Sunday, November 6, 2011

Movie Time

When we watch a movie we remark on the captivating script, the exceptional acting, or the great music. Rarely do we realize how much cinematography has to do with the success of a movie.

In our assignment this week for Find Your Eye: Journey of Inspiration, we were to chose a movie to watch which is recommended for it’s cinematography. I’m not big on going to the movies and I don’t own a lot of movies. I was glad as I looked through the lists Kat provided that I found one I did own “The Phantom Of The Opera.” You know the story, the love triangle between Christine, Raoul, and the Phantom. I’ve seen it several times. I know the plot and the ending; therefore, I was less likely to become absorbed in the story and could concentrate on the cinematography.

John Mathieson, the cinematographer in this movie, has been nominated for several cinematography awards for his work. The cinematographer, also known as the Director Of Photography, is responsible for all the visual elements of a film; composition, lighting, camera motion, and anything the audience can see. He also determines color and depth-of-field, which means how much of the shot is in focus and how much is blurry. He controls when the camera zooms in and positions the people and objects in the frame.

In the opening scene the first thing I noticed was the camera‘s point of view. The camera’s focus went from landscape to street level zooming in on the feet of Raoul, then zoomed up to capture his face. Scenes were filmed from many angles, from high above in the top of the theatre looking down, from the floor looking up, and several times the camera focus was floor level. At times the moving camera caused the scenes to swirl. There were many shots where the camera did not hold the traditional horizontal line, it was angled for a more dramatic effect.

The lighting was the easiest to observe. Along with the music it set the mood of the scene. Except for a few scenes the movie was shot inside in a time period before electricity. Candlelight was used throughout the movie. The light inside the opera house was golden and beautiful, creating side lighting and shadows on the actors faces. The light in the labyrinth was dark and haunting. It was sometimes brightened by the water in the underground canal that cast reflections on the walls, ceilings, and faces. One scene where light was creatively used was in a scene where Raoul and Christine sat in front of a back lit stained glass window. The lighting coming into the room was soft and beautiful. The colors in the window reflected on her white dress and the floor creating an atmosphere of romance.

The use of color intrigued me. In many of the costumes and sets black and white were predominate with splashes of red creating dramatic effects. The contrast of red against white was used; a red rose and blood against white snow and her red cloak against her white dress. There was contrast between white and black; white dresses and black tuxedos and the white mask of the Phantom and his black clothing. Even the notes he send were written on white note cards with black edges, sealed with his red wax stamp.

Other composition rules were used. The rule of thirds -  I especially noticed this when there was a close-up of a single actor or when a certain object was the focus. Symmetrical framing - Actors were framed by staircases, sculptures, walls, archways, and stage curtains. Depth of field -  Since it is a movie about a stage production, there was background activity that was blurred just enough that you could see what was happening, but it didn't distract. Hundreds of candles were effectively used in the backgrounds, creating pretty candle bokeh.

The importance of how the cinematographer composes each shot makes me more aware of how much composition and lighting is of utmost importance to a good photograph. This inspires me to take a little more time to compose the shot, become more aware of light, seek a unique point of view, and creatively use color before clicking the shutter button.

kat eye view


  1. Funny you should address this at this point, lately I have been noticing cinematography more and more, and am becoming captivated by it. I see a shot, then think how much more beautiful it is with motion. Doubt I am going to go down another learning path at this point in time, but am still so much more appreciative of what I see than I was in the past. LOVE your opening photo.

  2. Your opening photo is gorgeous Cathy - simple yet dramatic. A perfect complement to the words for Phantom of the Opera! I love that movie. I'd seen the stage production twice but loved the movie so much more, because it was such a visual feast. In a theater (nosebleed seats for me) you just can't see so well. I like movies better!

    I'm glad you enjoyed the exercise! It was fascinating to read how much you noticed. You are learning by leaps and bounds these days!

  3. Cathy - oh, this is a wonderful example of a movie with amazing visuals! You have made me want to see it again - just to go back and appreciate the cinematography. To see it with "photographer's eyes". Your descriptions bring back so many moments. And your photograph is a perfect accompanient to your words.

  4. Now I want to see it again, too! I loved all the details you absorbed and how you related the cinematographic elements to photography. And I LOVE your beautiful flower image. Just gorgeous!

  5. wow Cathy this is great. How wonderful that you "know" the film and could really watch for the cinematography. I was recently watching "The Pacific" series and noted the use of black white and red in the introduction.
    I love the way you describle the framing, and rule of thirds. Next time I look at a film, I'm going to watch for those too.


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