The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan

"FILMCRAFT SERIES: CINEMATOGRAPHY and EDITING"

Cinematography

Even hardcore movie buffs might have a hard time explaining the vital role cinematography and editing play in filmmaking. When you think of great cinematography, what comes to mind? Sweeping vistas and glossy visuals, or intimate settings and atmosphere? By the same token, what constitutes a well-edited movie? How do you know when you're seeing one? Is it because you notice the editing, or because you don't notice it? I've spent over twenty years writing about film, and I still sometimes find it difficult to answer these questions. This is why I want to bring two books to your attention. Focal Press has released two new titles in their FilmCraft series, Cinematography and Editing, that are guaranteed to shape the way you think about movies.

Both books compile interviews from the masters in the field. Cinematography, written by Mike Goodridge and Tim Grierson, devotes 192 pages to the comments of the world's most respected Directors of Photography: Caleb Deschanel, Matthew Libatique, Vilmos Zsigmond, Christopher Doyle, Michael Ballhaus, and Ellen Kuras, among others. Each of them describes his/her overall philosophy of being a cinematographer. Most see themselves as visual storytellers; they try to match the film's look to its themes and content. There is in-depth talk of the use of color, camera movement vs. still placement, and the differences between shooting on film as opposed to shooting on digital. Reading their words, it becomes clear that cinematographers do more than simply shoot the film and make it look good. They have a direct influence on the overall tone of the movie. A shot can be enhanced by the use of a particular lens, or a specific lighting scheme. It's their job to know what's best. Several of the interview subjects also discuss the challenges/merits of shooting with new 3D cameras.

Each person's chapter is packed with full-color photos to illustrate their work. Sidebars offer movie-specific insight, such as when Ed Lachman expounds on the use of low-contrast Kodak film to create a nostalgic vibe in Sofia Coppola's The Virgin Suicides. In another sidebar, Vittorio Storaro explains how colors were strategically combined in Warren Beatty's Dick Tracy. Also scattered throughout the book are “Legacy” chapters that examine the influence of groundbreaking cinematographers like Jack Cardiff and Sven Nykvist.

Cinematography
Editing, written by Justin Chang, has an identical layout. Among the notable names discussing their craft: Walter Murch, Dylan Tichenor, Stephen Mirrione, and Joel Cox. There are Legacy chapters for people such as Quentin Tarantino's trusted editor, the late Sally Menke. The subjects explain how the tone of a scene can be dramatically impacted based on the way it is cut, and discuss the pros and cons of editing digitally vs. on film. In the sidebars, you'll get fascinating stories behind some of your favorite movies. Tichenor reveals how Boogie Nights had a small number of frames removed each time it went before the MPAA, until they finally got the R rating. Virginia Katz, meanwhile, discusses her choice to keep Jennifer Hudson primarily in close-up for her show-stopping Dreamgirls number, “And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going,” in order to “convey a sense of her isolation.” Joel Cox offers up several amusing anecdotes about the many movies he's done with Clint Eastwood.

Both FilmCraft books are gorgeously produced and designed. Simply put, they're classy. But more than that, they are enlightening. The books remove some of the mystery behind these technical skills, showing how vital they are to creating what ultimately ends up on the screen. I walked away with an increased sense of what cinematographers and editors do. I thought I knew a lot of it already; turns out there's so much more than I imagined.

Informative, educational, and great fun, Cinematography and Editing are must-owns for the hardcore film buff.


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