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Hail the Cinematographer!

Posted by GoreMaster Special Effects on June 5, 2009

Best Cinematographer winner for 'Slumdog Millionaire' Anthony Dod Mantle

Best Cinematographer winner for 'Slumdog Millionaire' Anthony Dod Mantle

By David Coddon, San Diego Union Tribune

Let’s hear it, belatedly, for Anthony Dod Mantle. Whaddaya mean “who?”

Just a couple of months ago, he won the Oscar for best cinematography for his work on “Slumdog Millionaire.” If you remember the sweeping scope and stirring visuals of that film, you can understand why Anthony Dod Mantle was honored with a gold statuette. It will console him in his anonymity (at least outside the technical arm of the movie industry).

This also may explain why no one around the newsroom ever “picks up and forgets” (i.e., purloins) to return my copy of American Cinematographer. A monthly insider on how films are made, it lacks the glitz of Entertainment Weekly or the gossip of Us Weekly.

The cinematographer’s contribution to film is immeasurable. Yet he – or she, as the case may be – is a name in the credits and nothing more to most moviegoers.

The cinematographer is the movie’s director of photography, working with the director on how the film is shot. We take this for granted as viewers, in a way that we don’t take for granted, by comparison, special effects. We may not know – or care – who’s responsible for a film’s special effects, but we comment or opine, one way or the other, about them.

When was the last time you came out of a theater with anyone but a filmophile and heard the movie’s cinematography praised?

To wit: “Hugh Jackman was awesome as Wolverine, and Ryan Reynolds was cool. But how about that cinematography of Donald McAlpine’s?”

More than special effects – something blowing up or somebody flying – the look of a film, when it engulfs you, draws you in – makes me go “Wow” under my breath.

“Apocalypse Now” made me go “Wow.” So did “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” and so did “Dances With Wolves,” among many others. A film need not be a spectacle to be a triumph of cinematography, either. “American Beauty,” for example, won the best cinematography Oscar, and it was a character study. But one we remember for its images (remember the paper bag blown by the wind?) as well as for its close-ups and its script.

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Remember when, in that movie, image and script come together? “Sometimes,” Ricky (Wes Bentley) says to Jane (Thora Birch) as they’re watching the bag swept on the breeze, “there’s so much beauty in the world I feel like I can’t take it, like my heart’s going to cave in.”

The director: Sam Mendes. The writer: Alan Ball. The cinematographer: the late Conrad L. Hall. The moment: Perfect.


Anthony Dod Mantle other works include 28 Days Later,The Last King of Scotland and Antichrist.

Get Slumdog Millionaire on Blue Ray DVD

Slumdog Millionaire


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