highlights:

Insight into famous collaborations -- from that of Garbo and William Daniels to the reason Orson Welles shared his title card with Gregg Toland on Citizen Kane.

The look of Film Noir, its influences, the way the images are created, and the work of those who, like John Alton, were not afraid of the dark.

The evolution of color in film, from hand painting frames to overall tinting to 2 and 3 color processes and on.

Conrad Hall on his greatest "mistakes," including the scene at the end of In Cold Blood, where the rain reflected from a window cries for a man who cannot or will not.

Gordon Willis, dubbed the "Prince of Darkness" about his imprint on The Godfather and its far-reaching influence.

Michael Chapman on the way different film speeds were used in the fight scenes of Raging Bull.

Ernest Dickerson on creating a feeling of heat with color in Do the Right Thing.

And many, many more.

Even if you have only a passing interest in film, this will change the way you look at movies and help you to appreciate how the people behind the scenes make the magic real for us. And, if some of these great artists' names are more easy for you to remember after seeing this, all the better.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=6115&reviewer=317
originally posted: 01/01/03 12:59:46
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USA
  24-Feb-1993 (PG)

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