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Visions of Light
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13 out of 14 people found the following review useful:

A Great Documentary For Movie Buffs

Author: ccthemovieman-1 from United States
18 September 2006

People who surf this particular website, generally-speaking, should love this documentary as it deals with the movies, and how they are photographed and how the cameramen and we, the viewer, see them. That may sound a bit dry, but this documentary is anything but that. They never stay more than a few minutes on any topic, personality or movie.

I appreciated this DVD more and more as I became more familiar with films. The more of a fan you are of both movies and cinematography, the higher you will rate this documentary. From silent movies to modern-day, the producers on this did a fine job showing examples of films from every decade up to 1990. (It would be fun to see an updated edition of this to include films from the past 15 years.)

This video gave me a new appreciation for black-and-white films. Some of the photography was magnificent and many cinematographers think that is the medium in which they could really show off their talents.

Regarding color, this documentary is where I first heard about the fabulously- filmed movie, "Days Of Heaven" (1978), which has become one of my all-time favorites. In all, there are about 125 films mentioned, so you may discover some gems you weren't aware of, as I did.

Whether you know most of these films or just a few, you should find a number of things in here interesting.

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13 out of 14 people found the following review useful:

You'll never look at a film the same way after seeing this!!!

Author: twltzone from Washington DC
22 October 1999

This is a great, I repeat great, documentary on the history of cinematography. No film student should be without it!! It covers all the changes in technology and techniques and its impact on film.

It brilliantly shows the freedom of camera movement during the silent period and how things became more restricted when sound was added later and the transition from B/W to Color. But most importantly, clearly depicts how Directors of Photography over came these limitations and created new techniques which changed film history forever. Brilliant!!!! You'll never look at a film the same way after seeing this.

Covers many different aspects of "the Hollywood look" and the different "Studio looks" throughout time. Also uncovers the secrets of many DP's and how they made their "Stars" look so incredible!!

I especially like the section on Film Noir and the plethora of absolutely breath taking film clips!!! Included in this gem of a documentary are great clips from classics like the 1947 version of "Oliver Twist" and examples from some of the greatest DP's of all time!!! Arthur Miller...etc...

Very entertaining!! Even for non-film buffs!!! I've showed this documentary to friends and relatives and they all seem to watch with amazement!!!

I liked it so much I just had to buy it!

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12 out of 14 people found the following review useful:

The best documentary on film-making out there

Author: Glenn Andreiev ( from Huntington, NY
19 November 2001

The magical glow Marlene Dietrich gave off in her vintage exotic films, the almost news-coverage like grit of DOG DAY AFTERNOON, the realistic look of JAWS- all the secrets of how to make a film look it's best possible are here in this excellent American Film Institute produced documentary. VISIONS OF LIGHT traces the history of cinematography in simple, everyman terms (No, we don't have cameramen using jargon like "f stops, ground glass, neutral density.") The film clips from such beautifully lensed films as SUNRISE, GRAPES OF WRATH, REBECCA, T-MEN, PICNIC, IN COLD BLOOD, TAXI DRIVER and BLADERUNNER) perfectly highlight the film. A true must see.

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7 out of 8 people found the following review useful:


Author: k h from United States
6 February 2006

Yes, it ignores most of Europe and the rest of the worlds contributions, but for what it is, it's just lovely.

It's an introduction to the art of cinematography in American movies, with clips and comments from the greats about American film from birth till 1990 or so, when it was made. Some of the cinematographers are humble and self-effacing, some clearly have large egos, but they all obviously love and care deeply about film and film making.

This is a terrific film to show your children, a behind the scenes that is informative rather than salacious or snarky.

Highly recommended.

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5 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

A great introduction to cinematography

Author: TiffinyKaye from United States
6 September 2005

I was a film student in college, but my primary interest was in the story/writing end. While I wasn't totally into the directing and cinematography aspects, I did have a lot of exposure to it, being that the University of Utah film program forces you to have a well-rounded background in all the basics of film-making.

I was also a teacher's assistant in college to a great film professor, who made it a habit of showing this documentary to his classes to introduce them to the field they were getting into. After the three times I was "forced" to watch this piece, I can truly say I gained a treasured respect and appreciation for the mechanics of film. Yes it's story..yes it's acting...but really, the story is conveyed through images--and best conveyed through images captured by those who know what they're doing. There is so much thought that goes into being a good DP--being aware of your surroundings, lighting, being innovative enough to solve problems (because they come up a lot), and how to make an actor look good or how to get the best shot of something.

Rather than explaining like a text book "how to be a good DP," the film is composed of a series of documentary type interviews and clips from influential films over the years--films like "Sunrise" from the silent era, to modern films like "Days of Heaven," "Raging Bull," and "The Godfather." They give a good summary of the best examples of DP work, as well as highlighting why a particular cinematographer was viewed as a master in his field.

This is a well put -together piece, and I'd definitely recommend it.

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4 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

Entertaining and informative documentary on cinematography.

