THE CINEMATOGRAPHY OF THE 1980s:
THRILLERS & NEON NOIR

 

80s FILMS REFERENCED

 

  • Thief (1981)
  • Blow Out (1981)
  • Blade Runner (1982)
  • Flashdance (1983)
  • The Hunger (1983)
  • Blood Simple (1984)
  • Streets Of Fire (1984)
  • To Live And Die in LA (1985)
  • Nine and 1/2 Weeks (1986)
  • Miami Connection (1987)
  • Near Dark (1987)
  • Black Rain (1989)
     

POST-80s FILMS INFLUENCED BY THIS LOOK

 

  • Safe (1995)

  • Heat (1995)
  • The Game (1997)
  • Fightclub (1999)
  • In Time (2011)
  • Drive (2011)
  • Red Lights (2012)
  • Only God Forgives (2013)
  • The Iceman (2013)
  • Ain't Them Bodies Saints (2013)

 

STYLISTIC ELEMENTS & VISUAL MOTIFS

 

LENSING:

  • Soft (now considered "vintage") lenses.
  • Zoom lenses, especially long ones (like the Angeneiux HR 25-250), sometimes made even longer using optical doublers.
  • Generous amounts of zooming with said zoom lenses.
  • Even with prime lenses, a tendency to use longer lenses in general.
  • Anamorphic lenses were also popular.
  • Notable usage of long lenses on daytime exteriors to create epic forced perspective stuff down streets, etc.

COMPOSITION / CAMERA MOVEMENT:

  • 2.35 aspect ratio most typical, but 1.85 in common usage as well.
  • Relatively static, deliberate compositions. 
  • Minimal, sparing use of handheld. Most typically employed for subjective  / POV type shots.
  • Minimal, sparing use of steadicam.
  • Frequent use of dolly moves – push ins, pull outs, tracking alongside with characters as they walk.
  • Pans. Especially to reveal things.

EXPOSURE:

  • Underexposure. Mostly intentional, sometimes unavoidable. Night time exteriors were simply too dark for ther film stocks in use at the time. 
  • Heavy film / texture grain in general.
  • In camera filtration. ND grads, warming filters, diffusion filters, etc.

LIGHTING:

  • Combination of classic Noir and contemporary (for the time) Hollywood "three point" lighting.
  • Low-key light that as mentioned above, was often underexposed by multiple stops.
  • High contrast ratios light in general, and high contrast ratios on faces.
  • Usage of hard light in general – as backlight in night exteriors, as key light in night time exteriors, for effect, like casting shadows through venetian blinds, or to creat shafts of light through diffusion haze.
  • Hot backlight.
  • Shafts of light.
  • NEON. Lots of practical neon fixtures in shot.
  • Colorful lighting in general – primarily as backlight, edge light, and set accent light.
  • These colors in particular: Blue, cyan, teal, pink, purple, magenta. Honorable mention to red and amber light.
  • Colorful accent lighting (accent defined as not directly interacting with the subject of the shot, but the set).
  • Neutral white key light. As much color as there was, it is almost always balanced against a brighter, neutral key light that is primarily lighting the scene.
  • Practical florescent lights. 
  • Lighting effects – moving lights. Spotlights, carlights, poor man's process.
  • Usage of haze / atmosphere to create lighting effects.
  • Silhouettes. An obvious element of the moody, gritty underexposed look.
  • Wet downs on nighttime streets, to enhance the lighting.
  • Aside from the often unrealistic wet downs, the light itself is almost always motivated. It is extremely rare to find unmotivated light in these films. The colorful backlighting might be stylish and dramatic, but they always would put a neon practical of the same color in the shot to motivate it, for example.
  • Building signs, marquees, streetlights, and other lit up stuff like that in nighttime exterior backgrounds. Especially in closeups.
  • Sunset / Golden light in cityscape shots.
  • Nighttime cityscape shots.

MISC OTHER STYLISTIC TENDENCIES:

• Tendency to shoot car scenes at sunset & magic hour.
• Through various techniques and approaches, a sense that what we're seeing has been romanticized, glamorized. Realism was less of a goal than style. The focus on organic and real that was prevalent in the 70s would all but disappear for twenty years, until the 2000s. 
• Lots of nighttime car scenes as well.
• Epic nightime exterior locations, often with interesting practical lighting built in. Be it florescents, neon, or streetlights. Often combined with the wet down.
• Stylish car to car shots. Often at sunset, or night. Stylish, awe-inspiring treatment of vehicles in general.

 

UNDEREXPOSURE:

 

HIGH CONTRAST RATIOS

 

HOT BACKLIGHT

NEON

HAZE / SHAFTS OF LIGHT / BLINDS


SILHOUETTES

WET DOWNS


EPIC SUNSET CAR / CITY SHOTS

NIGHT CITY SHOTS

GENERAL / MISC REFERENCES