GRAINY PICTURES, PART TWO
I woke up this morning wondering if I was too harsh on the look of Miami Vice, so I’m going to kick up these comments from Jamie Stuart that are posted below. Stuart disagrees with my pan of the film’s visuals and finds its rough-hewn textures compelling, and he makes the point that by choosing to shoot the film on a Viper instead of a camera like Panavision’s Genesis, they were deliberately striving for the look they got. (He also makes some comments about my quotation of internet movie reviewer Chuck O’Leary, but I wasn’t holding him out as any kind of authority; rather, I just found it odd that the only negative comment I could find about the film’s cinematography was from a fairly obscure reviewer while most of the mainstream critics used the same generic phrases to discuss what was certainly a debatable look.)
I thought the digital grain was gorgeous. As I always believed it would be when used within the context of tight professional cinematography. I think too many people have become accustomed to flat, clean TV images and forget how grainy and degraded movies used to be. It was the influence of commercial requirements that led Kodak to develop the tight T grain. And its adoption coincided with the rise of digital home entertainment. Ever watch a DVD of an old movie and complain about the picture grain and wish they’d cleaned the image up? It’s cause we became accustomed to TV — where we watch far more moving images on a regular basis than at the movies.
Unfortunately, for now at least, most people associate digital grain with technical amateurishness — they inherently associate that look with home video footage. Which is exactly the comparison O’Leary made. It works from time to time, like with I Like Killing Flies, because the audience accepts that it was shot on consumer equipment.
But for me, Miami Vice, on a purely visual level, was the most significant mainstream use of digital photography, in terms of defining the medium’s aesthetic, since 28 Days Later. Fincher and Savides used Viper for Zodiac, and it’ll be interesting to see where they take it, especially since that takes place in the 60s/70s.
Good comments from Stuart, although I’ll note that as a producer of julien donkey-boy I’ll hold my grainy-picture-producing credentials up to anyone’s!