Capturing historic light in film

“In this period there was no electricity. It was before electricity was invented and consequently there was less light. Period movies should have less light. In a period movie the light should come from the windows because that is how people lived.” -Nestor Almendros, on filming Days of Heaven by natural light, as quoted on Wikipedia.

Rachel Hulin has a great post showcasing the cinematography in Days of Heaven. If you haven’t seen the film, you must. Terence Malick and Nestor Almendros, director and cinematographer, wanted to achieve a more natural look to the film, to approximate a look accurate with the period of the movie’s setting.

Hulin’s post reminded me of the technology behind Stanley Kubrick’s “Barry Lyndon.” Kubrick, a photographer before he made movies, wanted to film scenes in the movie by candlelight. Existing motion picture lenses weren’t fast enough, so he worked with camera technicians and suppliers to develop a 36.5mm f/0.7 lens. The lenses, originally developed for NASA, were retrofitted to work with movie cameras, and allowed the director to film many scenes in “Barry Lyndon” by unaided candlelight, such as in the scene above.

This also reminded how strange movie trailers can be, especially old ones, since they rely on a cultural currency that is recognizable but so far removed from what we are used to; Barry Lyndon‘s is weird, and A Clockwork Orange‘s is brilliant (not safe for work or people suffering from epilepsy).

One Response to “Capturing historic light in film”

  1. Worth a look: Stanley Kubrick’s centered single point perspective | dvafoto

    […] photojournalism from Chicago in the 40s, and here’s a post from way back that I did on attempts in film to capture a historical quality of light, including Kubrick’s Barry […]

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