cinemablography

City of God (2002)

I have to preface with the fact that while this is one of my favorite movies of all time, I happened to only start studying this film for my blog because of a class at my university. I figured this would be a great opportunity to not only complete an assignment that I couldn’t care less about but to also view it from a different perspective (à la this blog). Additionally, a “challenge” I had in finding my shots to post here was only created because of this movie’s editing style. Simply put, this may be one of if not the greatest edited movie I have ever come across. Initially writing off the cinematography, I discovered that the two go quite hand in hand in City of God. Rapid shots and cuts are plentiful and took me many attempts to get the ones I wanted (and had to turn off subtitles every time; a challenge I was not expecting). 

I put City of God, a foreign film from Brazil, in that class of movies where you found it to be amazing, but never want to see again (think Requiem for a Dream). There were many things that piqued my interest; none more so than the prevalence of shots with characters by themselves, or, if together, with a dead (or soon to be dead) body. I found I had chosen many like this, which heavily implied the notion that this lifestyle of violence and crime is either going to kill you - or if you’re lucky enough to survive - everyone around you. 

Many could certainly be off put by a movie as violent as this, but I think simply comparing it to a traditional gangster movie with too many gun fights undermines the significance of this movie. Mostly shot on location in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, this movie at times feels like a documentary, totally immersing the viewer and throwing them around this rapid lifestyle (again, much credit to the outstanding editing). A large portion of the cast were born and raised in these areas and give stellar performances. Acting as social commentary as well, City of God makes it a priority to let the viewer know that even though this story occurred over half a century ago, the war to control the slums wages on. With brilliant utilization of scope, depth, intertwining story lines and the brutality of a life of crime, City of God is one flick that in my mind will become one of the greatest and most important non-Hollywood movies of our time. 

- P

one of the first and  shots which brilliantly sets the tone for the rest of the movie 

^ in my mind, the most important and iconic shot 

I just absolutely loves these shots juxtaposed together. The framing, the space, the changes in colors and the (obvious) transition to loneliness. 

“Damned if you do, damned if you don’t”

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Interviews with the writers of “A Legacy Intertwined: Christopher Nolan and his Dark Knight”

Video from Cinemablography. 

Cinemablography.org is an academic platform to distribute student-created content that explores different aspects of the Cinema of the 2000’s.

For academic, non-commercial purposes only. Students are Film Majors from Messiah College.

There Will Be Blood [2007]

Oh, man. It’s been a while. 

And not just for my blog. I have to come clean with you guys - I have some heavy bias for this movie considering it’s my favorite of all time. I hesitate to say it’s the best movie I’ve ever seen, but I definitely put it up there. There Will Be Blood, directed by today’s best working director Paul Thomas Anderson is a sight to behold. Following the story of Daniel Plainview (played by the always perfect Daniel Day-Lewis) in his search for oil during the late nineteenth century, PTA directs an impeccably crafted piece of art concerning itself with two of America’s biggest themes: business and religion. None of this culminates more greatly than the continuous conflict captured between Plainview and Eli Sunday (played by the extremely underrated Paul Dano). Throughout the film, the two go head to head numerous times; two forces at ends with one another as they take advantage of the common man who is clueless to the exploitation both men employ. The tension built can only be related to the oil derricks so prominent in the film - building and building upon themselves until they suddenly explode, reminiscent of the now infamous climax of the film.

To be honest, this has been a hard blog post to write only because I want to keep it concise and at the moment I could draft an essay exploring all of its themes. But upon my millionth re-watch, focusing on the photography has given me EVEN MORE appreciation for the brilliance of this film.  Wide, extensive shots give us a sense of the landscape, giving everything an epic feel even when the story itself is so contained and simple. The derricks shown throughout are juxtaposed with images of christianity, giving them a religious symbolism as well and further cementing the inner conflict of this movie. Additionally, Plainview is constantly shown face to face with other characters, which in my mind can only solidify his disdain with his fellow man, always remaining uneasy and at conflict with them. Plainview remains physically above other people, unless they have some means of overcoming him; never trusting anyone and always wary of their intentions. 

Again, this has been a difficult one to write, but everything about the placement of the shots just feels right in this movie. Every shot is so carefully planned that the symmetry, placement and framing of all the shots tells you exactly what’s going on in the movie even if you were to play it on mute. Personally, that’s what separates the “greats” from the “greatest” in terms of film legacies. Visual storytelling to me is half the battle, and PTA understands this and shows it in all of his movies. But, on this magnum opus, he exceeds all his previous works in every way, especially with the cinematography. There’s a sense of the unknown and “epic-ness” that reverberates through the duration that additionally feels awe-inspiring. Long takes create further tension and immerse you into the deep and complex lives of the main characters as plot is pushed to the sideline, with respite only coming once the camera has cut away after a relentless amount of time. Simply put, There Will Be Blood is just not any ordinary movie. I implore you to check it out before I go on any longer. 

