Rembrandt said that “everything is light”. If our reference is the visible universe, I think you are right. In movies, even emotions depend on the way a movie is lit. That is why I think DP (cinematographer) is such a crucial part of the film crew, maybe just as important as the director herself.

Two recent films and an old one bring home the point with great force: The Illusionist (2006), Marie Antoinette (2006) and The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001).

The dark, muted, and dusty green-brown-sepia light from The Illusionist was a perfect choice for this film. That out-of-focus, flickering light scheme at the edges told him at a glance that this was an “old” movie and that we were watching something that happened “in the distant past.” The entire film was shot in the colors of the yellowish paper. I especially loved the beautiful faded muted greens and burnt wheat browns. It was the lighting of a torch from the pre-electric era and a gas light that fitted the story very well. The light itself was a character unto itself in this Edward Norton mystery with a twisted ending that resembled The Usual Suspects (1995).

Marie Antoinette, for her part, has used lighting with light and vibrant colors that rejects the categorization of “history that takes place in the past”. Nothing faded in this movie. Nothing was dark or muted. The brilliance of the billowy reds, blacks, yellows, blues, violets, and especially pinks had the magical effect of transporting us viewers back to Versailles at the end of the 18th century. Thanks to that lighting, we were no longer removed from the stage (as in the Illusionist), but we were part of it. Why? Because the lighting screamed “today and now”, not “a long, long time ago.” This movie made a time machine out of light.

Black and white lighting has long been the touchstone of most pieces of film noir, even (oddly enough) when filmed in full color, like most of the classics of French film noir.

However, I have a movie in mind that is kind of a “gold standard” in my mind for black and white lighting: the incredible and unforgettable The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001) by Coen Brothers.

In some scenes the lighting is so sharp, so exquisite, so stunningly uncompromising that you forget the story and want to savor each painting for its aesthetic value, just to celebrate the beautiful new language that only two main colors, no grays in between. , carve in space and time.

The man who was not there represents the absolute minimum in enlightenment beyond which the visible universe ends. But maybe that’s also where it all begins. Perhaps pure black and white, without grays, acts as the binary guardians of that part of the visible universe that falls within our frequency spectrum. Is this why B&W creates a life and death urgency and emotional response from all film noir fans?

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