Thread: The Graduate

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    #11
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    Gordy was an absolute perfectionist. He refused to use 1/4 CTO gel because he felt that two layers of 1/8 CTO was more accurate. There is absolutely nothing that was done sloppily or without specific intent on a Gordon Willis shoot.

    Gordon specifically stated that he wanted the shadows in the eyes of these mobsters because he felt that these shadowy guys were always trying to hide their true nature. In fact you can track the difference between various characters and their lighting, and even how some progress within the story. Look at the lighting on Al Pacino before the big assassination scene in the restaurant and then the lighting after. There is a progression. In The Godfather, Part II Gordon took it even further, with Pacino sometimes nearly disappearing in shadow and that wonderful last shot where he eye is just barely visible. That's when they started calling Willis the Price of Darkness.

    BTW, at the time there were many DPs who felt as you do about Willis' work on The Godfather. They couldn't believe anyone would light a scene where the eyes would go dark. They absolutely hated it and there was a real East Coast / West Coast brouhaha. This was also around the time of movies like The French Connection and the original The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, and many guys one the West Coast were not appreciative of the "New York School" of cinematography. I think it was in the book Masters of Light that you hear some of the arguments from both sides.
    Mitch Gross
    Cinema Product Manager
    Panasonic System Solutions Company


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    Quote Originally Posted by Mitch Gross View Post

    BTW, at the time there were many DPs who felt as you do about Willis' work on The Godfather. They couldn't believe anyone would light a scene where the eyes would go dark. They absolutely hated it and there was a real East Coast / West Coast brouhaha. This was also around the time of movies like The French Connection and the original The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, and many guys one the West Coast were not appreciative of the "New York School" of cinematography. I think it was in the book Masters of Light that you hear some of the arguments from both sides.
    My dislike is not that the eyes are dark but HOW they are dark. I'm not knocking the look but the execution of the look. There is dark that is well-executed and there is dark that isn't well executed.

    I find the "dark" in this scene to be better executed than in that scene from the Godfather-



    And this goes to my assertion that the standards of lighting are higher today than in the past.
    Big sources matter.


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    #13
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    To each their own. You may be the first person in 40-some years to criticize the cinematography of The Godfather, but you do you.
    Mitch Gross
    Cinema Product Manager
    Panasonic System Solutions Company


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    #14
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    I had long admired Willis' work (who hadn't) and finally had a chance to meet the man. It was 1992 and he was in Northampton, MA to shoot what was to be one of his last films, "Malice", which is largely remembered now for Alec Baldwin's "I am God" monologue. I was living in Northampton at the time and the little city was buzzing about having a major motion picture there, mostly due to the presence of Nicole Kidman and her new husband Tom Cruise. I was more excited about watching the shoot itself when they were out on the streets. One day crowds lined downtown as the company was shooting the opening sequence, hoping to catch a glimpse of one of the stars--they were to be disappointed as none were there that day. As they were setting up for this shot (a pretty impressive piece of operating--I'd guess at least 200mm on a moving subject), I spotted Gordon standing by himself a little distance from the camera and I approached him. Blurted out some awkward stuff about how honored we were to have him here which didn't interest him much, so I asked how the movie was going. He squinted up at the sky and growled "I'm just a goddamn meter monkey on this one".

    Amazing. In retrospect, a lot of the material shot in Northampton was day exterior so I imagine he was coming off a week or two of that at that point.

    Haven't watched the movie in years, it was a pretty good thriller and I remember a few scenes in his inimitable dark style, may have to watch again.

    Mitch (or anyone else), I feel like you must also have some story about meeting him in your youth?
    Charles Papert
    charlespapert.com


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    Quote Originally Posted by Batutta View Post
    I still think you guys are underestimating how much harder it was to expose an image back in the old days, and how that dictated the look of things. When Technicolor film first came out, its ASA rating was 5! Even up until the 70's, the fastest film stock was ASA 100, and DP's would push that a couple stops, which made it grainer, contrastier and with less dynamic range. You could not light things the way you would today with sensitive digital cameras, or fast film stock.
    +1..and in 16mm (mid '60s to mid '70s), it was even tougher. The available color stocks were mainly Ektachrome Commercial, a "lower contrast" original for making Kodachrome prints (ECO: ASA 25 Tungsten, 16 Daylight with an 85 filter) and EF with a blazing tungsten ASA 0f 125 that had to be "flashed" by the lab to lower the contrast enough to print from (it was initially used as a direct projection news film for film chains).
    16mm versions of color negative really only became usable with the introduction of 100 ASA 7247 in 1974...it could be pushed a stop and still look decent.