In the words of the man of the hour: "That was one goddamn hell of a show."

The Thin Red Line [1998]

For some time now, Saving Private Ryan, Full Metal Jacket, and Apocalypse Now have been title contenders for my favorite war movie of all time. Having just watched The Thin Red Line, it seems that this decision is going to be one that is much harder than I expected. But I think the latter, another Terrence Malick masterpiece, is inching ahead of them all. 

A war epic focused on the less-touched upon Pacific theater of the second World War, Malick had outdone himself again after a long hiatus from film. This movie is simply beautiful, with Malick-inspired cinematography utilized to show the brutality of war while also juxtaposing it with shots of nature (and the effect war has on it). The cast is a massive ensemble, some of which didn’t even make it into the final movie of the almost five hour original cut. Mysticism, wonder, meditation are preferred at the expense of character development, but honestly I didn’t care. From my perspective, I saw the prevalence of actors (some of which played characters not safe from being killed at any instance) and their minimal development as secondary to the idea of being just another solider in a war. They were simply another face in a mass of people going to war, but they all mattered. They were all brothers, and when one brother went down, you felt it resonate hard. That’s all the development I needed.

As far as cinematography, Malick again directed a beautiful film. Wide shots depicting the broad landscapes occupied by natives and soldiers are quickly paralleled with close, tight shots in the heat of battle, emitting one of the greatest senses of claustrophobia I’ve ever experienced. And as I said before, shots of nature and the wildlife around are abundant. In one instance you’ll get a shot of explosions, only to quickly shift to a few parrots in the trees nearby. It left me rattled at first, but after thinking about it it all made thematic sense. War is hell - brutal hell. So why do we do it? Where does it come from? What’s the point? The shots of wildlife and the landscape truly bring these questions home as the violence slowly tears away at it. Why do we do this when there’s beauty in the world? How can we allow it to happen? Now, this is very atypical of your standard war movie, but this isn’t a regular war movie. The best description I’ve heard so far is that it’s rather a poem about war and I couldn’t agree more. I’ll leave you with my favorite shots and my favorite quote that perfectly encapsulates the movie (and is of course presented in voice-over because this is Malick after all). 

“This great evil, where’s it come from? How’d it steal into the world? What seed, what root did it grow from? Who’s doing this? Who’s killing us, robbing us of life and light, mocking us with the sight of what we might’ve known? Does our ruin benefit the earth, does it help the grass to grow, the sun to shine? Is this darkness in you, too? Have you passed through this night?”

Shame [2011]

Steve McQueen, everyone. Since starting my venture into all of his films (with the exception of 12 Years a Slave as I’ve seen it already months ago), I’ve definitely been quite in awe. This man has the technical prowess that is unmatched by most directors working today. As a visual artist, he is uncompromising. The themes of his films are disturbing and hyper realistic, but it is very clear he does not want to romanticize or downplay the significance of humans’ brutality and the forms they present themselves in. As my good friend Dillon put it, “that dude captures the most disturbing shit in the prettiest way.” And I couldn’t agree more. 

Now onto Shame, McQueen’s second feature film centered on Brandon Sullivan (played by McQueen muse Michael Fassbender in possibly his finest role), a man tormented by his sexual addiction who eventually has to deal with his emotional sister (played by the always fantastic Carey Mulligan) after she joins him for an indefinite amount of time. Brandon is constantly overtaken by his addiction - whether that’s watching porn, hiring prostitutes, and “relieving himself” whenever possible. The whole movie is well-crafted in depicting the travesty of someone having an addiction and how it affects themselves and those around them. Brandon is very selective of his interactions with people, evidently emotionally hollow and removed from anything that doesn’t instigate sexual gratification. Fassbender plays Brandon immensely well, depicting the tragedy of an addict realizing their actions are wrong, yet are incapable of making it stop. 

Again, the cinematography in this movie is grade “A” amazing. McQueen utilizes long takes and static shots to propel the movie forward; immersing us entirely in the life of this haunted soul. With similarities to Hunger, there are lengthy still takes that freeze on the actors and they talk away while the camera remains unwavering as a silent observer. Wide angle shots additionally immerse the viewer into the beauty and not so attractive underbelly of New York. Additionally, the coloration evokes a sense of melancholy with deep, dull blues prevalent throughout. The saturation gives a sense general dismay that Brandon encounters every day of his life. 

So obviously, I’m geeking out about McQueen. He is a force to be reckoned with in today’s filmmaking industry and will continue to challenge and amaze viewers for some time if these films haven’t already solidified that notion. 

- P 

The first and probably most important shot of the film. You should be able to get a sense of the feeling of this movie just by this one still. 

