The Godfather Essay, Research Paper
I am writing about the use of lighting in the opening scene of The Godfather, (1). The
photography of The Godfather as an entire film is very planned and used specifically to
generate moods, and have great psychological affect. This is just as true for the very first series of shots for the film, and perhaps more important since these first shots will give the audience the initial feeling of the film, and set a tone for the picture. The first shot is highly dramatic in its lighting method, and the audience is drawn in immediately to one single detail. A man begins revealing the details of a tragic incident that befell his daughter. We don t see who he is talking to. There is a spotlight directly above the man, and this is pretty much 95% of the light used. This really lights up the top of his head, which is bald, but there is no hot spot or reflective element which is good because reflection here would be aesthetically displeasing. The lighting causes dark areas under the man s eyes, which emphasize the passion and eventually the hatred of what he is talking about. The scene is lit so that the background is completely black, so that the only thing we can see is the man. Even though this is logically unrealistic, the stylistic decision to light in this manner is warranted, since this or any other good film draws heavily upon our expectations and imagination to convey a message or meaning. We as audience accept the unrealistic elements, if they assist in making the story more engrossing. There is another light placed so that the man has an obvious highlight in the center of his black eyes. This highlight area of his eye is the part of the frame which has the greatest contrast, so naturally the audience is drawn directly into this man s stare,
and this is also achieved by having the man look right at the camera. As he speaks, the camera slowly pulls out and then we start to see a slight increase in the surrounding detail of the scene. We can now see part of the back and side of the Godfather, (Marlon Brando) but still we have only a slight highlight on his side, and no detail. Now the man gets up and moves to Brando s side, and he too is in complete shadow; we can only really make out the fact that there are two figures present here, no more. Then the shot changes as the man leaves the Godfather s side, and it is a revealing frontal MCU of Brando. This shot is lit much more than the previous shot. Where the other shot s background was pitch black, this shot is lit so that almost the whole space and all objects in it are visible. Brando has a key, fill and backlight on him, and his character is revealed with much intensity because of the dramatic light change from shot to shot. When the shot comes back to the man, in an over the shoulder (Brando) style, again the backround is totally black. Having the man in that particular lighting, and having Brando lit the way he is serves two psychological purposes. First, having the constant black background behind the man isolates his problem and makes us aware of how consumed he is with his problem. It is dark, very dark, and he is in a world of darkness because his daughter is the “light” of his life, and now that she has been so violated, the light has been extinguished. The man has been made to suffer and in his mind there are no surrounding details to distract himself from his grief, just like we have no surrounding details to distract ourselves from his dilemma. Second, when Brando is shown with much more light, it makes his life seem full and diverse, very opposite of the man confronting him. Showing the light on Brando, and lighting up Brando s surroundings gives us the sense that there are other things going on in this world, not just the problems of the man. There is light coming in from the windows behind Brando. We consciously or unconsciously wonder what is going on outside, in the daylight. These two contrasting images of light and dark serve to embellish each state beyond what is reality. The Godfather looks collected, calm, professional. The man looks desperate, frustrated, miserable. This is drilled into our minds through the use of lighting as much or more than the acting performances. If the light on the two characters was all even, then we would not get the kind of unconscious or conscious reaction that really sets up the characters in our minds. The two men would be on level grounds with each other and since this is our first encounter with them, we may misinterpret what the characters situations are. The way the lighting was chosen for the film, there is little confusion as to the roles of these characters. Overall there is a richness and saturation of color and blackness, in any of the subject matter shown, and this makes us feel that there is a quality to the room we are in. Elements of the scene are lit to show the refinement and elegance of what we see. I cant think of any way I would change the lighting in this opening scene, as I believe it was done with no real error. The light use made me react in the way I believe the audience was intended to react, and that is all that is necessary. I think The Godfather is an excellent example of the use of creative lighting to develop the narrative story in ways only it can.