Why do we like “beautiful” cinematography? Why do we strive to create well-executed and skilful camera work such as a smooth track-in dolly shot or 3-point lighting or a well-composed wide landscape? I often hear people commenting that “x film’s cinematography was beautiful“, but what is it we really mean? Like the majority of us, I like beautiful images because they give me an emotional pleasure or exhalation or awe, but I disagree that beautiful images should only be “looked at”.
Kant provides what I consider the most thoughtful comment on beauty and that is that it is useless: we aren’t driven to find a use for beauty; we only appreciate it. This act of appreciation can be considered voyeuristic because it encourages the pleasure of the “looking at” of images and discourages the deeper understanding of images. Though I love hearing that people think my cinematography is beautiful because I know that they appreciate the images they see and the emotions it makes them feel, I also understand that it may not have contributed in changing the world. Aesthetically, I’d like to suggest new ways that beautiful cinematography can disrupt our passive relationship towards images in favour of a more active understanding of images.
I believe, like Kant, that this comes from the sublime. We can appreciate the beauty of a flower because of its immediate apparent appeal, while, the sublimity of black storm clouds would stretch our mind because of the connotations of “infinity” it suggests. In other terms, physical beauty that requires an act of contemplation lifts the mind towards the metaphysical (metaphysical; concerned with abstract thought and ideals), which gives us a deeper sense of satisfaction. For example, in a film, a bride in a beautiful white dress is walking down the stairs of her home towards her family, whom are gathered at the bottom in anticipation of her wedding day, and everyone is smiling. A shot of the bride in her white dress walking down the stairs will communicate to us a sense of beauty. However, a very soft and overexposed shot of the bride walking down the stairs, too blurry for us to clearly make out, followed by a sequence of shots of her family’s facial reactions would allow our mind to create its own images of the bride. We do not see her beauty, it’d only ever be suggested, but the images that arise in our minds would always be more beautiful and more deeply satisfying because our expectations of her beauty could never fall short.