Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Top Lighting in Godfather

In a previous post, I mentioned that top lighting can lend a dramatic effect to a character by concealing his eyes. Since the eyes are the chief agents of expression, the character's thoughts are left in doubt.

A good example is the lighting on Vito Corleone, played by Marlon Brando, in The Godfather.

(Video Link) The director of photography for the film, Gordon Willis used it in several scenes, and he also underexposed the film. 

Willis explains that he needed to use overhead lighting to bring out Brando's unique makeup. "I got a lot of criticism," Willis admits, "because they said, well, you can't see Brando's eyes....You saw this mysterious human being thinking about something, or about to do something, but you didn't really know what the hell was going on." 

Previously on GurneyJourney: Top Lighting


adam said...

the more i learn about painting the more i appreciate the lighting that goes into movies.

going back and watching my favorites just to see how they're lit is amazing.

Steve said...

Don't know how true it is, but I've read that Brando worked largely from cue cards for much of the filming, since he hadn't memorized all the lines. I realize it wasn't the reason for doing it, but keeping his eyes in shadow would have helped mask their occasional left to right movement.

Off-topic question: I just finished reading your Howard Pyle article in American Artist. Is the Pyle student named Elizabeth Gurney a relative?

James Gurney said...

Adam, yes, cinematographers are some of the greatest artists of our time.

Steve: Yes! According to the Gurney family genealogy, Elizabeth K. Gurney and I share a common ancestor named Zachariah Gurney around 1660 in Weymouth, Massachusetts. E. Gurney’s father was a Baptist preacher named Albanus Kimball Gurney, who sailed in 1874 to India as a missionary, where he proceeded to translate the Bible in the Assamese language. In Calcutta, he married a woman from Maine, and it was in India that Elizabeth was born. Miss Gurney became an artist and journalist, living in Saint Cloud, Minnesota and in Wilmington, Delaware.

Steve said...

"In Calcutta, he married a woman from Maine..."

Makes me feel unimaginative and shows I don't get out very much. I've generally gone to Wisconsin to meet women from Maine.

jill polsby said...

thank you, once again, for an interesting entry in your blog. i know how much time it takes and i truly appreciate your interesting work. thanks.