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Road to Oscars 2022. The Cinematography of "Nightmare Alley"

Aggiornamento: 7 mar 2022

Today's entry is about neo-noir Nightmare Alley.

Nightmare Alley is a 2021 psychological thriller directed by Guillermo Del Toro.

The main character of this movie is mysterious and ambitious carnival worker Stanton Carlisle who is eagerly looking for boosting his career and his life up.


The basis of DoP Dan Laustsen’s job is to put Stanton in the right light. Literally.

He’s such a key figure that Director Del Toro and DoP Laustsen wanted to emphasise his presence even more, making him as powerful as possible.


Since he’s quite a dark character, his face is always kept in deep black shadows (or set towards them), but only for one side.


As I mentioned earlier, this is a neo-noir film.

But how to really nail the photography?

Should it be done in black and white?


Or not? Or.. both?

That’s right. Both.


Nightmare Alley is the only movie (that we can recall) to be played in theaters in both its black and white and colour version at the same time.

After all, why not giving the striking visuals of classic noir a chance?


Dan Laustsen
Dan Laustsen

The quest for the perfect visuals was thorough; Laustsen was trying to achieve a “grimy extravagant” mood for the whole movie and this was not an easy task.

Sometimes, shooting the ideal scene, for example, took hours and hours.


Another very important aspect to consider was the use of practical effects. Digital tricks were very few, such as sky replacements to have a more artistic result and colour adjustments.

Practical effects were multiple, as I was saying;

- in one scene they put a steam-pipe grid underneath the ground to have steam coming up and help setting the mood;

- in the whole movie the actors' height differences are enhanced playing with perspective, so that the viewers may understand better who controls the scene on screen;

- in a specific segment of the film, mirror reflections were needed, but instead of digitally adding them in post-production, Laustsen had the team install floor mirrors, which gave the room a haunted feel, just what they wanted;

Bradley Cooper as Stanton Carlisle and Cate Blanchett as Dr. Lilith Ritter
Bradley Cooper as Stanton Carlisle and Cate Blanchett as Dr. Lilith Ritter

- to emphasise Stan's persona, everything was set starting from him and from his moves in the fore- and background. He's followed, in fact, by a fully extended Techocrane most of the time;

- last but not least, actors were asked to move and stop in specific spots of the set, to have lights hitting them as best as possible, just like Laustsen requested.



Well, that's it for today. Stay tuned for the next movie: The Power Of The Dog.

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