This isn’t the usual review you’d find in Empire magazine. Southpaw has the same old storyline, like any other ‘fighting’ film it’s about overcoming obstacles. Nor is this my usual film to sit down to. The attraction lies in the lighting and the cinematography. Something you’ll be seeing a lot of in these posts from me, and comparisons between cinema and fashion photography. It’s all about the modern-day revamp of films with eye-porn saturation, crystal sharp images and advanced lighting… now this is where I get influence, this is where I find inspiration and train my eye to the visual splendours of Hollywood.
Recently I designed a campaign for a sports company and a t-shirt company using either natural light or a couple of lights on location. You can find a couple of previews in the images above. This is where I observed something about my practice, there was that visual lusciousness I like to achieve, reminiscent of this Hollywood eye-porn that is especially hardwired into Southpaw. As you watch, you will notice Film Noir influenced lighting. Film Noir is known for harsh light that often skims across the face. No matter where you look in Southpaw, you will see this throughout. In photographic terms you could say that this is similar to Rembrandt lighting.
The scene - Billy Hope and Tick Wills sit on the training ring side in a dimly lit gym as they come to terms with the shooting of a young boy that attended the same gym. The light and shadow that is created from an overhead light, the silhouettes, the fall-off around the room, and use of space really drills in this Film Noir influence and now acts as an inspirational film for my next project. The training scenes and montage in the six weeks he has before the final fight uses plenty of harsh lighting to emphasise muscles and silhouettes, and adds a harder edge to the cinematography. Noir lighting is everywhere, it feels like I’ve hit upon a visual playground.
The scene that initially grabbed my attention, though, was just after the shooting of Billy Hopes wife, Maureen, and uses that ever so simple tool, Aperture, to what I would call ‘exemplary effect’. Even though photography is unable to show you a 24fps version of pulling and pushing focus, using a large f/number to encompass all in a scene will have some incredible impact. I remember seeing images by Ansel Adams using large f/numbers.
We see his head buried in the mattress, screaming in agony, a gun in the foreground laid on the mattress. The focus is pushed from the gun to Billy as he looks up, bullets in hand.
That 10 second visual is all you need to create something with impact all done with the finesse of an artistic eye. I couldn’t care less about the technical aspects of a camera, where it was made, how many focussing points it has or the kind/speed of processor it has inside. The skill is in creativity and this is the thing that pushes the artistic community. And something I’ve been talking about throughout this post… know your history.