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Wednesday, April 20, 2022

The Penumbra School of Cinematography or Black is the New Black

Screen shot  Better Call Saul

 If you haven’t taken notice already, there is a growing trend in new films: the blacked-out screen. More and more directors shoot so many scenes in almost complete darkness in which you can only see about five percent of the screen if you are lucky. There's little room for any other color when black paints so much of the screen. If directors don't want images in their films, maybe they'd be more comfortable working in radio? If you aren’t watching at home in complete darkness, you can’t tell what the hell is going on. Even with the lights out at home, you have trouble following what's on the screen.

 The new batboy movie is almost completely unwatchable because of the darkness. The series Better Call Saul is also very fond of the extremely low light school of cinematography. In the latest two new episodes (S06E01, S06E02), I couldn’t see much unless I was sitting in total darkness in my bedroom. If you skip over the entire series, you notice this a lot, like every single scene with his mentally ill brother who is allergic to electricity or whatever his problem was.

 Here is some free information for anyone who doesn’t know this already: noir crime fiction doesn’t mean the lack of light, it is a darkness in theme and subject matter, generally featuring a disturbing violence and unclear boundaries between good and evil. No amount of poor lighting will turn your poorly-written screenplay into a noir story.

 I just don’t understand why a director would put blinders on his audience so frequently. If you want to make a night scene, it doesn’t have to be pitch black. It’s often very light out at night, what with stars and streetlights and illuminated signs and whatever, right? If it’s night outside, why does an indoor scene have to be barely visible? Turn on some damn lights! 

 I’ve just seen the first episode of the new series The Offer and just about every scene is shot in candlelight, an unlit room with light shining through a curtained window, a club or office as dark as a cave with visibility at about ten feet. If there is daylight, it’s only to show characters walking into ill-lit rooms, or shadows play a prominent role.

Take this scene from The Offer E01. Why would a couple sit in their kitchen with the lights off? Is this wartime London and there is a blackout? Did their power get shut off? So many unanswered questions with "Why can't I see anything?" topping the list. It's not stylish; it's highly annoying, like it makes you think there is something wrong with your TV.

 Christ, the lighting is criminal. When Puzo's publisher tells him, "I'll lay odds that you're gonna be signing more than thirty books," we pan across the street to see what? the big line for his signing except you can't really see anything because it's pitch black. Doesn't NYC have street lamps? The lighting (or lack thereof) screws up a major moment in the episode.

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