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Painting with Light [Paperback]

John Alton , Todd McCarthy
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
Price: 24.95 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

9 May 1995
Few cinematographers have had as decisive an impact on the cinematic medium as John Alton. Best known for his highly stylized film noir classics "T-Men", "He Walked by Night", and "The Big Combo", Alton earned a reputation during the 1940s and 1950s as one of Hollywood's consummate craftsmen through his visual signature of crisp shadows and sculpted beams of light. No less renowned for his virtuoso color cinematography and deft appropriation of widescreen and Technicolor, he earned an Academy Award in 1951 for his work on the musical "An American in Paris". First published in 1949, and long out of print since then, "Painting With Light" remains one of the few truly canonical statements on the art of motion picture photography, an unrivalled historical document on the workings of the postwar, American cinema. In simple, non-technical language, Alton explains the job of the cinematographer and explores how lighting, camera techniques, and choice of locations determine the visual mood of film. Todd McCarthy's introduction, written especially for this edition, provides an overview of Alton's biography and career and explores the influence of his work on contemporary cinematography.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 234 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press (9 May 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520089499
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520089495
  • Product Dimensions: 25.4 x 19 x 1.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 86,233 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description


"Provides fascinating insights into the mechanisms of the studio system." -- Ian Gilchrist Reel Ink 20130603 --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

John Alton (born 1901) was one of the most renowned cinematographers of the postwar American cinema. In 1951 he won an Academy Award for his color photography of An American in Paris. He lives in Los Angeles. Todd McCarthy is chief film critic of Variety, co-editor of the King of Bs (1975), and writer and co-director of the award winning documentary, Visions of Light: The Art of Cinematography (1992).

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Illuminating! 25 May 2004
By Sydney
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Although the technical end is obviously about fifty years out of date, this is still a rewarding read for anyone interested in film lighting. For one thing, you'll never look at a film from the 30's and 40's again without the satisfying feeling of being able to recognize a clothing light in action. On a practical level, it's still got a lot of tips worth thinking about for the amateur or even professional filmmaker. The simpicity of the equipment might even be a bonus for those just learning, or shooting on a limited budget. Certainly I've never seen a technical lighting book this clear, practical, and real-world.
My favorite thing about this book though is the extra chapter on Lighting for Ladies. Now this is a guy who LOVES light and is out to do his bit to beautify the world. So naturally, he includes an appendix on how any women who happen to be reading, can use Hollywood lighting tricks to enhance their appearance. I swear I'm this close to rearranging my office so that the daylight can hit me just so... although I don't know if I'm ready to go around my flat with a mirror before a date, so I can figure out the optimal place to sit on the sofa!
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
I have had a photocopy of a photocopy of this book for about seven years, so I was understandably extatic to learn of the recent reissuing of this long out of print and much sought-after title. For decades, critics have discussed Film Noir as the apex of American film in terms of style as well as content. And Academy Award winner John Alton has long been hailed as perhaps the most important cinematographer of his era. Such was his passion for the art and craft of cinematography that he wrote a book on the subject at a time when such books just were not being written. Painting With Light has great verve and wit, and serves as a very practical how-to exploration of cinema- tography as it existed at the time. But, as such, it is now also a fascinating slice of movie history. In the end, however, I believe it is most valuable as a tool to help the modern cinema- tographer rediscover the texture and mystery brought to the screen in an era when films pulled you in instead of trying to leap out at you. The book co
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Oscar winning Alton wrote this book years ago, but it still rules among the most interesting books about film lighting, filmmaking, and the perpetual wonders and mysteries of Light. A must, really. Alton's writing is clear, clever and funny.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magic! 4 Oct 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I have given this book to more than a few young people who have had an interest in theatre lighting when they entered higher education over the past fifteen years. It is a seminal work with a simplistic approach to what actually works in creative lighting. Alton, though a film noir specialist, gained his Oscar for the dance sequences in American in Paris, the only time two Oscars were ever awarded for film lighting ... even more amazing is that they were given to the same film!
The technology may have moved on so far it is astounding BUT his principles are as valid today as in 1949. Some of the effects and techniques are lo-tech but the results are still brilliant in modern film. The innovative work he did is used as a foundation for films such as Blade Runner, Girl With A Pearl Earring etc and his tricks-of-the-trade are still appropriate today.
For anyone interested in technical theatre, cinematography or even fine-art appreciation in general this book will be a reference resource which will last another 60 years.
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