A few weeks ago I was out for dinner with friends at a place some might perceive as a dive.  In truth, anyone with some soul would love it – a locals-mostly bar\restaurant where the food and decor are marginal.  Which is not to say it didn’t have its appeal.  Fresh off the beach, after your eyes adjust to the darkness, the wood-paneled ’70’s makeover will keep you scanning the red banquettes for all manner of riff-raff.  Even though you can’t smoke you’ll wish you could, and when you park two blocks away the floating whiff of beef on the grille promises more than it will deliver.  Thankfully, it’s a hipster-free zone – no hate the man beards, no irony.  The regulars expect you to mind your business and check your nonsense at the door.  Doing so will earn their respect and gain your access to what keeps them coming back: The bartender sprays the drinks around with the urgency of a flailing artery.

            Though attention-seeking was discouraged, as my Manhattans were kicking an exception was made.  One of the diners began to sing Happy Birthday.  Normally he would’ve been shunted into silence.  Instead, this man – unfamiliar yet clearly a trained vocalist – continued with a warm, rich baritone that froze everyone mid-sneer.  It came from deep in his chest and conveyed an emotion rarely encountered in daily life.  What he did was exquisite; as the effect took hold of the room, it was as if we were hearing this most familiar of melodies for the first time.  When he finished, the old gang’s sideways glances turned to appreciation.  Their applause was every bit sincere as his performance.

            But our new friend wasn’t done.  A few minutes later, after the grumpy ambience resettled, he once again piped up, this time with the Star Spangled Banner.  Unlike so many celebrity fools who turn it into an ego-driven vocal exercise before the ballgame, his version was genuine.  It came forth without artifice or reference to himself.  And once again, his voice was beautiful.  There was a deafening appreciation at its conclusion, the entire house on its feet…and not a dry eye among them.

             You might be asking what any of this has to do with cinematography.  Well, it has everything to do with it.

            Our work has the potential to touch people in the same way that singer did in the restaurant.  It doesn’t matter if you’re shooting tripe or a top studio release.  Someone, somewhere is going to be moved – perhaps deeply or unexpectedly – by what you’ve done.  Though it’s hard to maintain that spirit amidst the madness of the world, we can’t afford to let it slip away.  Our industry is too often short on decency and humanity; a pure motivation is valuable and must be welcomed.

            And since the only thing we can fully control in life is our own behavior…you got it!  The effort begins with you-know-who.


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