- Barry Salt Film Quarterly, Vol. 31, No. 1 (Autumn, 1977), pp. 46-57 Published by: University of California Press
Barry Salt’s article details the manner in which stylistic elements changed in American Hollywood film production in the 1940s. The article begins with a description of the new 35 mm camera named the “Cunningham Combat” camera that began production in America in the 1940s. The camera was very lightweight and thus had a “frontline” military functionality. There were other minor changes in the use of lenses, but of particular interest is the manner in which Gregg Toland pioneered a technique known as “deep focus”.
Gregg Toland was hired by John Ford to do the cinematography for The Grapes of Wrath. Toland is most well recognized for perfecting his deep focus technique. A wide angle deep focus lens allowed Toland to achieve particular shots that had an elongated depth of field. In other words, both an up-close facial shot and scenery in the background could be in focus at the same time.
Although Toland eventually went on to perfect his technique in his later and better recognized work Citizen Kane, he did experiment with “a few proto-deep-focus shots” in The Grapes of Wrath. In one particular scene, Tom Joad advances from his family’s abandoned home after it has been seized. The camera moves from Tom’s face to the home in clear focus the entirety of the time.
Prior to obtaining the necessary lens to use the technique of “deep focus,” Toland simulated the effect by creating the appropriate amount of shadow to provide the illusion of focus. The Grapes of Wrath is a film that makes use of shadows and night scenes to create the effect of physical close quarters highlighting the escalating tension of the family. The cinematography of Toland works to create this effect; although he did not receive any critical acclaim for his workmanship, it was the start of a highly recognized movement in cinematography.
Turner, George. "Behind the Curtain." American Cinematographer. Vol. 79, No. 12 (December 1998), pp. 100-106. 30 November 2008. <http://proxy.library.upenn.edu:2659/hww/results/results_single_fulltext.jhtml;hwwilsonid=QTVLBPRU40CVFQA3DIMCFF4ADUNGIIV0>.
George Turner's article, entitled "Behind the Curtain," details the various advanced technical processes required for the production of The Wizard of Oz. Included in these production techniques were the use of Technicolor, pyrotechnics and smoke machines. When added together, production costs for the film exceeded $2,700,000. While this does not seem like an excessive film budget today, Turner notes that this was an enormous expenditure at the time, especially in light of the Great Depression and the prospect of another World War. Turner also discusses many of the mishaps, accidents and necessary retakes that occurred during production of the film. Turner seems to maintain a point of view which suggests that while the costs involved with creating The Wizard of Oz were a bit excessive, the film ultimately did achieve great success, notwithstanding immediate negative reactions by many film critics.
Turner fails to explain why critics reacted to poorly to the initial screenings of The Wizard of Oz, however, there is a possible explanation for this occurrence. As Turner says himself, many film viewers "claimed that color films gave them headaches" (Turner, 100). Audiences were simply unaccustomed to viewing such elaborate, multicolored sets and may have found the drastic change quite discomforting. This would also explain the films eventual widespread success in the decades following its initial release because as color films became the norm, audiences could re-watch the film without the potential feelings of discomfort experienced in previous viewings. It is also interesting that Dorothy not only returns home but also to a land of black and white. This may represent a desire in the late 1930s to cease progressing forward with advancements in color film and, instead, return to the black and white medium. While this does not directly reflect the economic or political situation of the United States, it does showcase that Americans were constantly affected by cinema, both by its technical advancements as well as by its subject matter.
Call#: Van Pelt Library TR849.A1 S33 1984
In this interview, cinematographer Conrad Hall states The Day of the Locust was the closest he came to flawlessness in visual style. He discusses how the decision to shoot the film with a smooth rather than abrasive style ultimately benefitted the film. The flawlessness of the photography matches the flawlessness of the characters’ dreams and prevents the audience from seeing them as they really were. Also, to visually match the despair would have made the film to depressing and ultimately less successful at the box office. Hall also goes on to discuss the subject matter of the film and briefly compares the lure of Hollywood to the lure of a flame to the moth. Hall talks about the use of golden tones in the movie to match the Hollywood of the time, as well as soft light to gloss over the abrasiveness of reality.
