Film Theory: Cinematography–Camera

Research in Progress, Feb 26, 2022

Vittorio Storaro (The Last Emperor):

“Photography is the literature of light. The cinematographer is a writer who utilizes light, shadow, tonality, and color, tempered with his experience, sensitivity, intelligence and emotion to imprint his own style and personality on a given work.”

One of sharpest observation about the impact and meaning of camera angle was made by cinematographer Michael Chapman (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull), who also became a director:

“Angles tell us emotional things in ways that are very mysterious. And emotional things that I’m not very aware of. I think a particular angle is going to do one thing, and it does something quite different sometimes. I no longer have any sure sense that I have a grasp of it. Angles are the most mysterious thing about movies to me.”

Consistency of Image:


Visual harmony

Matching shots

By intent, some films use mixture of visual textures.


b/w and color, 35mm, 16mm, super8; 14 different film stocks

Cinematography and Stars:

Peacocock, p. 377

High-key lighting: placing key light, the strongest source of lighting, right next to the camera.

Movie stars of the Golden Age like high-key, because it disguised facial lines by eliminating shadows

Charles Lang and Dietrich

William Daniel and Garbo

Camera Movement

Giannetti, 501

Camera movement is associated with vitality and energy of youth

Citizen Kane:

Kinetic principles: Kane’s movements as youngster convey whirlwind energy.

Static camera is associated with illness, old age, death

Best Films

Peacocok table, p. 360


Citizen Kane




Wizard of Oz

Magnificent Ambersons


Battleship Potemkin

The Third Man

Birth of a Nation


Lawrence of Arabia

The Godfather


Days of Heaven

Schindler’s List

Apocalypse Now

The Conformist

Raging Bull

Blade Runner

Touch of Evil