I noticed throughout this movie McQueen utilizes a lot of where the actors are facing away or looking down. I think this helped give a sense of removing oneself from the story (as a silent observer again) and give a true sense of “shame.” 

My absolute favorite shot of the film. Perfect summation.

Hunger [2008]

Apologies again for my inconsistent posting to this blog; keeping up to date with it has proven more difficult than I anticipated. But as the semester winds down and I’m living up the unemployed life, it’s my hope that I get some more free time to watch all the movies I’m dying to see and get my focus back to expanding this blog. Hang in there for me, guys. 

So anyway, this time around I got to check out Hunger, directorial debut of Steve McQueen (not to be confused with the legendary actor) after being involved in several different visual arts projects and short film productions. Hunger focuses on the brutal (and I mean brutal) confides of Maze Prison in Northern Ireland in 1981 which held prominent members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, Irish rebels at the forefront of the conflict between the two countries known as “The Troubles.” The longstanding conflict meant many were imprisoned under the harshest of conditions, leading the prisoners to mount protests such as not washing themselves or their rooms (and eventually the deadly hunger strike) to replace their criminal status with political prisoner status, giving them considerably more rights and freedoms to strengthen their cause. 

Michael Fassbender plays their de facto leader, the infamous Bobby Sands, who initiates the hunger strike (to the death) as the only means of gaining the United Kingdom’s attention in their struggle. And he absolutely kills it. Losing over 40 pounds for the role, Fassbender plays his character to perfection. While we gain some of his political motives, the film in itself is not wholly a political film, nor does it necessarily take a stand (though he’s obviously more sympathetic to the prisoners environments). The film is more concerned with endurance of man and the concept of man’s body as his last weapon of choice in the face of immense opposition. You sympathize entirely with these men as they endure torment, humiliation and physical pain time and time again for their ideals. And it all culminates in a heartbreaking ways. 

In terms of cinematography, I’m continually blown away by McQueen. The first film I saw of his was 12 Years A Slave and I was enthralled by it. Utilizing long takes, long cuts, wide angles and a beautiful understanding of framing, McQueen has a particular talent in making grotesqueness and violence into something visually appealing or beautiful. And it works to perfection here. Some shots are absolutely uncomfortable and cringe-worthy, but he demands your attention throughout and won’t let you go. The set pieces immerse you entirely in what can only be described as “prison hell,” giving some assemblance of the struggle endured by the rebels. 

I realize I’ve spouted on a lot and not given too much analysis, but with this movie I found it too difficult (and for fear of spoilers) as this movie has left me speechless. It is unrelenting in its prose and content to the fullest. It will be some time before I even attempt to see this one again. Just make sure you have someone who can hug you right after you watch it. 

- P

This scene is part of a long take that goes on for 17 minutes. Never seen anything like it in a film. Sheer brilliance. 

Another long take that tests your patience to the extreme. 

The Truman Show (1998)

Apologies for the delay, but school and work have proven to be very time-consuming these past few weeks. I actually did this film on the insistence I show it to my roommate who had not seen it before. One of my favorite films of all time, I was excited to take a look at this one again from a different perspective. 

Following the story of Truman Burbank, a man who’s been the star of a reality show chronicling his life since birth, this film stands as one of the most unique and brilliant portrayals and critiques of reality television to this day (hell, there’s even a disorder that was created because of it). Filmed around the beginning of the growing attraction to this form of TV, The Truman Show uses satire and humor to portray the heaviness and dark themes centered around the idea of a reality with which we are presented; in this case one that is fabricated. Jim Carrey stars in one of his first dramatic roles and creates a brilliant performance of a man struggling to deal with the idea that his own reality may be falling apart before his eyes. 

In terms of cinematography, this film is fantastic. Using the cameras as a storytelling device for us, the viewers, and the viewers of The Truman Show leads to many inventive and subtle shots. We feel right in the middle of his life - a casual viewer amongst the billions of people glued to their TV sets waiting in anticipation as to what happens next. There were many I could choose from, but I ultimately settled on more removed shots, showing us the bigger picture of Truman’s life and giving a better idea of the confusing and disorientating nature of living a life where everything is made to keep someone complacent with a reality founded upon lies.

Pretty terrifying, isn’t it?

- P  

^ The defining shot of this movie. I can’t get enough of it. 

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

A movie I’ve only seen bits and pieces of beforehand, I was very excited to get to study this film and gain a better understanding of it. I was also ecstatic to learn my idol of cinematography - the great Roger Deakins (just read his wikipedia and be amazed at what he’s done) - was at the helm of this project. 

I know what you’re thinking: yes, the title is super long and yes it kinda gives away the whole plot. But honestly, all of that totally misses the point of the movie entirely. Having done further research after the fact, I found that while relatively critically acclaimed, this movie was very much under the radar of wider audiences and those that did see it left the theaters very confused. 

