alexander kluge

 

THE GENTLE COSMETICS OF LIGHT

 

 

She had a way of winning people over. If this did not happen quickly there was a danger that her mind, set on rapid success, would thwart her; she would then have displayed her impatience, the interruption of her journey to self-realization would have shown on her face as nervousness and diminished the charm of her appearance. She took care not to give her mind (her impatience) too much space. In a completely unaffected way, she could simply switch it off.

In this way the star had already won over Herr Weihmayr, the chief cameraman, in the very first days of the shoot. This man prepared the set each day; all the others obeyed him like a tribal chief even though to all appearances the director and the producer remained the influential figures.

This expert, who had lit the faces of many famous stars, already awake very early, came over to her as soon as she, the sleepy-head who didn’t like mornings, had entered the studio and taken her seat. The make-up artist, wardrobe mistress, and hair dresser were waiting. As she sat there in civilian clothing, not having had breakfast because everything was too late, the chief cameraman shook hands with her, studied her skin and facial features and, giving brief instructions, quickly had the lights directed on this natural phenomenon sitting before him. The warmth of the light was like a therapeutic bath; it moved about on her cheeks, her forehead. She dozed a little more, closed her eyes. She was sure that she would look “effective” as soon as the lights were set up. This procedure the master called the foundation lighting. It had to respond to skin tone. In the face 200 muscles are at work, without the person being able to coordinate individual movements. The pores, the tautness of the skin, the nervousness depended on the fortune or misfortune of the previous evening, on how the star had woken up that day. This, Weihmayr maintained, is what my light can deal with; neither cosmetics nor hairdressing alter any of that. Only he was capable of transforming a hopeless look into a “signal of determination.” Solely with the means of his profession: with bias light, back light, highlight and booster lights. Sometimes there were only three lights and sometimes up to 200 (along with scrim, funnels, cones, gates, and other lighting attachments).

  • Did he not idealize things with the camera itself?
  • No, not this maestro.
  • Why not?
  • Because the camera, he said, records “whatever it sees in front of it.” Of course it makes a difference if I record a tired face in close up, in long shot or in medium shot. I can set up the camera cautiously or more carelessly. But that won’t fundamentally change anything. In a long shot, weariness, or the star’s sufferings, will be expressed in his whole posture; in a close up, on the face, I decide. The camera cannot lie.
  • But you can use light to “beautify,” can’t you?
  • That isn’t a lie. Light doesn’t lie. I decide what to present to the light trap, to my Debrie. It doesn’t get anything other than what I want to give it.
  • And as soon as your work is done, there are no further concessions in the filming process? For example, if the star’s face suddenly deteriorates?
  • No, there are no further considerations. Apart from composing a loving foundation light for this lady. Because she was sweet to me from the very first moment.