Archive for August 9, 2010

Tin Starlight

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on August 9, 2010 by dcairns

It’s been an age-old frustration for many filmmakers that the camera eye can’t replicate all the wonders of the human eye. For instance, when we’re in a dim room, we can still look out the window and see the bright daylit world. Our eyes rarely if ever register the kind of overexposed glare seen so often in films (and often used to striking visual effect). The human iris has an amazing latitude, unmatched by any camera even today.

In THE TIN STAR, Anthony Mann and his collaborators tackle the problem, I think, by shooting interiors open to daylight. I may be wrong and they may be blasting vast amounts of electric light at the problem, but what it looks like to me is a roofless set. Must’ve looked pretty funny if you were there.

It does look a little strange to me onscreen, too. Although this shot, where the set has at least part of a ceiling, creates a more plausible contrast between light and shade. It’s often the way that pushing in the direction of realism results in strange stylisation. However, the technique allows a lot more interplay between indoors and out, dramatically useful in a story where Sheriff Tony Perkins feels the prying eyes of townsfolk watching him at all times…

Day For Night

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on August 9, 2010 by dcairns

By the way, there’s a prize going for anyone who guesses the Mann-related subject of this week’s The Forgottten. But only one guess each!

The first Mann film I ever saw, as a teenager, was WINCHESTER 73, still a favourite. It was all about Dan Duryea for me at the time, although I was probably already a Jimmy Stewart fan. And then as now I liked the film’s taut-yet-episodic structure, allowing for a number of cameos, little glimpses into different corners of the story world. And I loved the day for night photography.

Day-for-night is shunned nowadays — ace DP Christopher Doyle had to face stiff opposition to use the technique in M Night Shyamalan’s THE LADY IN THE WATER, because he felt it was important to have a night sky that wasn’t just a black void, given the story’s extraterrestrial slant. It’s true that colour film tends to expose the artifice of a fake night much more readily than black-and-white.

How do you film the prairie at night? The problem cropped up a lot in westerns, and the solution in Mann’s b&w films is both elegant and beautiful. Heavy filtering and grading down darkens the sky, but it still glows brighter than the earth. Sunlight doubles for moonlight. The clouds have a radiance they could never have in a real rural night sky, but it’s a small price to pay for beauty.

And the dusk images in THE FURIES are even more stunning.

Thanks to Guy Budziak for the gift of THE FURIES.

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