Solarbird (solarbird) wrote,
Solarbird
solarbird

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Dante Spinotti needs a Razzie for this one

annathepiper and spazzkat and I just returned from seeing Public Enemies, and the single most important thing I can say about that film is that cinematographer Dante Spinotti needs never, ever to be put in charge of digital equipment again. Either Mr. Spinotti is a genius at making good equipment look like complete horseshit8mm digital, or he has no idea what in the name of god he's doing with it and shouldn't be allowed to touch the stuff.

Honestly, I have to take one of these options, because I simply refuse to believe that the whole movie was shot in video or that all this was on purpose. Why would you feature weird edge effects, that nasty video smearing you see in quick videocam spins, the worst day-for-night I've seen in a theatrical release since sometime in 1974, freakish pornesque brightness, levelling, and contrast problems, video sensor noise masquerading as film grain, and inexplicable light artefacts? Name a problem digital equipment can produce, and this movie will show it to you, over, and over, and over again.

Fast-motion camera shots emphasised all the worst problems. Unfortunately, Mr. Spinotti and Mr. Mann both need to be taken off the uppers (and can we please let the shakycam die now?), because they're all over the film to no clear purpose - they're used so continually that I literally could. not. stay. in. the. film for more than a couple of minutes. Every time I'd start to get involved by, say, the actors, or characterisation, or, gods forbid, the plot, some jackass who didn't understand their equipment would hork up a videosmear loogie right into my eye, and I'd be back in the theatre again, waiting impatiently for this all to be over.

(And, for the record, this isn't about me: I liked Speed Racer. Visually, I loved everything Speed Racer did.)

Talking of that lugie effect - if it happened in film, you'd see it. In detail. Along with every individual hair, pore, and far, far, far too much of the makeup department's work, thanks to Mr. Spinotti's obsession with digital ECUs. John Dillinger apparently had three piercings in his left ear, just like Mr. Depp, did you know that? Also, he wore flat pancake makeup in quantity. spazzkat speculates that Public Enemies is actually about pores and hood ornaments.

I have to think this looks better on a 50" HDTV in a director's office, because otherwise there's simply no excuse for this. It's not that it added up to an effect I didn't like; it's that it produced a result I can only think of as some combination of cheapness and staggering incompetence. If the cinematographer's intent was to make me feel insulted, he succeeded.

Oh, and, for whatever it's worth, Public Enemies a gangster movie starring Johnny Depp and Christian Bale. There's a lot of homage to better films (particularly late 1940s and early 1950s film noir), and - as previously noted - an inexplicable and probably unhealthy obsession with hood ornaments. I enjoyed several of the performances, when I wasn't being distracted away from them; everyone's noted Depp's fine work, but I think Marion Cotillard really deserved more screen time, and I think both Bale and Billy Crudup put in very nice turns as demifascist bastards of the FBI. I particularly liked the film's opening sequence, wherein Mr. Crudup's J. Edgar Hoover fails to get Congress to give him more money and power. Remember when Congress would do things like that? Ah, nostalgia - at least something in the film invoked the past.

Anyway, I suspect there's a pretty good movie in here somewhere, but I never got the chance to watch it. And neither will you, given that there wasn't one good frame in the entire picture. Perhaps Mr. Mann and Mr. Spinotti were attempting to shoot a film for the blind - the foley crew did some nice work - but we already have those. They're called radio plays or audiobooks, and I'm quite fond of them, and - most importantly - they don't need cinematographers. If you're going to make a motion picture, however, you need to hire someone who understands the camera.
Tags: photography, writings
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