    Still think a base ISO of 800 is too slow?

    Ken


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    Quote Originally Posted by Mitch Gross View Post
    To each their own. You may be the first person in 40-some years to criticize the cinematography of The Godfather, but you do you.
    A heretic in our midst.
    Big sources matter.


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    #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by CharlesPapert View Post
    Mitch (or anyone else), I feel like you must also have some story about meeting him in your youth?
    I met him a few times in the 1980s as I was a young teenage enthusiast just learning stuff. Back in the day in NYC you could meet a lot of people by hanging out at places like Magno or DuArt. I especially liked DuArt film labs, home to The Slowest Elevator On The Planet (tm). Get a guy stuck waiting in the lobby with you and then stuck in a 6'x6' box for several long minutes and you could learn a lot (or burn a bridge forever -- always be nice kids!).

    The first time I met Gordon was when he was working on color timing Perfect, the John Travola / Jamie Lee Curtis movie about LA gym culture. I think they shot in LA but Gordon was timing it in NY because he hated LA and wanted to go there are little as possible. I was basically this kid just out of school who was allowed to hang out in the back as long as I kept quiet. I remember how unremarkable the color timing session appeared to be and said as much to the colorist afterward. He explained that it was always that way with Willis. "Gordon times a movie on set. Everyone remarks on his work on Zelig and Broadway Danny Rose because they seem so special, but the answer print for The Purple Rose of Cairo looks identical to the dailies."

    For those too young to know, that basically never happened. Gordon would test to achieve the look he wanted beforehand, and pick the printing lights (color correction) he wanted for Day Interior, Day Exterior, Night Interior, and Night Exterior. Then he shot the entire movie with those printing lights in mind. The lab would steadfastly take NO creative steps or try to "help" him in any way. They would just print the dailies based on those four preplanned printing lights. And he would nail it every single shot. Because he was just that good a craftsman.

    Nestor Almendros was shooting a gangster film in NYC (Billy Bathgate) and Gordon came in to help out for a couple days because Nestor was ill (it's been a few decades so I guess I can share this now). Nestor had set up a row of 5Ks pumping through diffusion along a row of windows. When Gordon came in he looked at the row of 5Ks (it was a big warehouse and there must have been 20 of them) and he asked a grip to grab a rope. He then strung the rope from one end of the line to the other and pointed out how the lights weren't the same distance from the windows. There was a few inches variance here and there, and we're talking about fixtures that were pumping light to a distance of some 50'-75'. But Gordon made them line the stands up perfectly like little soldiers. I'm sure it made a difference in his eyes.

    On The Godfather, Part III I got to help out on the BTS featurette. I remember being on the set the day Pacino was sitting by the coffin of an old Don back in Sicily (the scene was actually a reshoot in NYC because they had to change some story point in editing). I recall thinking that it was crazy bright in the room and we were able to shoot a very poppy 16mm image for our footage. Of course Gordy was overexposing, pull processing and printing at a high light in order to have deep blacks and crisp contrast. Plus he wanted his faces to be a little dark, so when they were purposefully underexposed in the range they actually dropped into darkness quickly without showing any grain. It was a really slick look and I was amazed by how different his footage appeared compared to ours, all in the same light.

    When Gordon participated in the Visions of Light documentary, he'd been retired for a few years already. The crew showed up to his house in a truck containing every possible lighting option because the DP was terrified to not have whatever might be needed when it came to lighting an interview with Gordon Willis. In the end he used a fairly basic setup but the funniest part was that Gordon had never seen a Litepanel before. At the time it was the original brick, about 2" x 6" with a battery that could snap on the back. Gordon was fascinated with it, kept playing with the thing, and for a minute they considered shooting the whole interview with just Gordon holding the little LED and lighting himself.
    Mitch Gross
    Cinema Product Manager
    Panasonic System Solutions Company


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