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Visions of Light Review

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A documentary look at the role of the cameraman in films through the decades.

★★★★

Cinematographers — movie cameramen — are among the medium's great unsung heroes, a situation this feature-length documentary attempts to rectify through numerous interviews and film clips, the latter helpfully captioned by title and cinematographer. Highly accessible to the average moviegoer with little or no knowledge of the subject, this also packs in material for the connoisseur.

Spanning film history from the silent era to the present, it's packed with familiar visuals from the likes of Intolerence, Citizen Kane and Jaws alongside many equally impressive, if less familiar, excerpts. D.W. Griffith's pioneering cameraman Billy Bitzer is lauded for virtually inventing the visual language of Hollywood. John Bailey (cameraman on Ordinary People) guides us through the stylistic development of 40s and 50s film noir; Bill Butler reveals how he handheld Jaws' seascape finale; and Gordon Willis (Annie Hall) explains hiding Brando's eyes in shadow in The Godfather.

Aside from the silents section veering off into 20s German Expressionist cinema to examine the inspired atmospherics of The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari (1919) and Sunrise (1927), and Vittorio Storaro (Apocalypse Now) talking through his work on Bertolucci epics The Conformist and The Last Emperor, this concentrates a bit too heavily on America. But it's still a good introduction that should really be seen on the big screen where the splendour of its images can be fully appreciated.

Although it is perhaps to American-orientated, this is nevertheless a splendid exploration of the oft-overlooked stars of cinema, the cinematographer.

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