Author: shawnserdar from North Vancouver, Canada
26 August 2004

This is a great documentary, of interest to any student of film or anyone who wants to deepen their appreciation of movies. The film showcases some great cinematographers (Caleb Deschanel, Conrad Hall, Gregg Toland, etc.) chronologically, giving a brief history of film at the same time -- it interviews the cinematographers at it shows countless clips from all sorts of film.

My only complaint is that, despite the work from several foreign cinematographers, the films are mostly American (this doc was made after all by the AFI), and so it skips out some great legendary international films (from Kurosawa, Bergman, etc.) that deserve equal attention.

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4 out of 5 people found the following review useful:


Author: Kevin Maness from St. Davids, PA
25 July 2000

Simply, this is one of the best documentaries I've seen on the art and science of making movies. This one is from the cinematographer's point of view and uses many excellent interviews along with miles of illustrative movie clips. I recommend this to anyone who has an interest in the creative process of filmmaking.

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3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

The importance of Cinematography

Author: Arne Reisegg Myklestad from London
9 April 2007

Taking a stand for cinema's populist underdog, Visions of light reinstates the basic elements of importance in film in an age where the artistic merit is credited the director and the actors. Or maybe it merely tells an audience what every filmmaker knows so well; that the art of film would be nothing without light and the craft of capturing and animating it. Since the origin of film-making, cinematography has maintained its reputation of being a craft, long after the role of the director was given creative control. And with such a responsibility in management of physical and optical parameters, the creative expression of the director of photography is purely based on experiment through immense control. From Charles Lang being instructed to "put his shadows wherever he wanted, but not on the actors face" to David Lynch and Frederick Elmes discussing "how dark is dark", the art of cinematography is just as much about being an illusionist as just a mediator between production and aspection. In commentary to his "sketching of things in the dark" to the point of monochromism, John Alton summed up the spirit of cinematography in reminding us that it is not as much about the lights you turn on as the one's you don't.

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7 out of 12 people found the following review useful:

"Visions of Light" is kind of lightweight

Author: El Cine from Southeastern Massachusetts
16 December 2006

In movie documentaries, and in the public's awareness of movies, cinematography rarely gets much attention, however important it may be. Indeed, the public would probably never hear about the craft if not for the academic cover it provides for the Oscars ceremony; putting it in the award lineup gives those silly prizes some more serious technical credibility, as do editing and art direction. Thus when I heard about this obscure documentary, I was impressed that somebody would focus on this topic, and expected a viewing experience that would educate me (an interested film buff who isn't aspiring to be a filmmaker) more about this aspect of film-making. Unfortunately the documentary turns out to be more superficial. I thought "Visions of Light" would be more "illuminating" (pun not intended) and "enlightening" (pun intended).

The visual presentation mainly consists of a glut of shots from films over the years parading by in breathless fashion, and amounts to little more than celebratory name-dropping. These shots could've showed up in the context of some other documentary -- about directors, actors, or "great American films", for instance -- and it would've been much the same. Sometimes the montage is pointless. Why look at Quinlan strangle a guy in "Touch of Evil"? Is the cinematography more interesting for this particular shot? And what *did* the cinematographer or "DP" for "Do the Right Thing" do to convey the hottest day of the year through his photography? The documentary never makes this clear, and the clips from the movie become the random scenes of a promotional featurette.

What the documentary cares to teach us is not technical enough; the show reiterates that DPs employ light and shadow to construct a shot. Okay, well, I knew that already. We glimpse many DPs chatting with the interviewer about their craft, but often their talking is just anecdotes or "Oh, what an eye-catching scene that old master made!" I wished to learn: What kind of process goes into shooting a scene? What kind of buttons and dials does the cameraman manipulate? Could we have seen some videos or animations of cameras, lights, and other devices in action? Likewise, there is no narrator to flesh out the history and technique of cinematography; we mainly hear the DPs reminiscing.

There is only scattered discussion of a few techniques used on a few films. It was intriguing to hear Michael Chapman mention how Paul Schrader's script for "Taxi Driver" was very visual and helpful for guiding his work. I would've liked to hear more about how the DP collaborates with the screenwriter, director, and other filmmakers, not just that Orson Welles was impressed by Gregg Toland, for instance.

A few humorous moments include (1) Chapman observing how both he and Martin Scorsese talk rapidly, which made discussing films with each other easier; (2) Gordon Willis making a pompous fool of himself by casually comparing himself to Rembrandt.

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4 out of 7 people found the following review useful:

Entertaining history lesson...

Author: moonspinner55 from las vegas, nv
13 November 2005

Documentary on the art of cinematography, with a handful of revered directors of photography reflecting on their heroes and mentors, on films which inspired them and (selected) projects they've worked on. Despite a lot of smart talk and amusing anecdotes, this project is colorful and entertaining without being especially enlightening (for instance, only Gordon Willis cites a regret--a sequence from "The Godfather Part II"). Some incredible (and Oscar-winning) DP's like Geoffrey Unsworth, Harry Stradling and Peter Bizou are not even invited to the fore, which is disappointing, and the film clips are certainly on the lean side (hardly anything from the 1950s), but what is here is enjoyable, if not intriguing. Financed by the American Film Institute for PBS and Japanese equivalent NHK. **1/2 from ****

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