As I’m sure you’ve heard many times before, I’m really into movies. Honestly, I’m into lots of stuff that informs my photography that aren’t necessarily part of the photography world. If I were to be honest with myself, I’m not really all that interested in photography or at least photography culture, but rather in story-telling. I like the stories that photography allows me to tell and I simply see it as a tool. That’s why I’ve lost my enjoyment with being a big gear head or cruiser of photography forums over the years; I’m more interested in the kinds of images I can make using photography than being too interested in the medium itself.
Photography is my tool of choice, and over the past couple years my subject of choice has been weddings. Fresh and new ways of telling the story of a wedding day is usually what takes up all my thinking these days, and so I’m always looking to movies since movies are literally, a series of images collected to tell a story. Sure there are 24 frames per second, but much like a cartoon flip book, movies are, nonetheless, made from still images.
A Star is Born is my current obsession. Say what you will about the movie, it’s certainly flawed, but it is totally enhanced by the visual style. If this movie was filmed in a traditional way, like say, Avengers or something that’s not necessarily stylistically interesting, A Star is Born would have been a total failure. It’s the grueling visual style that de-stabilizes the viewers’ emotional state ten-fold.
I say “grueling” because of the discomfort caused by the camera. You’re basically up in Bradley Cooper’s and Lady Gaga’s grill for the whole film. Not only that, but the camera is handheld so you’re moving as they move, with an almost drunken instability. This movie uses the camera to rip you to shreds almost more than the script; you’re unsettled, never allowed to rest.
It almost never uses wide shots (Which I’m a sucker for. My 24mm lens almost never leaves my camera), because your eyes can rest on a nice, wide landscape. That would be too enjoyable. That would be eye candy. When I saw this movie in the theater, I was nauseated by it. It just would not let go of me, and my eyes had to work hard for the whole film, yet color palette is so delicious that you can’t take your eyes off of it, even for a second.
Even these screenshots that I’ve attached to this post are somewhat jarring, despite them being stills. Showing the still versions of the images doesn’t necessarily convey the camera movement, but you’re still feeling something. You know there’s a story being told, and it’s an emotional one. Isn’t that the essence of wedding photography?
In my experience as a wedding photographer, you’re either are more of the “I want you to be neither seen nor heard, just document the day” client or “I want the artistic, beautiful experience like I’m seeing on Pinterest” client. Both of those are requesting the same thing: They want to be able to feel everything they felt on their wedding day every time they look at their wedding photos. The way we take photos, the angles, the colors, and the movements of the subjects can greatly enhance re-living the emotions of the day. It’s more than documenting the moment, it’s recording the smells, the light, the colors, and every element that makes up a memory. I believe a still image is capable of that, but it requires the photographer to be in touch with far more than just the buttons on his/her camera. After watching A Star is Born, Matthew Libatique, the cinematographer, is certainly in touch with the world outside his camera, in fact, his camera almost isn’t a factor.
I recently read Werner Herzog: A Guide for the Perplexed, where the German filmmaker and Paul Cronin discuss his films over the years and how he sees himself and his job as a filmmaker. He has little interest for the technical aspects and the artistic idea of cinema, but rather sees his films more from a writer or a poet’s point of view. He doesn’t think about his camera as much as how he can pull a boat over a mountain or release 10,000 rats into a city in order to convey feelings in his story.
You almost have to leave the camera behind to some extent, and A Star is Born feels almost like the cinematographer loosely “vlogged” the movie, quickly capturing close ups of stuff happening, forgetting that he was a cinematographer and he was just living in the moment. Maybe I’m digging too deep here and my analysis has gotten a bit gooey or ridiculous, I just can’t stop thinking about it. It’s like a song I have stuck in my head, except instead it’s frames of a film. I worship the cinematic skill of this movie, Libatique was so in touch with the writing and the emotion of the film that he left the camera behind. He makes it look so easy. It’s poetry really.