25th Hour: Aka Spike Lee is Good at Lighting

This scene from Spike Lee’s 25th hour exemplifies an instance in film where lighting is used to its maximum affect. The young girl, a student out late at a night club on a school night, high on extacy and champagne, runs into her English teacher in the VIP section. The teacher is both overcome by sexual feelings for his young student, and fully aware of the possible consequences of acting on this impulse. He eventually succumbs to his desire, but regrets his decision immediately afterwards.

The lighting design, I think, is incredibly beautiful and effective in this scene to evoke specific responses in the viewer. The setting of the nightclub gives the director a great creative license to use bold, monochromatic colors in lighting, which may be atmospheric, but also provide subtext for the tension in the scene. We begin the scene by seeing the girl, seemingly floating on air and orgasmically content. She is lit to appear golden, her skin looks flawless, glistening and vivacious; irresistible. He is poorly lit, asleep in the corner, almost in shadow. When she approaches him, she is moved into a sharp, blue light. This change signifies to the viewer a change in the dynamic between these characters – that perhaps she could be trouble.

Next, we follow her upstairs, ascending to the upper level bathroom terrace. When we pan back, the teacher is on his feet, at the brink of “no turning back.” He walks up the dimly lit stairs in shame, hiding from passersby. When he enters the bathroom, the light is a bold red. This claustrophobic space forces the characters closely together. The red color can be read as the color of lust, fitting for the scene when where he cannot escape his overpowering compulsion to act upon his desire.

Finally in the scene, the male character cast away, feeling immense shame and regret. This visual resembles the floating sequence of the first shot. The lighting is a similar color, but less flattering. The actor is frozen, as if helpless and not in control, as he glides along. All in all, wonderful scene, great diversity in tension, accentuated by bold lighting choices, and a great sense of progression without the use of much dialogue. Bravo Spike!


The Godfather

The opening scene of The Godfather called out to me in terms of lighting used for maximum effect. As we all know, the scene begins in darkness – then we see the face of a man, a troubled man who begins to tell the story of how his daughter was beaten. The light is shining directly above him, only casting light on parts of his face and leaving the rest in shadow. This, to me, conveys that he is doing something wrong. He is in darkness, almost “lurking in the shadows” if you will. He is asking for murder. As the scene progresses, the camera loosens and we see more of the room. It is still dark and the light is only shining on the man in the chair. As the man continues to tell the story, we see a new figure – but only his hand and side profile. This new figure is in the shadows still. The new figure is Don Corleone, The Godfather.

This scene is a great introduction to the film. It immediately gives the audience a sense that the activity that goes on in this group is not what we would call “legal.” The lighting in this scene does a lot for the story. It shows the dark side of the Corleone family, and it becomes more apparent especially when juxtaposed with the following outdoor party scene. The lighting in this first scene is mainly for dramatic effect, to draw attention to the man’s story, as well as the introduction to the darkness and violence that comes along with the Corleone family.


Here’s a link in case the video doesn’t embed correctly: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bibRSt0Ajqk

Hey Gang,

Here’s a scene from Drive. What really impresses me about this scene is the diversity of lighting of the car’s interior. It is very difficult to control the lighting inside a car, since it is such an enclosed space, and the only light sources, besides exterior street lighting, are the harsh lights on the roof of the car. In my narrative for Danny’s intro class, we filmed inside a car and had to use a shoddy flashlight setup. So it is interesting to see what professional filmmakers can do in such a challenging setting.

The light is almost constantly changing throughout the scene, especially with the flashing lights on the faces of Gosling and Co inside the car, and they also do a great job of using the headlights as character building. This is the first time the audience sees Gosling show off his driving prowess, and his manipulation of the car’s headlights prove to the audience that he knows how to pull off a heist – THAT MUCH IS CLEAR.

Towards the end of the scene, Gosling is literally running away from the light from the police helicopter. Overall, the lighting creates the tension of a getaway attempt.

Hope ya enjoy it, and go see the movie. It is very good.

The Social Network

For me, The Social Network is a film that I can always look at and be amazed at how it was filmed, edited, and scored. It is not just a film about Facebook like many people think. In fact, the story is very dramatized and diverts from what actually happened to these people in real life. David Fincher wanted to make a film about greed, power and corruption, so he used the Facebook story as an inspiration and a backdrop. Yes it was a controversial film because of its misinterpretation of the truth, but the important thing to remember is that he was not trying to make a total reproduction of past events. His aim was not to make a typical college life film, which is why this film appears so dark in nature. This “darkness” is achieved by the lighting and musical score.

