In Cold Blood: A Parable in Black and White (Richard Brooks, 1967)
Conrad Hall’s masterful black and white imagery in Richard Brooks’ In Cold Blood remains one of the heavy weights of classic cinematography. Adapted from Truman Capote’s captivating true-crime novel of the same name about a family’s senseless murder in 1959 Kansas, what could have been a sensationalistic B-movie was instead a deeply insightful reflection on the nature of criminal transgressions and the human soul.
The darkness of the characters’ psyches are rendered in the stark noir lighting, while the dreariness of the American badlands overwhelm them with their vastness. The film takes place almost entirely at night and indoors, and the lighting is so sparse and restrained it looks almost medieval. In one of the most iconic sequences, the tears sociopathic Perry (Robert Blake in a prophetic and gripping performance) cannot or will not shed are projected onto his face through a rainy windowpane.
For more on this film, Hall’s work, and other great moments in cinematography, Masters of Light (this blog’s namesake) is a must-see.
Maxfield Parrish: Master of Twilight (1870-1966)
There are few, if any, artists who come to mind that can capture the illusive fantastical qualities of twilight as well as Parrish. That feverish feeling of the fleeting half hour or so between night and day, and the shocking endless blue of the sky juxtaposed against the delicate gold, rust and violet tones of the light.
For his most prominent subject matter, a time capsule of beautiful dames of the 20s and 30s, immortalized as vaguely Grecian nymphs and maidens on a background of majestic mountains and billowing clouds, pink with the last light of day. He was also commissioned to illustrate children’s books, and lent his signature style to depictions of numerous fairytales and legends.
Later he would focus on landscapes, building models of the scene first and experimenting with different lighting set-ups before beginning the painting. The vivid unmistakable blue that became his signature color was known ever after as Parrish Blue. It’s achieved by a glazing system of layering oil paint and varnish in multiple layers over a base rendering.
An innovative and immensely successful artist who forged his own path stylistically, Parrish’s aesthetic has been a fundamental influence on subsequent 20th century art and design.
Less Than Zero - Marek Kanievska (1987)
As an Angelino, this film has a special place in my heart. It’s on my Top Ten Films About Los Angeles list without a doubt. There are many things worthy of praise; the excellent use of the city’s architectural treasures, like The Elks Lodge and Lautner’s Silvertop House, The melodramatic yet pitch-perfect performances from Brat pack staples James Spader and Andrew McCarthy, and of course Robert Downey Jr.’s prophetic appearence as an out of control silver spoon junky, which eerily foretold his own personal descent to rock bottom years later.
Bret Easton Ellis’ now classic tale of Los Angeles nihilism and ennui is set in a palate of deep saturated hues, and never has a time and a place been so perfectly realized. The characters are illuminated by club lights, street lights, crack pipes and the rippling waves of light cast off their daddy’s swimming pools. It’s 80’s Melrose neon noir perfection.
The cinematographer, Edward Lachman, would go on to shoot The Virgin Suicides and Far From Heaven - two very different but equally masterful visual creations.
David Lynch and Isabella Rossellini by Helmut Newton
Several years ago I was fortunate enough to visit this “Skybox” installation by light artist James Turrell. The room is outfitted with recessed lighting around the edges of the floor, and a bed sunken into the ground for viewing the sky. As the twilight hour approaches, two beveled skylights open to reveal the sage-scented Los Angeles sky.
The entire room is bathed in deeply saturated colored light, and the color of the sky changes in accordance with the eyes’ adjustments. Truly marvelous. It was my first introduction to his work, which I absolutely loved, but since it’s located on the grounds of a private home (which was in itself amazing) I wasn’t able to share it with anyone else.
Luckily, now everyone in Los Angeles can experience Turrell’s genius in a special retrospective exhibition through April at LACMA. Go!
My friend Wendy posted this on her Facebook page and I was immediately in love.
Ricky Nelson for LIFE Magazine, date unknown
I scanned these beautiful Guilded Age postcards of Downtown LA yesterday for our archive at work, and had to share. I love the brooding gothic atmosphere, and can totally picture a wild-eyed Wyatt Earp driving his stagecoach up Main Street, as the legend goes.
Date unknown, but the postmark is 1908.
Sigourney Weaver by Helmut Newton