Visions of Light

Director: Arnold Glassman, Todd McCarthy, Stuart Samuels

This superb documentary about the art of cinematography, commissioned by the American Film Institute and scripted by critic Todd McCarthy, provides some illuminating insights into a neglected area of cinema. The format is simple: a series of interviews with top practitioners, past and present, who comment on a wide range of film extracts, all of them shown in their original aspect ratios and for the most part derived from high quality source material. Many key developments in the art of the moving image are explored, from Billy Bitzer’s pioneering work on D. W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation (1915) to the influence of German Expressionism, the French New Wave and Hollywood’s own innovations at key stages in its development. The enthusiasm and commitment of the cinematographers interviewed (they include such key figures as Allen Daviau, Conrad Hall, Gordon Willis, Nestor Almendros and Vittorio Storaro) is infectious, and one emerges from the movie with a much greater appreciation of what distinguishes truly great filmmaking. Sadly, one also comes away with a strong sense of what has been lost. With many of today’s films either cluttered with blatantly false digital imagining or looking like amateur videos, Visions of Light reveals just how beautiful the cinematic image can be.
Directors: Arnold Glassman, Todd McCarthy, Stuart Samuels. U.S.A., 1992. Black and white/Colour. 92 mins.

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