WATCH: A Video Essay on Shadows Through Cinema History

WATCH: A Video Essay on Shadows Through Cinema History

Shadows are a natural part of any given scene in a film–when the subject or an object interrupts a light source, an area of darkness is created.  But what happens when the shadow itself becomes the subject?  What happens when the darkness on the face of a character is something more than just the absence of direct light?  These types of shadows can communicate a variety of different tones and ideas. 

In ‘No Country for Old Men,’ Sheriff Ed Tom Bell opens the motel door to engage in what would be the climactic final shootout in a more traditional western.  The door slowly swings open, revealing the shadow of an iconic cowboy on the opposite wall. We see what Bell needs to be–something he simply cannot.  In ‘Raging Bull,’ the weight of Jake LaMotta’s imprisonment is expressed through the exaggerated, intruding shadows in his cell. His mental imprisonment becomes as apparent as his physical captivity.  In ‘There Will be Blood,’ a train moves across the sunset, creating a ripple of shadows on the face of the observing Daniel Plainview.  A train, the vehicle that both brought his son home and took him away, obstructs the direction of his progress. 
While many shadows in cinema are simply a complement of lighting, the very deliberate and thoughtful shadows in this video convey everything from fear to empowerment–from the empty to the iconic. 

Films used:
Frankenstein (1931)
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
Raging Bull
Psycho (1960)
The Big Combo
Scarface (1932)
Rumble Fish
Sin City
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
No Country for Old Men
Django Unchained
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Lawrence of Arabia
Punch-Drunk Love
The Thin Red Line
The Tree of Life
To the Wonder
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Forrest Gump
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Jennifer’s Body
The Big Lebowski
Apocalypse Now
Batman (1989)
The Dark Knight
Under the Skin
Inglourious Basterds
Only God Forgives
Batman Returns
Man of Steel
Blade Runner
Pulp Fiction
Dallas Buyers Club
There Will be Blood
12 Years a Slave
Black Swan
V for Vendetta
Inside Llewyn Davis
Kill Bill Vol. 1
True Romance
The Departed
Panic Room
The Aviator
The Hurt Locker
Double Indemnity
The Man Who Wasn’t There
Shutter Island
The Godfather Part II
Batman Begins

Jacob T. Swinney is an industrious film editor and filmmaker, as well as a recent graduate of Salisbury University.

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