The American Society of Cinematographers

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July 2012
Every Night the Trees Disappear: Werner Herzog and the Making of Heart of Glass Online
by Alan Greenberg; Foreword, Scenario and Afterword by Werner Herzog
Reviewed by Jim Hemphill

Greenberg’s presence on the set [of Heart of Glass] has resulted in the fascinating and extremely entertaining memoir Every Night the Trees Disappear: Werner Herzog and the Making of Heart of Glass.
Film Lighting: Talks with Hollywoods Cinematographers and Gaffers Online
by Kris Malkiewicz
Reviewed by Jim Hemphill

Kris Malkiewicz’s Cinematography and Film Lighting have long been staples in film-school curricula, and rightly so — the former book’s superb overview of the art of cinematography combined with the latter’s first-hand accounts from the field provide the most thorough introduction to the craft one can find in print. 
Conversations at the American Film Institute with the Great Moviemakers: The Next Generation Online
by George Stevens, Jr.
Reviewed by Jim Hemphill

Since 1969, the American Film Institute has served as host to an ongoing series of seminars in which the top cinematic practitioners share their experiences and struggles with the next generation of filmmakers.

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Every Night the Trees Disappear: Werner Herzog and the Making of Heart of Glass
by Alan Greenberg; Foreword, Scenario and Afterword by Werner Herzog
Reviewed by Jim Hemphill

In the mid-1970s, young film buff Alan Greenberg had just broken into the movie business as a unit photographer on Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1900 when a series of coincidences led him to a chance meeting with German director Werner Herzog. Herzog was, ironically, very suspicious of Bertolucci, saying, “His films are like counterfeit money.” Herzog was already one of Greenberg’s heroes because of his innovative films Fata Morgana and Even the Dwarfs Started Small, so Greenberg was delighted to make contact with the director, even if the circumstance — a press conference at Cannes — meant the young cineaste was unable to understand most of what Herzog said. Six months later, Greenberg was able to meet his idol under more agreeable conditions, as a journalist assigned to interview Herzog. Yet the interview never took place; instead, Herzog and Greenberg began a conversation that led to a job offer from the great director to the young neophyte.

That invitation to work on the 1976 release Heart of Glass led to Greenberg getting a front row seat at the making of a film that was extremely idiosyncratic, even by Herzog’s unorthodox standards. Never one to shy away from an unusual filmmaking challenge, Herzog decided to tell his story — that of a village in a state of mass delusion — with actors who were hypnotized throughout the production. With a few exceptions (such as performers required to engage in dangerous glass-blowing procedures on camera), all of the actors were hypnotized by Herzog during the audition process and then hypnotized again for every take during the shoot. The upshot was a film in which everyone appeared to be in a constant trance, and this, combined with cinematographer Jorg Schmidt-Reitwein’s lyrical images of Bavarian landscapes, makes Heart of Glass one of the truly mesmerizing pictures in Herzog’s oeuvre.

Greenberg’s presence on the set has resulted in the fascinating and extremely entertaining memoir Every Night the Trees Disappear: Werner Herzog and the Making of Heart of Glass. As someone who was at Herzog’s side through most of the filmmaking process, from pre-production and location scouting to shooting, the author was privy to all the peculiar goings-on associated with a Herzog production; based on this read, there were plenty. The process of directing a film via hypnosis is only the beginning. Greenberg’s tale documents not only Herzog’s many eccentricities (among them cataloguing the often hilarious and endless array of the director’s superstitions and odd dreams), but also those of his colleagues. Indeed, the people in the book are as varied and peculiar as the cast of a Herzog film, from the actor obsessed with disproving Einstein’s theories to a cantankerous, foulmouthed priest with his own filmmaking aspirations. These and a motley crew of performers and technicians set off on an adventure that traverses Bavaria, Czechoslovakia, Switzerland and Italy in a constant state of disarray, or so it seems. In the book’s afterword, Herzog claims there was more structure to the production than Greenberg has indicated, and the precision of his final product bears this out — somewhat.

That said, there is no doubt the wildly improvisational nature of Herzog’s filmmaking, which extends beyond the performances and dialogue to the locations and images, many of which are caught on the fly, is far less deliberate than that of most filmmakers, and reading about his cinematic high-wire act is completely riveting. As an indication of just how dependent Herzog’s effects are on discovery and extemporization, Greenberg has included the original screenplay in this book, and it often bears little or no resemblance to the finished film. Reading it in conjunction with a screening of the movie provides instructive insights into Herzog’s process.

