The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
Available on Netflix
Some cinematographers are masters of light. They can basically paint the frame with illumination and shadows. That’s one approach. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari takes another approach. At first glance it looks like the scenes are painted with light, but actually they’re just painted with, well, paint. Over 80% of the budget for this silent German film went into set decoration. That was money well spent. The images are created with the simplest of materials, but their effect is paranoia inducing. If you like Tim Burton or Alex Proyas, you can thank this film for its influences on them.
Tokyo Story (1953)
Available on HuluPlus
Yasujiro Ozu is perhaps the greatest director in the history of cinema, and this is his greatest film. It’s story seems incredibly simple–an elderly man and woman go on a trip to Tokyo to see their children and young grandchildren, only to be met with the indifference and selfishness of youth. The images at first seem incredibly simple as well–low angle, static shots, mostly of domestic interiors. But the story and the images alike are more complex than they appear at first. The slow, simple photography sets the tone for a meditation on mortality and the proverbial changing of the seasons. We are allowed to observe life. The camera work is beautiful in its detachment, allowing the audience plenty of time to reflect on what they are seeing.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
Available on Amazon Prime Instant Video
If Tokyo Story is slow and meditative, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is it’s antithesis. Whereas the Japanese drama is reflectively introspective, the Chinese action fantasy is flamboyantly extravagant. Colors dance across the screen in the many perfectly choreographed fight scenes. Knifes, darts, and humans fly in a spectacle of action. It is like a page from a myth–outside of time. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is larger than life, and it will keep you spellbound.