Film After the rules on selecting films for this list (only one film per director allowed) led to something of a default position for 1971, there are plenty of examples in 1970 and plenty I could write about.
Whenever I'm in Starbucks ordering a short coffee, I'm reminded of the breakfast ordering scene in Five Easy Pieces when Jack Nichlson makes an unsuccessful attempt.
There's Love Story which I came to when working through all the films produced by Robert Evans after seeing The Kids Stays in the Picture.
There's MASH and the near riot at a pub quiz I attended where the quiz master asked who played Hawkeye without specifying if he meant the television version or the film and then preceded to deny all knowledge of the latter's existence,
But The Conformist contains one of my favourite shots in cinema, a tracking shot within the grounds of a house as the wind blows orange, autumnal leaves into the air creating an atmosphere of the passage of time.
It's a shot and a film which I wouldn't have ever encountered had it not been for another film documentary, Visions of Light, which was broadcast on Channel 4 in the early nineties and began a series of films featured within and which, along with a Philosophy of Film course at Liverpool Universe really sparked my interest in the nuts and bolts of the process and which would lead to me to eventually taking my MA Screen Studies course.
Visions of Light is about the art of cinematography, and features interviews with a couple of dozen legendary photographers, from Gordon Willis to Vilmos Zsigmond to Conrad L. Hall, collectively narrating the history of their craft from the early days of silent film through to somewhere in the late Eighties when this film was produced.
It's a story of loss, about how the cinematographer was simply more expressive in the black and white days, how darkness, light and shadow could be used much more as a storytelling tool and to evoke character. But there were gains too, as the square frame opens to cinemascope allowing much more information to be present within the shot.
You hear about James Wong Howe putting together his helicopter shot in Picnic and how Néstor Almendros coped with Terance Malick's decree that all of Days of Heaven should be filmed during the magic hour, the forty minute window between day and night. Often there's a definite sense of the cinematographer's abilities elevating some pretty average material.
The only real omission is in the area of international cinema which gets just a few comments and a clip of Jules Et Jim to shine. The American cinematographers weren't working in a vacuum and although the connection is acknowledged, more could certainly have been made. It's a shame too that it seems to end a few years before the production date of the documentary so that what were new innovations then, such as steadicam aren't really covered, other than in a closing montage.
But even if the technical details don't interest you, there are the clips from a whole vast range of films, always illustrating the matter at hand. It's amazing to see the continuity between projects in someone like Gordon Willis as he shifts from Godfather to Annie Hall, and how certain men and women are hired because they're comfortable working within a certain locale such as New York.
Climaxing in 1992 the film has dated somewhat, but it's a poignant that they stop in that year T2 was released, with Jurassic Park the next and although both were obviously shot on film, it's often thought of as the moment when cinema really went digital in terms of how viewers and the industry thought about the possibilities of what could be accomplished using a visually computerised approach.
The story is therefore somewhat picked up by 2012's Side-by-Side piece by Keanu Reeves which investigates the history of digital cinema, speaking to come of the same cinematographers about the transition and the implications that has on the image and the process of editing.
Would The Conformist have been as beautiful if it had been shot on digital? Who can say?
My approach or opinion is that each new advancement provides new tools and often it's not about the tools but how they're utilised and that damning digital because it's poorly used sometimes is like criticising the first attempts at 'scope when the shot was often either too busy or too empty of the first sound films with their often static, theatrical staging because of the limited placements of microphones.
It's not about the camera. It's about how you use it.