There are already plenty of insights to be found in Greenberg’s account itself, which draws from both his journals at the time of the shoot and his later observations informed by 35 years of hindsight. Yet in the end, Herzog’s cinema remains mysterious and elusive, as he no doubt prefers; unlike many “making-of” books, Every Night the Trees Disappear is of virtually no use as a filmmaking primer or model since Herzog’s methods (and outcomes) are impossible to replicate. The value of Greenberg’s work is more inspirational than educational; the undeniably successful results of Herzog’s non-traditional approach indicate there is an alternative to the rigid, codified practices espoused by most film schools and commercial-production entities. Herzog’s philosophy of filmmaking as a combination of physical ordeal, trust in the mystical and instinctive, and financial and emotional risk certainly is not for everyone, but it makes for some great movies — and in the case of Every Night the Trees Disappear, for great writing about movies.    

Chicago Review Press
$24.95 hardcover


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Film Lighting: Talks with Hollywoods Cinematographers and Gaffers
by Kris Malkiewicz
Reviewed by Jim Hemphill

Kris Malkiewicz’s Cinematography and Film Lighting have long been staples in film-school curricula, and rightly so — the former book’s superb overview of the art of cinematography combined with the latter’s first-hand accounts from the field provide the most thorough introduction to the craft one can find in print. Although Cinematography, a nuts-and-bolts textbook, has been revised and updated several times over the years, the equally essential Film Lighting has remained unchanged since its initial publication in 1986. Thankfully, Malkiewicz has rectified this situation with a new edition of Film Lighting that brings the tome into the digital age, and the result is an indispensable read for cinematographers, operators, gaffers, directors and film students.

The new edition’s subtitle, “Talks with Hollywood’s Cinematographers and Gaffers,” is exactly that: a collection of interviews with practitioners of the craft. Yet Film Lighting goes far beyond the scope and depth of most similar collections, even the good ones. To start, the sheer star wattage of Malkiewicz’s interviewees is astonishing: he interviews dozens of legends, including ASC members Stephen Burum, Caleb Deschanel, Conrad Hall, James Wong Howe, Haskell Wexler and Vilmos Zsigmond, and that list barely scratches the surface. Contributions also include major directors like Alexander MacKendrick and Robert Wise, both carried over from the first edition of the book, as well as conversations with accomplished gaffers Colin J. Campbell and David Devlin, among others. In other words, the book’s information comes from the best of the best.

In the end, however, even the best interviewees are only as instructive as the interviewer allows them to be; in this case, the masters under interrogation are matched by a peerless journalist. Malkiewicz extracts a consistently high level of enlightening insights from his subjects on a wide range of subjects. He begins with the nature of collaboration, exploring the director of photography’s relationships with the director, art director, costume designer and camera department. The book then moves on to extremely detailed discussions of lighting equipment, lenses, cameras and a multitude of practical, technical and creative issues. Malkiewicz organizes the material around specific topics; the interview of each cinematographer, gaffer and director is spread out throughout the book, with comments on each theme appearing when appropriate.

This approach gives Film Lighting an emphasis on the craft itself, rather than the individuals giving the interviews; very little biographical information of the sort found in something like David Ellis’ recently published Conversations with Cinematographers is included in this book. Instead, Malkiewicz gets his subjects to describe specific solutions to virtually every lighting problem one can imagine, from lighting on location and in vehicles to dealing with the politics of actors’ personal makeup artists. The book is most fascinating when its cinematographers differ; often what works for one is a completely different approach from what works for another, and, as one might expect, the opinions about digital cinematography are wildly divergent. They are also plentiful: one of the biggest differences between this second edition of Film Lighting and its predecessor is a new reflection on the aesthetics and tools of high-definition work, and the specificity of information is remarkable.

Then again, this specificity permeates the book. It is hard to think of another interview compilation that contains so much genuinely useful, concrete data generously offered by the finest in the business. Malkiewicz illustrates the conversations with a series of well chosen stills and diagrams: many of the concepts are elucidated by production photos and frame grabs from films like Sophie’s Choice and Frances, and a large number of the cinematographers’ favorite lights and gear are represented visually as well. The author also provides his own editorial commentary throughout the book, tying together the sometimes disparate observations and opinions in a manner that keeps the content coherent while respecting the diversity of sensibilities on display. Malkiewicz wraps things up with a comprehensive glossary that will be greatly needed by novice readers, for the book is comprised of nothing but serious, highly technical exchanges. There is no fluff or filler. In its original incarnation, Film Lighting was one of the half-dozen best books ever written about cinematography, alongside classics such as Painting with Light by John Alton, ASC, and The Light On Her Face by Joseph Walker, ASC. Malkiewicz’s second edition is even better.

