Street Photography: Let’s Go To The Movies

April 3, 2014 § Leave a comment


The other day, just by chance, I happened to watch two of my favorite film noir movies ~~ Laura and Chinatown.  Both films have wonderful actors, directors and writers.  While I had seen both of these movies many times before, what really stood out to me now was the great cinematography.

Laura, released in 1944, was filmed completely on sound stages.   As was typical of that era it was shot in black and white and totally stylized in the noir tradition. But instead of gritty back street locations, it is played out in wealthy settings with shadows and high contrast black & white to enhance the dubious characters involved in a murder.   Joseph LaShelle was the cinematographer.  The film could never have achieved the darkness, the plot unreality without Mr. LaShelle’s elegant work.  His genius with lighting/shadows, close-ups and angles gives substance and mood to the story about obsession.  Deservedly, he won the Academy Award for Best Black and White Photography that year.

Just a quick note ~~ Stark contrast lighting techniques used in film noir had their roots in German Expressionism along with unexpected camera angles, evoking mystery and alienation.

If I had to be locked in a room with only one movie to watch, it would be Chinatown, released in 1974.  It is still a relevant and absorbing story about corruption.  The close-ups, long shots, angles, point of view and color of the film suck you right into the action and keep up the roller-coaster ride until the end.  All thanks to John Alonzo, who was known for his pioneering work in hand-held cinematography, lighting and high definition development.   Chinatown is a visual masterpiece and Mr. Alonzo was nominated for an Oscar.

So much can be learned from looking at movies.  Watch Laura to explore the weight of shadows.  Watch Chinatown for the POV (point of view). It is always from the main character’s (Jake Gittes) experience.  He is in every scene with the camera placed just behind him. We see everything as he sees it.

I have been hooked on film noir movies from the time I first saw “The Maltese Falcon”.  Film noir is seductive for me ~~ the turns, the twists, the ironies of life all wrapped up in a visual, moody poetry.  As an urban street photographer I am always learning from this genre.

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