I recently watched two movies in quick succession, The Dark Corner (1946, photographed by Joseph MacDonald, ASC) and Odds Against Tomorrow (1959, photographed by Joseph Brun, ASC). Both were film noir, black and white B-titles, pedestrian stories at best (though expertly crafted and thoroughly enjoyable). What makes them worthy of comment is the undeniable passion with which they were made. Here it is, 74 years and 61 years after their release and the feeling positively leaped off the screen. Even if these productions were just another job of work for the filmmakers, their professional culture guaranteed the high premium. And in today’s era during which cinematography is often referred to as an act of ‘image capture,’ I assure you, there was nothing ‘captured’ about either of these films.
That phrase is annoying but there’s a great irony there, too. By referencing only equipment and hardware, it ignores the notion of ‘image creation,’ which refers to how those tools are applied artistically. If the digital revolution has taught us anything, it’s that without the human touch even the newest technology is worthless.
ASC legend Haskell Wexler took this a step further when he declared that our tools are the least important part of our work: “It’s really about the people you’re involved with and the effort you make together, the relationships you create. It’s learning about yourself and experiencing things and growing as a human being.” What a refreshing antidote to what can sometimes be a heartless business! Endorsing what he said is easy. Putting it into action is something else entirely.
If cinematographers are to maintain any sort of relevance in the future, we’re all going to have to make an effort well beyond the realm of ones and zeroes, of wires and glass.