Touchstone
$22.95 paperback


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Film Lighting
Conversations at the American Film Institute with the Great Moviemakers: The Next Generation
by George Stevens, Jr.
Reviewed by Jim Hemphill

Since 1969, the American Film Institute has served as host to an ongoing series of seminars in which the top cinematic practitioners share their experiences and struggles with the next generation of filmmakers. The first seminar featured Harold Lloyd, who screened his classic comedy The Freshman for students and then engaged in a lively question-and-answer session; in his honor, the series is now known as the Harold Lloyd Master Seminar Program, and it has hosted a stunning array of directors, writers, producers, actors, cinematographers, editors, critics and other craftsmen across a wide spectrum of filmmaking disciplines. The series has been going on for so long and become such an institution that filmmakers who initially sat in on the lectures as students, such as Paul Schrader, have since returned as guests of honor.

Until recently, the wisdom to be gleaned from the seminar program was mostly limited to AFI fellows and students, but in 2006, George Stevens Jr., one of the founders of the institute, edited Conversations with the Great Moviemakers of Hollywood’s Golden Age. This marvelous compendium of Q&As with the likes of David Lean, James Wong Howe, Fritz Lang, William Wyler and Ingmar Bergman became an instant classic of film scholarship, a record of the making of dozens of the greatest films ever produced. Now, Stevens has published a follow-up volume on the filmmakers of the 1950s to the present, and it is even better than its predecessor. Just as the original tome traced the history of the classical-studio era (with a few detours to discuss foreign imports), the new work tells the story of the large-scale economic, cultural and aesthetic shifts that have shaped the last 60 years of filmmaking — all by way of massively entertaining interviews with the filmmakers who experienced (and were, in some cases, responsible for) those shifts.

Although Stevens’ first volume contained sections on a few cinematographers and screenwriters, the focus was almost entirely on legendary directors of the Hollywood studio system. The new book certainly delivers rich insights into this subject as well, with chapters featuring Robert Altman, David Lynch, Sydney Pollack and many other significant directors. But this time, Stevens has significantly broadened his scope to include conversations with, among others, actors Morgan Freeman and Meryl Streep, editor Anne V. Coates, composer Leonard Rosenman, producer David Puttnam and film critic Charles Champlin. Although the previous tome featured three directors of photography, the new edition, unfortunately, only includes one: a terrific interview with frequent Steven Spielberg collaborator Janusz Kaminski.

Although one can complain about what is missing from the book — obviously there are many great filmmakers who have participated in AFI seminars who are not represented but who, it is to be hoped, will appear in future volumes, it is indisputable that within its 700-plus pages, there is not a single wasted chapter or a page without valuable information. The informal setting of the AFI seminars leads to a remarkable honesty and self-awareness as the subjects speak candidly about their failures as well as their successes. As an historical document, the book is indispensable, capturing Paul Schrader at the time of Taxi Driver, Spielberg between Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Raiders of the Lost Ark and Peter Bogdanovich at the transitional point between his studio work and his return to Roger Corman with Saint Jack in 1979. Yet there are equally valuable career overviews in the form of late interviews with veterans Altman and François Truffaut, who look back on their greatest works from a more distanced perspective.

One of the best things about The Next Generation is its expansion to include significant figures in the world of avant-garde and independent film. Pioneers of non-narrative and experimental cinema like Shirley Clarke and Ed Emshwiller appear, as does John Sayles, whose experiences in the studio system, exploitation movies and the indie, art-house world generate some rich insights and lessons. Also included is a pleasurable balance between industry giants such as George Lucas and younger masters such as Darren Aronofsky and James Mangold. And some illuminating interviews occur with important figures in the industry whose names are not as widely known as they ought to be (Larry Gelbart being just one example). A variety of moderators — interestingly, Charlton Heston is featured as both a subject and a moderator — conduct the Q&As, but there is no fluctuation in their quality. The questions in every interview lead to an abundance of compelling anecdotes and rich perspectives. In fact, this is one of those rare interview collections that contains no fat at all — none. To read it is to feel as though one has consumed 32 mini-biographies as well as a riveting oral history of the last 60 years of American cinema. The book belongs on every movie-lover’s bookshelf, preferably within arm’s reach.            

Knopf
$39.95 hardcover

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