The A to Z Of My Lawyer Will Call Your lawyer : C
An occasional series where Astrid & Nick go through their cinema alphabet
OK. I don't have a favorite cinematographer, because to be honest I cannot remember a single name off the top of my head...it's embarrassing – and probably oh, so common.
Why do we still give all the credit to the director? Or the actors? We all know that movies are made by a large group of professionals every time, even small-budget films are the outcome of a crowd working together for a pretty long time. And the cinematographer is kind of crucial to any film really. Here's my toast!
My quick explanation of a cinematographer's role in any given movie is to be the eye. They see.
The problem is that the audience accepts what they see not seeing the seeing being done, but seeing as if it is them, the audience, seeing all by themselves. That was a stupid sentence, but if you reread it, it might make sense...I sort of like what I'm trying to say. To refer to an authority here's what the Oxford Dictionary of Film Studies says: "The design and style of a film is usually determined by decisions taken by three people: the director, the cinematographer and the production designer. [...] Indeed, Orson welles, the director of Citizen Cane (1941), famously gave (almost) equal billing to his cinematographer Gregg Toland."
The Oxford Dictionary explains that a cinematographers job is to plan and control the lightning and camera during film production. Cinematographers have to understand and use a vast array of technical equipment (although on large productions they have camera teams and such to actually run the machinery), still their work is artistic and they make huge choices in what a film becomes. Woody Allen has worked with some great cinematographers – I loved how he told about their influence on his work on the recent documentary. He admitted that working with a great cinematographer makes his movies much better. Here's an entertaining discussion on Woody's litany of great cinematographers.
Why oh why, could we not send the paparazzi to follow around some busy cinematographers for a change?
This is here for several reasons. It's still one of my favorite ever films. It's the one we can hold as tantamount proof of Orson Welles' genius (sorry Pauline Kael). Astrid really finds the film boring so it's hardly likely that we'll ever review it here. We can also start to feel sorry for Citizen Kane. After many years of being king, or at the very least better than all the rest, Citizen Kane has been dethroned. Citizen Kane now is taking on the role of classic underdog. In the every-10-years-poll undertaken by Sight & Sound magazine to determine the greatest film of all time, as voted by critics, directors, actors etc. Citizen Kane after 50 years as undisputed no.1 has dropped to no.2 (replaced by Hitchcock's Vertigo).
I'm sure the distinguished contributors to the Sight & Sound poll took many things into account when deciding to undermine Citizen Kane's 50 years of reign. Orson Welles was 26 when he co-wrote, directed, starred and produced Citizen Kane. It was his debut film as director. Such youth and arrogance Welles displayed. Unconventional too. He really put a few noses out. Legend has it that at the Oscars that year (1941), whenever ...Kane was announced during the ceremony (...Kane was nominated for 9 Oscars, winning only one), the picture was roundly booed by the Hollywood establishment. Welles would forge a career of fall-outs and crossing the wrong people, he started as he meant to go on with ...Kane. It's often been supposed that the lead protagonist of Citizen Kane, Charles Foster Kane (brilliantly played by Welles) was based on then media tycoon William Randolph Hearst, one of the most powerful and certainly richest people in the world at the time. Hearst used his power and money to bury...Kane and Welles with it. It's hard to know what riled Hearst the most, the semi-unflattering portrait or the film's legendary pay-off line, which was apparently Hearst's favorite term for his lovers genitalia (Rosebud). It left cinema one of it's most enduring mysteries. Citizen Kane flopped at the time and it was only those in the know critics that raised it's reputation over the years that kept the film alive. By the mid 1960's the film had been pretty much resurrected.
And that, along with many other fascinating facts and stories and incidents is why Citizen Kane remains so much more than mere cinema. No other film has caused such a stink and been such a talking point. It's not just about weather it's the greatest film ever, it's about weather Welles actually co-wrote the film or not (did he steal the idea?). The film is actually not about Hearst at all but it's about Welles all along. Was ...Kane the first film told in flashback? Was Citizen Kane actually a work of genius because of Gregg Toland's groundbreaking cinematography? The use of light, set design, make-up, sound and special effects all broke new ground. Then you get to the narrative, truly never heard before in film. Orson could spin a yarn that's for sure. It's in all his work (his late movie F For Fake says it all). Did he take too much credit for ...Kane? Who knows, but who took the blame for ...Kane flopping (certainly undermining his next movie The Magnificent Ambersons) and who took the heat from Hearst? A lot of the mythology surrounding Citizen Kane always leads back to Welles' own tongue. It's a mystery like the one Citizen Kane left us with when one discusses Rosebud, written on the sleigh, burning in the fire. All you need to know is that modern cinema starts here. Vertigo knows.