Saturday, July 26, 2008

Making Visible the Apparatus

Again with the 70s cinema... this time I find curious the use of lens flare.


This example's from A Bridge Too Far, though one can see it in other films from the decade. (Klute has my favorite use of it.) I could guess some reasons for this stylistic tic, but truth is, I don't really know what drove the fashion for it. Certainly technological changes in cinematography proceeded rapidly in the decade, but the cinematography of the films in which flare appears is otherwise so controlled and crisp, it's hard for me to imagine it being anything but intentional, or at least built into a conscious aesthetic.

8 comments:

Bob Rehak said...

Ah, lens flare. What I find particularly charming about this accident of optics that has become a luminous cameo player in its own right is the way it's been picked up in videogames (Zelda: Ocarina of Time for the N64 was where I first noticed it) and more currently in CG feature films from Pixar and Dreamworks. Remediation in action, the digital apparatus tipping its hat to an inherited and -- in the era of the virtual camera -- prehensile trait. Probably too specific for an article-length study in itself, but I sure wish someone would dare to write the lens flare's history!

Josh said...

I believe in the AFI doc, "Visions of Light", László Kovács claims to have been the one who started the lens flare trend with "Easy Rider". It's been a while since I've seen the doc though, I don't believe that he gives a reason other than (I'm paraphrasing) someone at the studio pointed out the error of the lens flare and he responding by saying it was intentional.

mndean said...

I believe the lens flare you show in the photo to be a unique artifact of anamorphic lenses and is something of a signature (light halos that are oval are the other). Typical spherical lens flare doesn't look like that.

As for Kovacs' comment, I can swear I had seen flare in movies pre-1969 (granted, not by much), but he made much more extensive use of it in Easy Rider than any DP prior to that.

shahn said...

I love the light flare.
I've made a few studies of them (mostly accidental, but not all) over at my blog.

Before I started noticing them in older films, it was a sure signifier to me of '70s cinema. I saw that documentary too - the intentional use Kovacs claims does seem to fit within the time-frame of my informal notations.

MovieMan0283 said...

At the risk of sounding shallow, they probably took off because they look cool (this is the case with most film aesthetics, I suspect).

mndean said...

Shahn,
You may well be right, but I could swear in one movie from '67-'68, I saw a brief moving shot into and out of the sun that caused the flare and aperture ghosting we all know so well. Note that those aperture ghosts (the hexagonal/octagonal spots of light for those who don't know what I'm referring to) can tell you things about the lens that made the shot if you're interested. It was only a few seconds in a much longer film. I'll try to see if I can locate it, but I'm doubtful I can without a lot of effort.

One time flare was used and it was a real gaffe. They were reconstructing an old silent done in two-strip Technicolor (Toll of the Sea, 1922), and had to reshoot the end scene in the '70s with an original Tech camera. It was just a shot of the setting sun on the ocean, but whoever made that shot liked flare and they included it in the shot. We know that flare of that sort was never seen in films of the silent era, and it made me consider the shot rather than the film I was seeing.

Chris Cagle said...

Wow, glad to see so many people chiming on the topic. Your points make me want to go back and do an intense 60s/70s marathon screening.

Shahn, your screen captures are amazing. I do wonder if something similar was happening between the noir DPs and the 70s cinematographers.

Anonymous said...

So, after seeing shan's gallery of lens flares, can we now say that they appear at least as early as 1950's?
I'm writing an essey on this so I'd be gratefull for any kind of information! ;)