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“A cinematographer has to design and write a story, starting at the beginning, through the evolution to the end. That’s why I consider my profession is as a writer of light,” shares Italian cinematographer and three-time Academy Award Winner, Vittorio Storaro, one of 16 voices lending their individual sage about their craft to Cinematography, a volume from the Filmcraft series.
Cinematography includes capacious interviews from some of the industry’s most paramount professionals, compiling an engaging look into upbringing, first sparks of interest in cinema, first jobs, blunders and masterpieces, inspirations and mentors. This volume (similar to the rest of the series, which includes Editing, Screenwriting, etc) offers a plethora of opinions, definitions and perspectives about what it means to be a cinematographer and what good cinematography is or is supposed to be.
It’s a million different answers to a few very basic questions, regarding both the artistic and technical dynamics of the job, from whether they prefer film or digital cameras (“…but for me, the tests I’ve done show that film still has a great exposure latitude and the way it renders color is different, whether in color temperature or using gels,” says Ed Lachman of Taxi Driver) to choosing whether or not to operate their own cameras (“I always operate my own camera. I think it is fundamentally important;it means that I am there to capture welcomed surprises,” says Barry Ackroyd, the man behind The Hurt Locker), to more abstract ideas about how to approach their work and teaching (“I’m an anti-intellectual about the process because I think once you start intellectualizing, you scare the kids away from making their own mistakes,” says Christopher Doyle, In the Mood for Love).
This book conveniently chapters off each cinematographer, with intros that list their bodies of work, followed my their personal essays… and that is what these interviews are— personal essays on their professional lives. We meet those who studied cinematography, and some who wanted to be painters, others who took pre-med courses in college and others who stumbled into the craft randomly and coincidentally, reminding us how unfixed art and passion are, how there are many paths for each of us, concepts that have died a little, even in the film world. Similarly, anecdotes, such as one from Vilmos Zsigmond about shooting Close Encounters of the Third Kind, before the days of special effects are equally fascinating, as are the vivid insights into what its like to work with and for the Scorseses, the Pollacks, the De Palmas, the Van Sants and the Kar-wais.
Cinematography also includes an abundance of beautiful pictures, from the subjects of the book at work to still images of memorable moments in the films they shot, to pictures of their personal shotlists, notes, etc., as well as profiles on other legendary cinematographers who have passed. What is great about a book like this is that every time you get to the next cinematographer you learn that they shot some of your favorite movies— not just one or two, but several of them. Owen Roizman alone was behind The French Connection, The Exorcist, Network, Absence of Malice and Tootsie, just to name a few. Each film represents a different genre, a different mood and tone, but they are all memorable, and while we may know the names of the directors of the film, we’re not always aware of some of the other key players.
The Filmcraft series has come along with a string of enjoyable, insightful and visually pleasant books that both professionals and non-professionals can appreciate. It actually looks like a great coffee table book, but if you love movies, you’re going to want to do more than just flip through the pages.
Sanela Djokovic is a writer living in the Bronx
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