Beauty lighting – the special treatment that makes an already gorgeous woman appear even more so in close up – has been an obsession of cinematographers since the dawn of the medium. Just consider the idealized sheen lavished upon so many female stars of the studio era. Silent film sweetheart Mary Pickford so appreciated Charles Rosher, ASC’s efforts that she kept him under exclusive contract for more than a decade. Greta Garbo enjoyed a long and impactful relationship with William Daniels, ASC while Ernest Haller, ASC was the favorite of Bette Davis, Joan Crawford and Ingrid Bergman. It’s not for no reason these cinematographers were in demand. The tricks and techniques they used were so varied and effective, they deserve a blog of their own.
Then there was the excessively filtered style brought to an apex by Gerald Perry Finnerman, ASC on the original Star Trek series during its initial NBC run in the 1960’s. Captain Kirk’s close ups were tack-sharp while his intergalactic female guest star was shot through a haze of Vaseline. The effect was quite jarring as it cut back and forth, even to the wide-eyed children of the time.
On the other side of the lens, these actresses were smart and demanding. They understood hair and make-up, costumes and camera. They knew exactly how to move and present themselves so as to accent their best points while hiding imperfections. And if they had to cross the room and hit a mark in order to catch the light just so, they could land it to the centimeter, blindfolded. How else could they expect to emerge from a hurricane and still look like a million?
Those days are long over and though we still try to make our female stars look great, the approach now depends more on the context of the story than the creation of a goddess. Realism is what we generally see now and it’s much more in line with the world we live in. But there’s still a knack to delivering the appropriate design…
In today’s clip, the characters played by Alicia Witt and Amy Smart have a chance meeting in an office hallway and exchange barbs. Having previously shot both of them in other projects, I came to the party with some ideas already in mind. That they’re both young and beautiful made my job that much easier.
The first thing to go were the overhead fluorescents; no one looks good under that kind of light, so the electrical department undid the tubes over their stop marks (they were left on for the rest of the hall). Then, notice that as they square off with each other they’re both lit separately and cosmetically. Alicia’s features and coloring were better treated by a soft source, while Amy’s was best served by a slightly more directional feel.
While these shots may not be on par with Bert Glennon, ASC’s lighting of Marlene Dietrich in Blonde Venus, they’re every bit as tasteful and appropriate. Besides, he wasn’t working at anything akin to the break-neck pace of modern TV production. This treatment was also fast and efficient and gave the director the most time to work on the performances, which nowadays is the most important factor of all!