And honestly I don’t blame them. From the onset, The Assassination implies a well-thought out, intense assassination plot to the aforementioned American outlaw by a reprehensible and meek Robert Ford. What audiences got was vastly different. Director Andrew Dominik instead opted for a carefully crafted character study that followed James, Ford and James’ gang around the beautiful and vast frontier of the American Midwest (funny enough it was mostly shot in Canada), with themes of paranoia, obsession and regret following these tragic characters throughout. 

And even after the climactic assassination, the movie moves forward, solidifying the notion that this story truly belongs to Robert Ford instead of the titular outlaw. Again leaving audiences in bewilderment, I found this to be a genius move by Dominik by allowing the parallels between the two to form more naturally and give the viewer a better sense of why these real life events transpired. And by creating such an epic in its truest sense, the movie remains very grounded and contains many dense layers that can be picked apart by the subtle acting of the fantastic ensemble juxtaposed with dark, saturated colors and utilization of scope and depth in all of these shots. I could drone on more as I feel its a disservice to talk as little as I have, but I don’t want to spoil anything else for you guys. Just know that in the end, I feel that over time this film will be reevaluated and considered one of the understated masterpieces of the new millennium. 

- P

Lots of shots of Brad Pitt staring off. And they’re all amazing. 

See what I mean? 

If there’s one scene you should see, it’s the train robbery. Absolutely stunning. 

One of the many beautiful shots of the scenery utilized 

I call this one “Regret” 

So many beautifully tragic shots for a beautifully tragic movie 

Upstream Color (2013)

A fitting movie to start off this little hobby of mine, Upstream Color is the second film by Shane Carruth - the man behind the low-budget, mind-bending foray into time travel, Primer. A very cerebral, minimal and at times disorienting film, Upstream Color is a brilliant testament to storytelling that does not necessarily rely on dialogue to move things forward. The plot, while muddled and will leave many confused, in my mind is almost irrelevant to its utilization of visuals as a means to create a storyline. The cinematography, simply put, is fantastic. Relying on rapid cuts, sublime framing and brilliant direction, this movie will suck you in completely. I could easily post the whole movie as a testament to cinematography, but as that’s not really feasible, I’ve posted some of my favorite shots from my last viewing. 

Enjoy, and until next time. 

- P 

^ easily my favorite shot in the film 

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Interview with the writers of the Hugo section of Cinemablography.org

Cinemablography.org is an academic platform to distribute student-created content that explores different aspects of the Cinema of the 2000’s.

For academic, non-commercial purposes only. Students are Film Majors from Messiah College.

Cinemablography.org

A non-profit academic project from the Film Majors at Messiah College

The Tree of Life [2011]

As I write this I’m still quite in awe. I don’t know how I slept on this one, but The Tree of Life has really left me with profound feelings that I still can’t put into words. Quite simply, this movie is an ambitious (quite possibly the most ambitious movie I’ve seen yet) tour de force by the magnificent filmmaker Terrence Malick. 

Following the life of a family in 1950s Texas, The Tree of Life makes leaps and bounds in its storytelling methods. Intercutting the origins of the universe and the questions of existence, it’s all tied together with themes of familial ties and the bonds that are strengthened and weakened by every event unfolding in our lives. Again, it’s ambitious and will certainly leave many viewers confused, but I ate up every second of it. Even when I was confused I was able to relate to Jack’s (the oldest son) recollections of his childhood. Nostalgia doesn’t even begin to describe the feeling one can feel watching this movie. Discovery, regret, adventure, love and all other major themes of life are explored throughout and strewn together brilliantly with magnificent shots of the events in our life that come to define who we are.

Just to gush a little more about this movie, I have to get it out there that I think it was a crime this movie did not win the Oscar for Best Cinematography. Simply put, this is easily one of the greatest cinematographic pieces of art ever put on the screen. Malick’s style puts us in a dream-like state; waving through childhood memories and images of the cosmos that create a sense of wonder and amazement and the simplicities and complexities that form our very existence. Most shots last just a few seconds, but none of them are wasted. All serve a purpose as a means of propelling the story forward and each shot is so carefully placed you can be certain nothing was accidental (apparently Malick spent two years editing this, and it shows). The lighting, framing, and positioning of the camera are all just where they need to be. Hell, you could take any single shot and frame it, turning it into a separate piece of art. Even more so, I could’ve easily posted each frame from this movie and put it on the blog. But, let’s be practical. Everyone has to have their limits! So here are mine. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do. 

- P 

^ Truly captivated by this shot 

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  Cinemablography is abroad in Italy! 

See more at: http://www.cinemablography.org/3/post/2012/05/italian-cityscapes-week-one.html