The Cinematography That Changed Cinema: Exploring Akira Kurosawa, Stanley Kubrick, Peter Greenaway & Other Auteurs

One type of argu­ment made against “auteur the­o­ry,” which posits a film’s direc­tor as its “author,” holds that cer­tain non-direc­to­r­i­al col­lab­o­ra­tors con­tribute just as many — or, as Pauline Kael argued about Cit­i­zen Kane, more — of a work of cin­e­ma’s defin­ing qual­i­ties. Sure­ly a video essay­ist like Lewis Bond, co-cre­ator with Luiza Liz Bond of Youtube chan­nel The Cin­e­ma Car­tog­ra­phy, sub­scribes to auteur the­o­ry: just look at the increas­ing­ly in-depth analy­ses he’s cre­at­ed on Stan­ley Kubrick, Andrei Tarkovsky, and David Lynch — all, of course, direc­tors. But the recent Cin­e­ma Car­tog­ra­phy essay “The Cin­e­matog­ra­phy That Changed Cin­e­ma” sees him turn­ing away from the fig­ure of the direc­tor, explor­ing instead the auteur-like con­tri­bu­tions of those mas­ters of the cam­era.

Any com­pe­tent cin­e­matog­ra­ph­er can make shots pret­ty; few can make them tru­ly cin­e­mat­ic. Here we use “cin­e­mat­ic” in the sense that Peter Green­away would, refer­ring to the vast capa­bil­i­ties of the medi­um to go beyond pho­to­graph­i­cal­ly illus­trat­ing essen­tial­ly ver­bal sto­ries — capa­bil­i­ties that, alas, have so far gone most­ly unused. It should come as no sur­prise this essay uses Green­away’s The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover to estab­lish its per­spec­tive on the pow­er of cin­e­matog­ra­phy.

Iron­i­cal­ly, the movie’s inven­tive­ness in that respect and all oth­ers pro­duces “a film so removed from cin­e­ma that it rarely feels as though it was even intend­ed to be a film.” Shot by Sacha Vierny (best known for Alain Resnais’ Hiroshi­ma mon amour), its ultra-arti­fi­cial images resem­ble those of no oth­er movies, much less any­thing in real life, and for that rea­son they sweep us along.

Draw­ing exam­ples from dozens of films over half an hour, the Bonds show how cin­e­matog­ra­phers have not just rep­re­sent­ed or enhanced real­i­ty, but cre­at­ed it anew. This hap­pens in such pic­tures famous for their visu­al lush­ness as Michael Pow­ell’s The Red Shoes (cin­e­matog­ra­ph­er: Jack Cardiff), Kubrick­’s Bar­ry Lyn­don (John Alcott), Ter­rence Mal­ick­’s Days of Heav­en (Nés­tor Almen­dros), and Aki­ra Kuro­sawa’s Ran (Asakazu Nakai, Takao Saitô, and Shôji Ueda). But it also hap­pens in less like­ly cin­e­mat­ic realms: 1970s Ital­ian hor­ror, doc­u­men­tary, and even pro­duc­tions stripped near­ly bare of mon­ey and equip­ment, whether by choice (as under the rig­ors of the Dogme 95 man­i­festo) or by neces­si­ty (as in Mikhail Kala­to­zov’s still aes­thet­i­cal­ly exhil­a­rat­ing I Am Cuba). You could call each of these films beau­ti­ful, but as every cinephile has felt, film does­n’t exist to achieve beau­ty: it exists to go beyond it.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The 100 Most Mem­o­rable Shots in Cin­e­ma Over the Past 100 Years

A Mes­mer­iz­ing Super­cut of the First and Final Frames of 55 Movies, Played Side by Side

Every Acad­e­my Award Win­ner for Best Cin­e­matog­ra­phy in One Super­cut: From 1927’s Sun­rise to 2016’s La La Land

How Famous Paint­ings Inspired Cin­e­mat­ic Shots in the Films of Taran­ti­no, Gilliam, Hitch­cock & More: A Big Super­cut

The Great­est Cut in Film His­to­ry: Watch the “Match Cut” Immor­tal­ized by Lawrence of Ara­bia

The His­to­ry of the Movie Cam­era in Four Min­utes: From the Lumiere Broth­ers to Google Glass

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

by | Permalink | Comments (1) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (1)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • Brian says:

    Peo­ple don’t like to men­tion it because of its ugly racist sub­ject mat­ter, but the film that undoubt­ed­ly had the great­est influ­ence on mod­ern cin­e­matog­ra­phy is D.W. Grif­fith’s The Birth of a Nation. About half the palette of com­mon­ly-used shots used today come from that film.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.