Tuesday, 27 March 2012


I've been doing a little reading today about chiaroscuro in the German films I've been watching.

Chiaroscuro is a term originally used in art - an Italian word that translates literally as 'light-dark'.  It's used to describe techniques and styles that show a definite contrast between light and dark.  A rough outline of it is available here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chiaroscuro

In cinema, it was used in early German expressionist cinema a lot (around the early 1920s).   This was not only for stylistic reasons - in a Germany that had been weakened by the loss of the First World War, and a Germany that had been largely broken up by the treaties that ended the war, there was not a huge amount of money around to fund lavish sets and backdrops.  Couple that with the fact that cinematic equipment and cameras, etc, were still quite cumbersome and difficult to move around, and it's easy to see why sets with painted details were common.

In the early films where chiaroscuro is used, you can often see shadows and details - or shafts of light, or buildings, painted onto walls and floors in 2d.  And lighting and shadow used lots, and to great effect, to create a mood or tone, as in Nosferatu, where the creature's shadow is used to create menace, even when you can't see him.

It helps that the dark-light style works very well in black and white - especially relatively early black and white, which has less variation to it than a modern black and white would (less shades of grey).

Later the chiaroscuro was taken up by film noir, and by films like Citizen Kane and  The Third Man, and even today in video games and anime.

The point of this reading is that I'm going to be taking my colours from the chiaroscuro.  I may not be able to use them with such dramatic effect as the early 20s German cinematographers, but I've decided to use black, white, and natural for my mini collection.

All I have to work out now is how - and I have a few ideas, but none of them are 100% solid yet.

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