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The "Grace is Gone" Cinematography Debate (Cont'd)

ReelPolitik By Anthony Kaufman | ReelPolitik February 6, 2007 at 3:36AM

The "Grace is Gone" Cinematography Debate (Cont'd)

All content creators, whether filmmakers or film reviewers, open themselves up to criticism. So I think it's fair that I've been taken to task for incorrectly saying "Grace is Gone" was shot in Hi-Def digital video when it was actually filmed in 35mm. But the rancor has come from surprising corners. A line producer who had nothing to do with "Grace is Gone," the John Cusack homefront Iraq drama that I somewhat slammed in my indieWIRE review, recently wrote to chastize me for the error, as well as my follow-up blog (in which I failed to adequately apologize).

"Please take into account the following," he wrote:

"1) Grace Is Gone is a low-budget, independent road movie and as such the DP has only a limited arsenal at his disposal. Whereas I do not know the budget of the film, I would guess it was in the $2-3M range, a sizable chunk of which likely went to John Cusack. The inherent travel costs, location fees, housing, per diems, gas and transportation needs of the script would certainly have put a significant dent in the below-the-line budget. Due to all the logistical and monetary concerns, Mr. Bompoint was no doubt afforded only a minimal crew and scant lighting package. Whereas this would not of course excuse slipshod camerawork, it could however help justify why this might not be the most stellar-looking film imaginable. Please do note that these are the same exact constraints that Little Miss Sunshine was up against, and although in my opinion that film did not look any bit better than Grace Is Gone, I do not recall you calling that film's cinematographer out on the carpet."

(To be fair to me, if I had reviewed Little Miss Sunshine, I surely would have called out that movie's crappy cinematography, too, not to mention the ridiculously forced storyline, but that's another matter...)

"2) There were no 'less than pristine' screenings of Grace Is Gone at Sundance -- I saw it at Racquet Club, which likely has the largest throw of all the venues, and the projection still looked very good. In fact, I was not even aware it was projected digitally (which I presume is a fact you checked) since Sundance perennially showcases the best digital projectors on the market and with said high-end models even purists like myself cannot tell the difference between analog and digital projection. It puzzles me how someone who was unable to discern the difference in the method in which the image was acquired feels he can nonetheless notice a distinct quality difference in the projection method."

"3) It is bad enough to tell a cinematographer that his film looked like it was shot on DV when it was shot on film, but instead of apologizing and moving on, you inexplicably chose to "excuse" him by noting that he probably didn't have much to do with the way the film looked... Do you realize that this is tantamount to saying that he did not perform the job he was hired to do? How can you say this in the same breath that you are offering an apology to this person? To Mr. Bompoint, I'm sure that your new proclamation does not make it any less of a slight."

Also to be fair to me, the Sundance catalogue lists the film as "Sony HD CAM," which may have placed that little bug in my ear. But as my producer-accuser points out, "Even with Sundance's role in the misunderstanding, please do note that there is also a big difference between the HDCAM and HDV formats, just as there is a difference between shooting 35mm and 16mm. The former are both in the HD family just as the latter are both film, but that is where any inherent sameness ends. I point this out to you so that in the future when you do see a movie that was shot in HDCAM you will not describe it as being HDV. These terms are not interchangeable: even though all squares (HDV) are rectangles (HD), not all rectangles are squares."

Lastly, I just want to say that I'm not the only person that disliked the look of the film. In Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, lead critics also called out the film's appearence, calling it "washed-out" and "mundane." "At the projection caught, some of the colors, notably the greens and reds, were unrealistically intense, while quality of the images was thin," wrote Variety's Todd McCarthy. And in a Sundance wrap-up for the Philadelphia City Paper, Sam Adams writes, "First-timer James C. Strouse's direction is as awkward as his script, full of unsightly wide-angle shots and pointless high- and low-angle shots, at least when it's not just nondescript."

So perhaps I didn't effectively describe my problems with the film. But that's not to say they weren't there.

But again, the producer responds: "If you don't like the look of the film that is one thing... But what you said takes a swipe, perhaps unwittingly, at Mr. Bompoint's underlying technical ability (which I personally do not feel is in question) and not merely his artistic accomplishment or lack thereof in this one film. If you were to review a Madonna concert, you might write that her songs were not to your liking, however you would not state that she cannot carry a tune or remember the words."

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