Cinematography Mailing List - CML

Ten Films All Students Should See

I have the task of showing ten films to a class of film students…the course is 'cinematography'.

The students all want to be directors and writers, so my task is not so much to teach them to be cinematographers but at the very least to try to show them the importance of the visual image, and to help them appreciate the difference that good cinematography can make to the entire mood, feel, and emotional strength of a film.

They are a young group, most of whom have probably never watched a black and white film (I kid you not).

So, I want to show a few black and white classics, but also produce a varied list with some more contemporary films.

It needn't be the list of 'best ever cinematography' films. But it should be a list of films with varied themes, genres, budgets and looks.

Would anyone like to share their ideas on the ten films they would show?

I'm currently thinking :

The Third Man
Lawrence of Arabia
Raise the Red Lantern
Taxi Driver
Empire of The Sun
Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Oh dear...That's 11.

Paul Spurrier

Show them "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Great Black and White Cinematography by Haskell Wexler and REALLY GREAT acting with direction by Mike Nichols

This a must see movie for wannabe writers and directors. A story by Edward Albee and a screenplay by Ernest Lehman cannot be topped. And also a music score by Alex North.


Bill Hogan

It would be hard to limit the list to ten -- I can think of a hundred...

A good mix might be (and this is more than 10):

B&W :

Citizen Kane
Night of the Hunter
Out of the Past
Battle of Algiers
The Man Who Wasn't There
Dr. Strangelove


Black Narcissus
Lawrence of Arabia
The Godfather, Part II
The Conformist (not on DVD though...nor is "Reds")

Some other Storaro work, maybe "Apocalypse Now"
The French Connection
Days of Heaven
Blade Runner
JFK (for mixing of formats)
Snow Falling on Cedars or Sleepy Hollow (monochromatic design)
The Constant Gardener or City of God (mix of Super-16 and 35mm is interesting)
Collateral or The Celebration (development of a digital aesthetic)

And show the documentary "Visions of Light" and see clips from most of these, and more.

David Mullen, ASC
Los Angeles

Hi Paul,

as an introduction to the cinematography class, I screen "Visions of light" to my students. It's a great 1h30 documentary about great cinematography and great cinematographers, and really a good intro for students (well, that's what my students think after they've seen it...)

Good luck.

Always look on the bright side of life !

Frédéric ANSALDO
Toronto Film College
36 Eglinton West, Ste 707
Toronto, ON M4R 1A1
Tel (416) 484 - 1577
Fax (416) 484 - 1567

The best way to predict your future…is to create it!

I would VERY HIGHLY recommend

Dr. Strangelove
Akira Kurosawa's Dreams

I would complete the list with:

City of God
Good Night and Good Luck
City of Lost Children

Ian J. MacLeod
Film Student
Director, Producer, DOP, Writer
Kelowna, BC, CANADA

>> Streetwise

If you want to show them an amazingly photographed documentary, this is not a good choice.

William Klein's Muhammed Ali -- The Greatest (skip part 3, added on several years later) is amazing and beautifully shot, in B&W. On DVD easily found.

Jeff Kreines

Hello –

How about showing your students some films that they probably would never see without a little bit of "encouragement"

My picks are:

(Both films by Andrei Tarkovsky - Both films full of visual and directorial features to discuss with the students – they could make a mind-blowing impression on some of the students – they did for me – filmmaking at its best)

-Come and See
(An absolute work of art that I think everyone on this earth should see)

-Mother and Son
(A film of pure emotional/visual filmmaking)

-Signs of Life
(Werner Herzog's first feature film – He was in his mid 20s when he made it - Beautifully shot in black & white - Most probably shot with very little money, lights, and crew - an incredibly controlled and restrained bit of filmmaking – it has “the good stuff” that I feel is lacking in most films being made by young people today - well... any age group for that matter)

-The Parallax View
(Drop dead gorgeous cinematography of course - this film never stops amazing me - I feel the same way about "The Game" which has some roots in this film)

-Days of Heaven

-Flowers of Shanghai
(A great film by Hou Hsiao-hsien shot by Mark Ping-bin Lee - two of the most talented people working in film today - the film is shot almost exclusively under red light)

-The Black Stallion
(I can't think of many films better then this one to showcase a story told mostly through images - much like Days of Heaven - it's a film you can just feel )

(I think its one of the best films ever made - incredibly shot - lots of different visual styles)

I know that’s already 10 - oh well...

