Monday, 24 March 2014


“Act well your part, there all the honour lies.” - Alexander Pope

We watched a very good 1999 film on DVD, SnowFalling on Cedars by Scott Hicks. It explores the theme of love and hate relationships, prejudice, the concept of honour and justice and how far we are prepared to go in order to possess what we want. The cast was excellent, with Ethan Hawke, Youki Kudoh, Max von Sydow, Rick Yune, James Rebhorn, James Cromwell, Richard Jenkins. The film may have been lacking in some aspects of character development and may have slipped into some clichés, but the cinematography was absolutely stunning. The images of the Washington state winter are magnificent and the scenes of sea and forest, town and country, past and present are juxtaposed beautifully, contributing much to the plot.

The film is set in a small town in the State of Washington. It is the ninth anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, and a young man named Kazuo Miyamoto (Rick Yune), a much decorated American soldier during the war, is on trial for the murder of local fisherman Carl Heine (Eric Thal). Covering the trial is reporter Ishmael Chambers (Ethan Hawke), whose father, Arthur (Sam Shepard), had been a respected newspaperman locally for many years, known as a man who was not afraid to speak from his conscience when writing an editorial, and who took a stand for the Japanese locals during the emotionally exasperating years encompassing World War II.

Ishmael is trying desperately to cover fairly Kazuo’s trial, but finds himself troubled by a conflict of interests; he has a history with Kazuo's wife, Hatsue (Youki Kudoh), a former relationship reaching back to their childhood, but which ended with the onset of the war. And Ishmael still is grappling with the bitterness he has felt since that time, born of his experiences in the military, as well as Hatsue’s rejection of him. He is now forced to objectively observe this pivotal point in her life, watching from the sidelines and seeing first hand the effects of the prejudice that is very much alive among the local citizens, and which threatens the assurance of an impartial judgment in Kazuo’s case; a judgment that will determine the future of not only Kazuo, but of Hatsue, the woman Ishmael once loved, and still does.

Seeing that I have mentioned the word, cinematography is the art and technology of motion-picture photography. It involves such techniques as the composition of a scene; lighting of the set or location; the choice of cameras, lenses, filters, and filmstock; the camera angle and movements; and the integration of any special effects. All these concerns may involve a sizeable crew on a feature film, headed by a person variously known as the cinematographer, first cameraman, lighting cameraman, or director of photography, whose responsibility is to achieve the photographic images and effects desired by the director.

Differences between photography and cinematography are many. A single photograph may be a complete work in itself, but a cinematographer deals with relations between shots and between groups of shots. A main character, for instance, may initially come on screen unrecognizable in shadows and near-darkness. This as a single shot, may be poor photography, but cinematographically it leads into other shots that reveal the man and give the movie style and integration. Cinematography is also far more collaborative than photography. The cinematographer must plan his work with the producer, the director, the designer, the sound technicians, and each of the actors.

The camera crew itself may be very complex, especially in a feature film with a big budget. The chief cinematographer supervises a second cameraman who handles the camera; an assistant operator whose main function is to adjust the focussing; an assistant known as the clapper-loader, or clapper boy, who holds up the slate at the beginning of the shot, loads the magazines with film, and keeps a record of the footage and other details; and the “grips,” who carry or push around equipment and lay tracks for the camera dolly. The cinematographer may also be in charge of the gaffer, or chief electrician (a lighting technician), who is assisted by one or more “best boys.” A big-budget film may also have additionally a special-effects crew and sometimes a whole second unit of cinematographer and assistants.

1 comment:

  1. This was a beautiful film. You've reviewed it well. It was also interesting reading about cinematography!