This interview is interesting because Conrad Hall is removed from the textual adaptation of the film but is essential to its successful visual adaptation. Further, Hall belongs to the system that the film criticizes and is one of the lucky few to have made it in Hollywood. It is interesting to hear his insights into Hollywood culture and how even though he has succeeded, he has sympathy for the 90% that don’t make it. The visual metaphor of the moths to the flame serve as an important translation in the film as it contributes to the decision to shoot the film in predominantly golden tones. The discussion of the Day of the Locust is surrounded by a discussion of Fat City, another film Hall shot. Fat City uses a cinematographic style that matches the despair of the story, whereas Day of the Locust’s visual style clashes with its subject matter. However, the slick visual style of the latter meshes with the dreams of its characters, and contributes a layer of visual irony that makes the film more successful.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1998.3.K87 P75 1999
To start with, the pictorial and cinematic work in Rashomon explores the confines of a single setting, the grove where the death of the samurai character takes place. Kurosawa works within this physical spatial limitation by expanding the dynamic space for his character's emotions and psychology through cinematography and imagery. For example, Prince suggests that the play on light and shadow creates "a kind of spiritual and emotional labyrinth," hinting at the emotional depth Kurosawa bestows upon his characters. Also, camera movement gives depth to the characters as well by panning, shaking -- mimicking their emotional state. Long tracking shots and "sensuous" camera movements follow the woodcutter as he wanders through the forest, whereas jolting and aggressive shots characterize the film after the woodcutter discovers the dead samurai.
Hence, Kurosawa experiments with the narrative by invoking emotional depth in cinematography. Rashomon is quite similar to silent films, where everything is communicated solely through the characters' movements and filming techniques. Kurosawa does not settle for the dialogue as his sole means of narrative, he employs every constituent aspect of the film to this purpose as well.
The dialogue and the cinematography, both as narrative forms, complement each other and interweave to tell the five different accounts in the film. Clearly, as the accounts are conflicting versions of the same story, the dialogue is unreliable and subjective. But, because the imagery is coordinated through the perspective of the first-person, there are richer emotions projected in the film.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1995 .J36 1987
Jarvie's chapter Rashomon: Is Truth Relative? discusses the film from a philosophical standpoint and examines what he calls the "Rashomon problem" as proposed by the film in the 1950's - simply, which person's storyline described in the film is true? Or is it even that none of them true as they are all mutually exclusive? Kurosawa does not imply that the samurai did not exist, or that the wife did not lose her husband. Instead, the construction of events, based on single-person perception tells "truths" based on their individual points-of-view.
In Rashomon, the audience is deliberately given too much information. They cannot coherently piece together the contradictory details and create a cogent picture of what happened. Jarvie argues that the film is more than only the truth relative to a point of view; it is also about each reality that the subjective truths attempt to describe and how those truths are interpreted through the character's perception of events.
Kurosawa uses several film techniques to show different points-of-view in Rashomon. He knows that the audience is able to transition across cuts to deduce what is going on; techniques such as eyeline matching, seamless sound, and complementary point-of-view shots, enable the audience is able to fill in the gaps between cuts. But Jarvie argues that Kurosawa goes beyond these simple editing tricks by showing the audience that in one setting, events are presented in a manner in which the mind cannot reconstruct. Hence, transitioning is made difficult, and the audience's sense of reality is thwarted. This effect is intentional and induces the audience to think about relativity in truth.
In addition, Kurosawa plays with point-of-view through the film's cinematography. Although each story is told from a first-person perspective, the cuts in the scene and the shifting of the camera do not make it clear who is speaking. The eye-witness is not in a fixed position, as to be assumed in first-person, and the point of view is shifted from one eye-witness to several. This freedom in filming that Kurosawa incorporates makes Rashomon even more of a challenge to the audience to view the chain of events as truth, which the audience may never solve.