-A Little Princess
(I just love this film - I can never get enough of it)

Hope to hear that your screenings go well with the students - or at least a few of them

Have a nice day

Joe Zovko

B&W :

Antonioni's L'Avventura(There's a beautiful sunrise scene)
Night of the Living Dead
Vidas Secas
The Apartment
Orson Welles:
Citizen Kane, and "It's All True"- the uncompleted film about Brazilian fishermen, finished 52 years
later, shot in Brazil (RKO fired him for it) I only saw part of it on cable(I'd like to find it)

And Woody Allen's "Zelig"

John Babl

Citizen Kane
Touch of Evil
Dracula (Coppola's)
Apocalypse now
Ciao Federico (the documentary on Fellini during the making of Satiricon
- The line "Its a movie if the cow moves it is alive" is perfect)
Steven Gladstone
New York Based Cinematographer
Gladstone Films

Lots of great suggestions.

I second the suggestion of "Visions of Light".
It is perfect for your class as you describe it.

Another doc, from Martin Scorcese's Century of Cinema series, "The
Director as Illusionist".

The students really get a lot out of these, and it motivates them to go check out all the great films that are excerpted within.

Steven Bradford
Film HD Program Chair
Collins College
Tempe Arizona

Films for students...

What about for mood "Snow Falling On Cedars". For visual story telling Fritz Lang's "M" and for a bit of variety "Festen" (Which I think is called The Celebration in USA), a really underrated film in terms of photography in my opinion.

Ruairi O'Brien,

I usually find the best way to illustrate what you are trying to say is to show something that is not so good. We can all say what is nice about an image. But being able to look at something that is badly shot and analysing that is probably more beneficial, IMHO.

When I teach martial arts I get the students to learn from what they are doing wrong, not what they are doing right. Same when I get them to look at other people doing martial arts. I get them to look at what is wrong or could be done better. They tend to gain a better understanding of what they are doing that way. By analysing things that are right a person can become locked into doing things a certain way, or trying to blindly copy what they are shown without fully understanding it or having the information sink in.

So I think that by looking at bad cinematography students get to think for themselves more and get to work out why things work or don't work on a deeper level than had they just been shown lots of eye candy.

Simon Wyndham
Video producer, UK


I'm very much opposed to the idea that there exists a film that "everyone" should see, or even a film that all cinematography students should see (as implied by the title of the thread), but I'd like to add two questions about your initial list of ten films:

1/. Wouldn't it be valuable to have a film or two in your list that you think are somewhat or fairly ineffective in its use of cinematography, so that you have a point of comparison? I bring this up particularly as you are instructing directors- and writers-to-be, so that they have some idea of what they risk by not bringing cinematography to the table as part of the construction of the film.

2/. What were the reasons for the films you chose? Because the audience is directors and writers, I also think it would be valuable to have films where the cinematography is vital to underscoring the rhetorical point of the film, rather than films that bask in some sort of mood or saturate the film in aesthetic glory. While I wouldn't go so far as to say that the cinematography in the films in your list all fall into that category, most of them do strike me as, in a sense, "cinematographer's" films.

While it will be clear to your audience (I hope) why cinematography was valuable for those films, it won't necessarily be clear to your audience why cinematography should be vital for the films that they make (especially narrative-driven or acting-driven films). Surely you agree that cinematography can supply more than just the "mood, feel, and emotional strength" of a film?