The particular scene I chose to examine the lighting used in the film takes place inside of a club in San Francisco. Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenburg) and Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) are conversing together about how Facebook can grow even more, and about how Mark shouldn’t settle for anything. Parker wants to push Mark further and further towards monetary success, but more importantly he wants to show him how Mark can potentially revolutionize an industry. Parker was of course the guy who founded Napster and revolutionized the music industry by weakening record companies. He influences Mark in ways that Mark doesn’t even realize, and he pushes him farther and farther away from the partnership he began with Eduardo Saverin, Mark’s best friend. In this way, Parker is displayed as a sinister force in this film. He drives Mark to leave Eduardo behind, and he manipulates him every chance he gets. The scene in the club had to have been lit by external lighting sources and could not have relied solely on the lights inside the club. Both Zuckerberg and Parker are very dimly lit in this scene, but the light playing off Parker’s face makes him look evil and conniving. Lit any other way and this scene would not have had the dramatic effect it achieves. Parker manipulates Zuckerberg in this scene, and the light and shadows on Mark’s face also reflect how is soul and character are being corrupted by Sean Parker.

The Fall (2006)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=agbAOSPP-bc (The scene is from 1:30-4:50)

This movie has a lot of really interesting work in it, I would definitely recommend it (even if you don’t like it, it’s worth seeing.) The basic premise of the movie is that a young girl befriends a bed-ridden man while staying in a hospital after breaking her arm and he entertains her with a fantastical story, which he begins to use to manipulate her into stealing morphine for him.

The lighting in this scene was done very particularly. Roy is trying to convince Alexandria to steal morphine from his neighbor’s cabinet. Alexandria is uncomfortable with the idea, sensing that it is wrong, but trusts Roy and wants him to continue the story. Roy’s face, representing the voice of “evil” is practically obscured in darkness, making him seem shady and sinister. Alexandria, representing innocence and purity is cast in direct light from the window. Her costume of all white makes her look almost angelic. They are sitting on opposite sides of the frame facing each other, emphasizing the contrast.

A Woman is A Woman

This scene from Jean-Luc Godard’s film Une Femme Est Une Femme is one of my favorite fight scenes of all time. The movement of the shots surrounding the two characters is very fluid, and you feel as though you are experiencing a glimpse of life with this couple. There is a perfect amount of comic relief dispersed throughout their conversation, and the director also structures the sound design, lighting, and camera movement to add to the whimsical nature of this scene.

Once the couple is finally settled in bed, the lights turn off and dialogue is heard on a black screen for a couple moments. The light is then turned on, and in the scenes to follow, both characters use the lamp as a prop and as a spotlight, bringing it to different parts of the room. The movement of the light in the shots, playing a character, draws your eye around the area and beckons your eye to follow the action in the scene.

The idea to incorporate the lamp into the scene draws attention to the subject matter; and adds an additional element to the power struggle and the fight between the couple. Because the couple is not on speaking turns, they use the books from the bookshelf to illustrate their thoughts towards one another. The thunderstorm-like sound heard in the background of this sequence adds to the silence between the couple, and the light music heard scantly throughout helps lighten the mood slightly. This film perfectly demonstrates the benefits of playing with light, music, and actions, and how realism and practicality are not always the best approach to making a film enjoyable. Plus, Anna Karina is just so cute, she could do anything and the film would be great!

Short Film to Watch – “Spider” dir. Nash Edgerton 2007

This twisted little short film about a practical joke gone horribly wrong kept me guessing the whole time and made me laugh right out loud. I think it’s a good example of a “resume short” that uses a comedic formula in an unfamiliar way to create a very original piece. It starts out simply enough, with Jill driving a car obviously upset, next to her boyfriend Jack, who is the cause of her exasperation because he always “takes things too far.” They stop at a gas station, where Jack buys a handful of Jill’s favorite chocolates as well as a plastic spider. The chocolates manage to assuage Jane’s anger, but the spider winds up causing both of them dearly.

The simplicity of this film is what I love the best. I think all to often we think that we complicate our scripts with a bunch of non-essential story elements that we think will contribute to the idea of the film or help the audience “get” what we’re trying to say. I know I’m guilty of this, even in my current script. Mostly though, these extras wind up only getting in our way. This film doesn’t delve into anyone’s psyche of make us ponder the meaning or nature of existence, it just tells a the story of one seemingly random event.

The moral of the story is pretty set up from the quote at the beginning, “It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye” (a quote ingeniously cited to “mum”) and really goes on to assert that if you keep messing with people, you’ll get the comeuppance you deserve. But the seriousness and reality of the story right up until the end make the final surprise so much more satisfying, and the whole film  ultimately winds up in the realm of the absurd; the comedic. We aren’t that sad for the pain that the characters go through because all of a sudden it becomes clear that the whole thing is really an extended gag set up to entertain the audience.

A+ Nash Edgerton, you got me good you crazy Aussie.