Citizen Kane (1941)
The Long Voyage Home (1940)
The most innovative technical aspect of Citizen Kane was in the use of deep focus. This is what Gregg Toland had to say on the subject:
New developments in the science of motion picture photography are not abundant at this advanced stage of the game but periodically one is perfected to make this a greater art. Of these I am in an excellent position to discuss what is termed “Pan-focus”, as I have been active for two years in its development and used it for the first time in Citizen Kane. Through its use, it is possible to photograph action from a range of eighteen inches from the camera lens to over two hundred feet away, with extreme foreground and background figures and action both recorded in sharp relief. Hitherto, the camera had to be focused either for a close or a distant shot, all efforts to encompass both at the same time resulting in one or the other being out of focus. This handicap necessitated the breaking up of a scene into long and short angles, with much consequent loss of realism. With pan-focus, the camera, like the human eye, sees an entire panorama at once, with everything clear and lifelike.
Pan-focus was only possible after the development of speedy new film, enabling the cameraman to stop down his lens to the small aperture required for sharp focus. With the slow sensitivity characteristic of the film of a few years ago, this would have been impossible as not enough light could have gotten through such a small aperture to expose the film properly. Today, we get as much value out of fifty candlepower light as we once would have obtained from two hundred candlepower, so sensitive is the modern speed film.
Photographing Citizen Kane was indeed the most exciting professional adventure of my career.
– Gregg Toland (article written for Theatre Arts magazine)
Gregg Toland Documentary
This is a short documentary on the life and career of Gregg Toland.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt created the Office of the Coordinator of Information (later to become the CIA) before entry into World War II and Toland was asked to take part in the film unit of the agency. He was appointed as a lieutenant in the camera department of the Navy and this is where he co-directed with John Ford December 7th, a documentary of the Pearl Harbor attack by the Japanese. This documentary won the Academy Award for Best Documentary, Short Subjects for 1943. This marked the only time in Toland’s career that he worked as a director.
He died in Los Angeles, California on September 26, 1948 of coronary thrombosis at age 44.
Of the thirty-eight pictures I have photographed since Palmy Days, I believe Citizen Kane is the best example of camera possibilities in securing dramatic effect. Several others, however, particularly The Long Voyage Home, The Grapes of Wrath, Intermezzo, Wuthering Heights, Dead End, Dark Angel and These Three, proved sources of infinite satisfaction in that regard.
– Gregg Toland
Gregg Toland was not only an innovative artist, for after all that is exactly what a great cinematographer is, not simply a great technician. He possessed a deep understanding of human emotion brought to the forefront via framing, movement and light. Besides his superb artistry and technical prowess he pioneered the actual technology from an engineering perspective.
With the advent of sound movies in 1927, the audible buzz of movie cameras became a serious problem, requiring the inconveniently clunky soundproof booths. Toland helped create a tool, which silenced the camera’s noise, enabling the camera to move far more easily which gave a wider spectrum of visual possibilities. Toland invented a soundproof housing for cameras, a blimp-like mechanism that allowed for the shooting of close-ups of softly spoken moments without mood killing noise.
Innovations on The Long Voyage Home (1940) and Citizen Kane (1941)
Toland’s cinematographic techniques were truly revolutionary due to the fact that cinematographers before him used a shallow depth of field to separate the various planes on the screen, creating an impression of space, as well as stressing what mattered in the frame by leaving the rest (the foreground or background) out of focus. In Toland’s lighting schemes, shadow became a much more vibrant tool, both dramatically and pictorially, to separate the foreground from the background – and, therefore, to create space within a two-dimensional frame while keeping the entire picture in focus. In his understanding, this visual style was closer with what the eyes see in real life, since our vision blurs what is not looked at rather than what is. What is interesting here is Toland expressing a desire to come closer to reality though one feels the opposite, his photography takes one away to a dream world. Maybe the dream can bring us to a more intimate connection to reality.
In John Ford’s The Long Voyage Home (1940), Toland leaned more heavily on back-projection to create his deep focus compositions (such as the shot of the island women singing to entice the men of the SS Glencairn), while continuing to develop the technologies that would allow for him to create his images on Citizen Kane.
Toland innovated extensively on Citizen Kane, creating deep focus on a sound-stage, collaborating with set designer Perry Ferguson so ceilings would be visible in the frame by stretching bleached muslin to stand in as a ceiling, allowing placement of the microphone closer to the action without being seen in frame. He also modified the Mitchell Camera to allow a wider range of movement, especially from low angles. ″It was Toland who devised a remote-control system for focusing his camera lens without having to get in the way of the camera operator who would now be free to pan and tilt the camera.”
The primary method to achieve deep focus was by closing down the aperture, which required increasing the lighting intensity, lenses with better light transmission, and faster film stock. On Citizen Kane, the cameras and coated lenses used were of Toland’s own design working with engineers from CalTech. His lenses were treated with Vard Opticoat to reduce glare and increase light transmission. He used the Kodak Super XX film stock, which at the time was the fastest film available. Toland worked closely with a Kodak representative during the stocks creation before its release in October of 1938, and was one of the first cinematographers to use it.
The lens apertures employed on most productions were usually within the f/2.3 to f/3.5 range. Toland shot his scenes in between f/8 and f/16. This was possible because several elements of technology came together at once: the technicolor three strip process, which required the development of more powerful lights, had been developed and the more powerful Carbon Arc light was beginning to be used. By utilizing these lights on a B&W shoot with the faster stock Toland was able to achieve apertures previously unattainable on a stage shoot.
DOF for symmetrical lens.
“Just before he died he had worked out a new lens with which he had made spectacular shots. He carried in his wallet a strip of film taken with this lens, of which he was very proud. It was a shot of a face three inches from the lens, filling one-third of the left side of the frame. Three feet from the lens, in the center of the foreground, was another face, and then, over a hundred yards away was the rear wall of the studio, showing telephone wires and architectural details. Everything was in focus, from three inches to infinity.”
Shadows at Dawn
Toland’s influence has continued long after his death. In just a few years, the techniques that seemed so startling in Citizen Kane were being adopted by cinematographers (as well as still photographers) worldwide. Toland’s innovations contributed greatly to modern filmmaking as well as to television. The kind of photography that modern audiences take for granted was shaped by Toland’s craftsmanship and imagination.
Throughout his short career he experimented at every opportunity drawing from the avant garde, German Expressionism, modern painting and photography as well as anything else that breathed forth inventive possibilities. The movies he worked on often are filled with intense and edgy interplays between light and dark, taking one at times to surrealistic dreamlands and sometimes nightmares. He was most assuredly a technical master, although he never lost for a second an earthy all-too-human quality, an aspect almost totally absent from modern movies, that delve into hyper-technical worlds and maybe this is part of Toland’s magic, the balancing of the two that ultimately lead to an unforgettable array of memories…like vivid dreams.
Cinematographer (66 credits)
Director (1 credit)
1943 December 7th: The Movie