Without taking my first point into account (any film that you feel is lacking in cinematographic input would do), here's a list of ten (thirteen) titles that I think could make an effective series of films to relate the value of cinematography to writers or directors :

1. Playtime

This film, more than any other I've seen, explores how story and comedy can be related almost entirely with visual (and non-dialog audio) effects. While it might not be the sort of film any of your dialog-oriented students would consider making, at least it has the possibility of opening their mind to taking some of the story out of the dialog itself and into the mise-en-scene. Instead of this, you could substitute some of the better silent films, though I've already included one below.

2. L'Avventura

Like Playtime, the cinematography in L'Avventura contributes to the film in non-traditional ways. Certainly there are other cases where the camera almost takes on a role in the film, and the cinematography reveals a lot about what's going on that isn't otherwise supplied, but this seems to be regarded as something of a landmark in that area.

3. Ali: Fear Eats the Soul

I haven't seen a film where I felt the cinematography was more effectively exploited to underscore the psychology of the characters and situations.

4. Citizen Kane

Because this film has been so long argued for as the perfect film by film teachers and buffs. It is about as canonical as could be. It certainly does show how much cinematography (and editing) can contribute to a film, even when it's very much narrative-driven. As an exercise, you should get the students to try to imagine the film shown in chronological order with sitcom-style cinematography. The cinematography really is crucial.

5. My Life to Live

Cinema verite is as much a conscious cinematographic style as any other, and it seems valuable to me to include a good example of it being employed to great effect. This happens to be my favourite, but certainly other films could stand in for this one: Bicycle Thieves, Band of Outsiders, Stromboli. The cinematographic style of these films isn't exactly subtle, but it's entirely appropriate to the subject matter. Compare with Visconti, whose style remains realistic in the acting and dialog, but who has given the camera, framing, lighting, etc., a strong role of its own with its slickness in La Terra Trema and Ossessione.

6. Tokyo Story

Any of Ozu's better films could substitute for this one. I think it would be important to show a film whose effect is greatly increased by cinematographic restraint. It's a very beautiful film, and the cinematography in no small part contributes to that, but if it drew any more attention to itself, it would begin to detract from the beauty of the film, I think. The subtlety of the acting and dialog requires subtlety in the cinematography as well (the music, on the other hand, is not subtle).

7. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Here's a film with very attention-drawing cinematography that is still very much acting- and story-driven. It's a good example of the opposite of the above: just because the cinematography draws attention to itself doesn't mean that the other qualities have to suffer. On the other hand, if you gave the film very flat and boring cinematography, while it would appeal to me much less, you'd still have an excellent and watchable film, that would probably have found its way into film history. My point, I guess, is that the cinematography is not really crucial to the film, even though it's such a huge part of it. You could substitute a number of other acting-driven films, I think: On the Waterfront is a good one.

8. Celebrity

Not unlike Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Woody Allen's films are an interesting case where the director works with some of the best cinematographers known to film history, and seems to let them do their thing. In his films, the cinematography is always appropriate to the subject matter (as in Manhattan, the one you selected), but at the same time, the visual style of his films seem to be more characteristic to the cinematographer than to him as a director.

Celebrity is kind of the best and worst example of this. On the one hand, I think the cinematography in this film is more entwined with what Woody Allen is doing as a director than any of his other films that I've seen. On the other hand, it's also his flashiest film (the cinematography could hardly draw much more attention to itself). I also happen to think it's his most beautiful (I understand this might be something of a controversial point). In any case, Woody Allen is an excellent case of what I perceive to be a filmmaker taking on excellent cinematographers and trusting them. Not being an insider or having read any behind-the-scenes stuff on his films, I have no idea if that's really the case, however.

9. Traffic

I actually dislike this film quite a bit, and in particular I disliked the unsubtle colour-scheming. That said, it contributes to this list simple because it's a recent, well-known case of a director taking on his own cinematography. Even if the film isn't great (and others will disagree), it's an excellent introduction into the point that directors can do more than just think about the cinematography, they can take on the role themselves.

