|by (edited) Richard van Oosterhout, Maarten Rossem and Peter Verstraten|
|Reviewed by Jim Hemphill|
In the 25 years since Denis Schaefer and Larry Salvato published their still essential book Masters of Light: Conversations with Contemporary Cinematographers, collections of interviews with directors of photography have proliferated at an increasing rate, with a number of fine volumes (David Ellis’ Conversations with Cinematographers and Mike Goodridge and Tim Grierson’s Film Craft: Cinematography among them) published in the last year or two. With room always for another great one, Shooting Time: Cinematographers on Cinematography is a vital addition to the literature. Published by the Netherlands Society of Cinematographers and edited by Richard van Oosterhout, NSC; Maarten van Rossem and Peter Verstraten, the book collects a wealth of information into a compact package that provides inspiration and insight in equal measures.
Shooting Time contains interviews with 19 cinematographers from a variety of countries and backgrounds, with the common denominator an extremely high level of artistic accomplishment. Legends like Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC, and Luciano Tovoli, ASC, AIC, coexist in the tome with the next generation of innovators such as Bruno Delbonnel, ASC, AFC, and Roger Deakins, ASC, BSC, and there is a nice balance among art-house favorites (Maryse Alberti) and studio veterans (Dante Spinotti, ASC, AIC) — and filmmakers like Edward Lachman, ASC, who are equally comfortable in both worlds. The varied approaches and techniques of this diverse group of make for a rich reading experience as Shooting Time explores the art from a multitude of enlightening perspectives.
Before the interviews, however, the book provides context in the form of four essays about the history and technology of film. Although one can easily dip in and out of the interviews without reading this material, a number of interesting points are made in the opening pieces that resonate throughout the later conversations. Verstraten’s “From Gance to Reygadas” traces several significant movements from the silent era to more recent national cinemas emerging in the era of globalization. Peter Delpeut’s “The Documentary Experience” gives an eloquent, first-hand account of the relationship between a cameraman and director working in the documentary form. NSC member Phillipe Vie contributes “Custodians of the Image,” a piece on the challenges facing cinematographers who wish to protect their work from interference in the digital age. The final essay, by Elen Lotman, ESC, is “Passionate about Celluloid,” a plea for allowing film to coexist with digital.
The film vs. digital debate is a common theme throughout the interviews that follow, which tend to focus on general theoretical and technical issues rather than discussions of specific films. The general format of each interview is similar, with the subject giving a brief overview of his or her background before delving into personal philosophies regarding light, color, composition, the relationship between cinematographer and director, and the more practical aspects of surviving in the business. Each director of photography is then asked to weigh in on the ongoing discussions about the demise of celluloid and the questions that raises in terms of production, release and archiving. Not surprisingly, the opinions are as wide-ranging as they are well argued, with some cinematographers embracing the new possibilities of digital as others bemoan its limitations. (The general consensus, as one might expect, is the perfect world would allow digital and celluloid to coexist, and it would allow cinematographers to pick the proper format for each project.) As with all of the topics covered in the book, the cases made on all sides are equally strong, given the intelligence and experience of the subjects; this results in a comprehensive overview of key photographic concerns from which the reader can choose which lessons apply to his or her own methodology.
The book concludes with a beautiful gallery of photographer Kris Dewitte portraits that showcase an array of cinematographers, some (Lachman; Deakins; Robby Muller, NSC, BVK) interviewed and some (Vittorio Storaro, ASC, AIC; Mihai Malaimare Jr.) not. Even better is the gallery that opens the tome, a collection of photographs showing cinematographers on the job utilizing innovative rigs and inventive camera positions to tell their stories. The stills are a delight, and the essays and interviews they bracket encourage and reward repeat readings by anyone interested in what some of cinematography’s best artisans have to say about the history and future of their craft.
Netherlands Society of Cinematography