Waxing Poetic on Film’s Greatest Cinematography

Days of Heaven

What happens when a film writer tries to determine the greatest cinematography of all time? That’s just what Fandor’s Scout Tefoya did, and what he got back from his polling of expert cinephiles is nothing short of delicious.

Waxing poetic on some of the most beloved, as well as obscure, films and their use of cinematography is like foreplay for a night of watching old movies alone in your room on a Friday night. Of course, no one agrees on which iconic shot takes the cake, or which cinematographer deserves godlike status. But Tefoya found there are certainly some films that viewers can agree on.

In his video essay, below, Tefoya dives into the poll’s 12 most noted films, from Days of Heaven, “the single most gorgeous film I have and likely will ever see,” says writer Matt Fagerholm, to Apocalypse Now and The Red Shoes. The best thing about film is that you can fall in love with it over and over again, as long as you’re willing to travel back in time when new releases seem intent on destroying your soul.


 


One pollster, The New Yorker’s Richard Brody, shared his take on what the oft illusive cinematography actually is:

“Cinematography isn’t the art of the way a movie looks; that’s direction. Cinematography is the camera—the physical presence of the camera as evoked or conjured in the movie, which is why the best cinematography is found in the movies of great directors, but why not all great directors’ work gives rise to great cinematography. It’s directors who have a physical need for the camera, whose ideas about filmmaking aren’t a matter of how a movie looks but how it’s made—directors who rethink not the art of cinema alone but also its practice—who transform the camera from a recording device (even one that offers highly decorated recordings) into a protagonist.”

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