Hide and See

What do Women Talking, Emancipation, Lady Chatterly’s Lover and Skinamarink have in common?

They’re a slew of recent movies that drain their cinematography of visibility-aiding color. In fact, their imagery is so murkily monotonous with little contrast, it can prove difficult even to decipher the basic contents of each shot. 

There are ample artistic reasons for this decision that interplay with the specifics of each movie…but I’m interested more in how this approach practically affects the audience’s viewing experience. 

Conventionally speaking, a camera’s job is to highlight what’s in front of it. Obviously the frame doesn’t always perfectly showcase what’s on screen, and obscuring our sight can be utilized as a mutational intermediary to emphasize certain aspects of a given moment in the story.

But cinematography that actively makes its hard to figure out what we’re even looking at in every shot over a feature-length runtime? What gives?

A Brechtian theory:

Might this visual inhibiting actually facilitate deeper engagement? If we can easily see what an image shows, we could be liable to sit back and casually observe, without being forced to reckon with really exploring each and every composition. But if our eyes are blocked from easy comprehension? To compensate, we must push ourselves to lean in out of necessity, harnessing our focus in order to glean even the bare minimum of clarity.

Repelling our immersion can lead us to consciously re-immerse ourselves, enhancing the depth of our analysis and thus understanding through a more laborious — and perhaps more fruitfully insightful! — process.

Or, you just check out after deciding it’s not worth trying to compute the information before you…

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