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motion picture photography

Early Cinematography

Cinematography is the act of lighting and photographing the images. Its history includes aesthetic elements, such as the way a set or location may be lighted to bolster the drama. Also important are technological elements, which broaden the expressive capacity of the image and even affect the environment of the film-watching experience, for example, the variety of framing options offered by masking the screen or, later, through methods intended to increase the medium's panoramic possibilities.

Striking work on this level was done in Germany during the 1920s, as filmmakers worked to bring expressionism, then a movement in drama and painting, to their medium. Fritz Lang and F. W. Murnau tried through manipulation of the image to portray the psychic and emotional states of their films' characters. Through an increased attention to the meanings that could be generated through sculpting the individual images with light and particularly darkness, they evolved a highly subjective film style in which these elements were combined to reflect the mental state of the characters. This sort of subjectivity is particularly vivid in Murnau's The Last Laugh (1924), in which the tribulations of a hotel doorman who faces a series of humiliations is so vividly expressed through the photographic treatment that no titles (intercut written texts) were necessary to explain the narrative.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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