10. The Passion of Joan of Arc

Here's a story told almost entirely in close-ups. The Passion of Joan of Arc explores a lot of unconventional cinematographic territory, more than most any film I can think of that is still a narrative film. Unfortunately, it remains entirely unconventional. I've seen no film that tries in any way to follow in its footsteps.

That's 10, though there are topics left unexplored. A couple others I would add :

11. Nashville

As one of the most ambitious films I've seen that tries with regards to covering a large number of characters and complicated stories while still make you aware of who the characters are and care about what happens to them, this film exemplifies how cinematography (and editing) can assist in making crucial shortcuts while still allowing you to get into the characters to a surprising degree. Much of the film still takes a second or third viewing to pick up on, but it's amazing how effective the film is in its first viewing, despite its ambitions.

With crappier or less appropriate cinematography, this film would either make a lot less sense, or it would be much longer.

12. Blade Runner :

For imaginative filmmaking, cinematography plays the essential role of making a film feel much more magical, or intensely dreamlike. Blade Runner is certainly a landmark in this regard, and it remains one of the best examples. You could easily substitute "Lawrence of Arabia" here for "Blade Runner" and "epic" for "imaginative". Same principle, and these films more than any other represent cinematography at its most glorious moments in Hollywood.

13. The Big Combo

Or really, almost any other really famous genre film. There's a valuable point to be made that cinematography tends to be one of the defining aspects of a filmic genre, and that all of the most famous films of a particular genre are also famous for their cinematography, which typifies that genre. This is more true with noir than for any other genre, and it is especially true for films that come later in the genre's development (or altogether after it has pretty much ended), but you could certainly use My Fair Lady, Butch Cassidy, Shaft, Star Wars, Jaws, Chinatown, etc.

The point here being that anyone intending to make something that is very much a genre film should probably try to incorporate cinematography at the most intimate level. Many of the finest (or most extreme) examples of genre filmmaking practically bleed that genre's style from every frame. Incidentally, this is also how genre films get parodied.

I can't think of a film that exemplifies this point best, but I think it's a relevant point that in Hollywood beautiful cinematography seems to be seen as the equivalent to beautiful prose in literature. It is something of a shallow point, but I think it can be seen in a lot of comments by directors and cinematographers of major novel adaptations (Lord of the Rings and Ghost World come very quickly to mind, though there are countless others). Personally, I really don't like this perspective; I think cinematography is a very poor substitute for excellent prose, and yet it has a lot to offer on its own, but it's very easy to think of cinematography this way when adapting novels, and it certainly feels like the Hollywood norm.




I'm attending a course at the university of cologne, that quite reminds me of your topic. I really like the film choices, although most of the students tend to know at least half of the movies:

A Personal Journey through American Movies with Martin Scorsese (USA 1995, R.: Martin Scorsese, 227')
Film 1895-1912 (Brothers Lumière, Meliés, Porter, Griffith, ca. 90')
Le Mépris (Contempt, F/It 1963, Jean-Luc Godard, 99')
Der Kaiser von Kalifornien (The Emperor of California , Germany 1936, Luis Trenker, 93')
Det sjunde inseglet (The Seventh Seal, Sweden 1957, Ingmar Bergman, 92')
2001: A Space Odyssey (GB 1968, Stanley Kubrick, 134')
Citizen Kane (USA 1941, Orson Welles, 114')
Shichinin no Samurai (Seven Samurai, Jap 1954, Akira Kurosawa, 200')
Otto e mezzo (Eight and a Half, It 1963, Federico Fellini, 131')
Groundhog Day (USA 1993, Harold Ramis, 99')
Vertigo (USA 1958, Alfred Hitchcock, 124')
Remember the Titans (USA 2000, Boaz Yakin, 109')
Videodrome (Canada 1983, David Cronenberg, 89')

