Cinematography: The Dark Art

Monday, November 24, 2008

Citizen Kane and Blade Runner are two vastly different films with one thing in common; style. A brooding world of dark shadows and vivid texture, oblique angles and long shots. All a means of sharing an experience. Story telling is the foundation of our culture. Matters intellectual and physical are imparted through recitation of books and fabula. The art of story telling has improved and continues to enhance our lives. The great poets and bards have all contributed their voices through the long ages to the zeitgeist. So too has science and technology enhanced the mechanism of stories. There is no other art that is so eager to amalgamate the worlds myriad disciplines.
Over time music and song have been added to the performance of thespians, photography has evolved to chronicle the staging of these events. The perfect performance can be recorded and manipulated, edited and reviewed ad nauseum. Cinema has become the quintessential mode of storytelling. The public has an insatiable appetite for movies. Audiences can be fickle in their criteria of what makes good cinema and many different genres of film exist to satisfy the worlds demand. Cinematography is delicate and similar in aspect to the arrangement of still art. The presentation of a films various visual elements is subtle and can be nearly imperceptible except as an emotive response by the audience.
There exists among the wider viewing public a consensus towards style that most films share and movies are divided into two categories of style to reflect this commonality. Formalist and Realist are recognized as sharing very few similarities and yet and have come to dominate cinematography. They can be roughly equated to fantastic and real. The lighting and editing must be made to reflect the films dramatic detail. A documentary style film is vastly different from the visual choices made in a science fiction film. The goal of the realist is to suggest that the viewer is present and seeing the movie as an invisible observer often accompanied by an all knowing narrator. This is in stark contrast to the wild tales of fiction enjoyed by the majority of formalist fans. In blockbuster Hollywood films, the audience is not present but observes the narration from a first person perspective. The choice of lighting differs on the content of the film but generally follow the theme of the film. Formalist film is less rigid than realist and seeks to enhance the movie experience through interpretation of the methods.
Citizen Kane was an exceptional example of a film able to transcend style and limitations; combining elements of realism and formalism. The film was written and directed by the auteur Orson Welles. The story follows the death of a newspaper tycoon, as a journalist seeks to uncover the mystery of Citizen Kane's last words. The story acts as a prism dividing a single narrative into five separate facets. Conducting the audience through the memories of those who knew the tycoon best. The movie acts as a biography and recounts the life of a modern day monarch. Typical characters inhabit the stage but Orson Welles was far from a typical director and gave himself the leading role in his film. His acting was convincing but beyond his natural talents as an actor Orson Welles brought his experience as a radio producer and the imagination of his writing genius to cinema. This resulted in more than a few innovations in the art of sound and lighting. Important and influential for Orson Welles forever changed the future of films by showing the audience more than they had ever seen before. As Tony Jackson suggests in his description of film styles.
“Because of the nature of film as a representation, "form" involves an especially wide variety of possibilities: lighting, angles, acting, directing, audio, focus, and so on. As with drama, in fiction film (since the advent of sound) a particularly crucial element in presenting the story is spoken language. And the form of spoken language will always be essential to the content. We judge the quality of acting by, among other things, the convincing ways in which lines are delivered; for the form of the delivery will always be key to the "showing" that will make the spoken content more than simply "telling." (29)
Orson Welles was able to show the world a better film and the industry is changed forever. Citizen Kane can therefore be considered a precursor to the emerging film noir genre. A style combining elements of shadowy lighting and amoral characterization. This film is comparable in many aspects to the dystopian vision created nearly thirty years after 'Citizen Kane' by director Ridley Scott in “Blade Runner.” An adaptation of the novel 'Do androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by author Philip K. Dick. Comparing the visual elements it becomes easy to draw parallels between the pioneering mood created by Orson Welles and the dark and dramatic atmosphere of Ridley Scott. The style of film being a revival of classical film noir now renamed neo-noir by Mark T Conrad in his introduction.
“Although the classic film noir period ended in the late 1950s, its impact on more films has been profound. While typically not black and white, these new films incorporate the noir sensibility of alienation, pessimism, moral ambivalence, and disorientation. In fact, neo-noir films in some ways seem better able to embody the noir outlook. This is for a couple of important reasons. First the term film noir was employed only retroactively, describing a cycle of films that had already (largely) passed. Consequently, the filmmakers of the classic period didn't have access to that expression and couldn't have understood or grasped entirely the meaning or shape of the movement to which they were contributing, whereas neo-noir filmmakers are quite aware of the meaning of noir and are quite consciously working within the noir framework and adding to the noir cannon.” (2 )
Blade Runner set a century ahead of Citizen Kane uses the same thick textures and dark shadows to set the dramatic atmosphere. So filmmakers use their favorite films as the launchpad of invention and build their vision upon the foundation established by their predecessors. The innovations of the past become the standards of the future. Films are enhanced by the invention of new effects. Old techniques improved and reinvented break the traditional methods of the medium. Shedding new light and a different angle on old stories.

Word Count: 1100
Conrad, Mark T. 2007 -. “The Philosophy of Neo-Noir”
Lexington Ky, University Press of Kentucky Jan. 5 2007
Jackson, Tony E., 1951-. "Writing, Orality, Cinema: The 'Story' of Citizen Kane." Narrative 16.1 29-45. Project MUSE. 23 Nov. 2008


tuffy777 said...

thanx for writing this -- you showed me a new angle that I hadn't seen before

~~ Tessa Dick

The Devil Uno said...

I am delighted you enjoyed my essay.

tuffy777 said...

I always enjoy reading good posts and learning something new.



The Devil Uno said...

Ironicly, I received a low grade on this paper.

tuffy777 said...

Maybe you should include a noir film, such as Chinatown. That might improve your grade, if you are allowed to rewrite it.
~~ Tessa