The Arts, the Senses, and the Imagination
by Robert Millar on November 19th, 2014

… as I did in my previous blog entry, have you ever watched the 1948 British film based on Dickens’ novel, Oliver Twist, directed by Sir David Lean? Whatever else you may think of the film, there are moments in it that are quite stunning due to the creative cinematography of Guy Green. The work he did on Lean’s previous film, an adaptation of Dickens’ Great Expectations (1946) that always seemed to be featured in TV reruns during the holiday season when I was growing up, established him as a major figure in the world of cinematography (he received an Academy Award for his work on the film). So he was a natural to undertake the photographic rendering of Oliver Twist, Lean’s next film. Both films are inevitably dated, but they continue to be strangely engrossing and quite atmospheric, and the cinematographic style has had a profound effect on the imagery in many subsequent movies. Not that Guy Green was the first photographer to compose compelling imagery, but he lived early enough in the history of photography to still be considered a pioneer in putting such powerful imagery into the service of moving pictures.

Take a look at a few moments of the beginning of Oliver Twist. Watch how well the initial situational set-up is communicated without words. Pay special attention to how the following factors influence the expressive content of the narrative:
  • The position, angle, and the point of view of the camera with respect to the subject matter.
  • The dramatic contrasts of darkness and light created by rich and complex combinations of blacks, whites, and shades of gray.
  • The increasing intensity of the storm and of physical action and their emotional implications with regard to the story.
  • The use of light to highlight the woman’s pregnancy.
  • The use of metaphor in the coincidence of the woman’s labor pains and the jagged, writhing thorn stems.
It's all designed to be pretty compelling.

If you're interested, here is a link to the whole film:

Posted in DRAMA AND FILM    Tagged with charles dickens, oliver twist, cinematography, david lean, guy green, FILM, literature


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