Best regards,

Anja Habermehl
Vogteistr. 15
50670 Köln

Privat: +49. (0)221. 355 89 12
Mobil: +49. (0)178. 85 70 256

From someone outside of the film creation process, I would be inclined to agree with Simon Wyndham - include one or two examples of films that failed due to exactly what you are trying to stress. Otherwise, it would be like learning photography by only looking at the greats. Yours won't measure up but it won't be clear why. Learning to be critical involves the 'why' of not measuring up to a standard that you have set, not just recognizing the standard when it is met.

Steve Nordhauser
Silicon Imaging Product Development
Troy, NY

Steve Nordhauser wrote :

>>>Otherwise, it would be like learning photography by only looking at the >>greats. Yours won't measure up but it won't be clear why.

The learning comes from the examination. The study, the question of why were choices made, and what was their effect.

So much is made of the techniques without going into the thought process, the artistic process, the why the techniques were used.

Technique without a clear aesthetic idea behind their use is next to useless. Just my opinion. Discussing any film or art as to whether it "measures up" is . . . (use your own pejorative here.)

Discussion needs to be about the process, and the choices first, the technique of achieving the goals of that process are interesting then, once they have context.

Steven Gladstone
New York Based Cinematographer
Gladstone Films

Hi all

These days we are fortunate to have DVD’s that give these bonuses and featurettes (some good some bad). Specifically with behind the scenes and making of.

One in particular I would like to point out and to me by far the best, is the extra stuff provided by the Terminator 2,The Ultimate Edition DVD. It provides in depth information (Hours I kid you not)on every aspect of filmmaking, from concept to marketing. Just looking at the table of contents alone will give you a basic chronology of how a film is made. This includes the script, story boards, talking heads of the Director, writers, editors, composer, cinematographer, etc. Including the techniques used in post.

It's film school in a nut shell (or should I say DVD).
Anyone who sees this will get an idea on how a film is made.

Also other great resources are American Cinematographer Magazine that gives you insight on the approaches and choices (Stock, lens, post workflow, etc)made by cinematographers of some of the movies that are out at the time of that particular publication (this month, DaVinci Code), and POST also gives insight on current movies' post production techniques. Great "workbooks" to go along with the movie itself.

Hope this helps

Willie Bruno
Department of Film, Video and Broadcasting
School of Continuing and Professional Studies
New York University

Many of the films already listed would be on my list of what to screen, but I would add Kar Wai Wong's In the Mood for
Love to the list.

Patrick Cummings
DoP - Brisbane, Australia.

Patrick Cummings wrote :

>>>Many of the films already listed would be on my list of what to screen, >>but I would add Kar Wai Wong's In the Mood for Love to the list.

I would change that to "2046" actually :-) Not that ITMFL is bad, but 2046 is an improvement on that (IMHO). Actually the whole trilogy, starting with Days of Being Wild, is nice. It is shot by Christopher Doyle, with Mark Lee Ping-bin as second DP on ITMFL.

I also would add the 1973 "Jesus Christ Superstar", shot by Douglas Slocombe. Recently saw that again, after 30 years or so, and the desert-footage is shot with love and passion on 2.35


Martin Heffels
Maastricht, the Netherlands

Not long finished film studies these are some we were shown

Thelma and Louise --female buddy film
Being John Malkovich - modern surreal
Un chien Andalou and L'Age d'Or -classic surreal
Baise Moi - traditional role reversal, not well taken by the males in the class but the girls appreciated it.
Spirited Away - award winning animation
Chicken Run - Parody in this case of prison camp escape films.

My add to list are
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Once Were Warriors - social film set in New Zealand also liked sequel What becomes of the Broken Hearted

Sandy Lacey

Here´s the film you’re looking for:

It’s a version dating 1993 (?). Could be what you want.


Wolfgang Bankowski

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