Detective Note

Vol.81 – Learning Lighting Design from Cinematography Part 1 “Diva”


I ran across a manuscript from a series published in Housing Magazine 25 years ago. 

There was no magazine title or published date, but for the series titled “From Screen/ I want to copy this interior design!”  I used to analyze the lighting in scenes from movies.   After all these years I reread them and they are very interesting.  So I`d like to share two excerpts among them.  I wasn’t a person that had seen a lot of movies, but after accepting this column I became a regular at the movie theater.   Movies should be seen in the theater and the things to learn are unlimited. 


Blue Light and Shadow in a Paris Apartment

 This scene is in a large loft in a renovated house.  Circular neon lights mounted on the walls glow.  The morning sun streams through a window, creating long shadows of the window grate.  At the tip of this rhythm of light and shadow, a white enamel bathtub stands alone.  A mysterious man is seen smoking a cigar through the steam while he soaks in his morning bath.  A Vietnamese women returns home.

Quietly, the man says, “If you ever do that again I’ll send you back to Vietnam.”  “Don’t be mad.  I`m in a good mood right now.”  “Wait.”  “….”  Then the Diva`s angelic voice resonates throughout the loft.  “ The man can’t hide his surprise.  He takes the cigar out of his mouth and says, “The first act of La Wally.  Cynthia Hawkins.  How did you get that?  It hasn’t been released.”  The lady just laughs and smiles as she places one leg on the edge of the bathtub. 

This bathtime scene is blessed with sunlight and is undoubtedly the all star of beautiful cinematography taken throughout the “Diva.”  The delicacy of light and shadow are truly overpowering and one can really grasp the love affair between parisians and natural light.   Even indoors one is still bathed in sunlight.  And then the angelic singing…ah, what a luxurious start to the day.

Let’s take a deeper look at the lighting in the outstanding scene.   The sense of happiness in the air is created by the blue tones of the shadows and shimmering reflections of light.  European interiors favor sharp contrast between light and shadow and make a point of adding color tones to the shadows.  Especially in this scene, the inspiring rays of the morning sun are made even more innocent by the faint tones of blue in the shadows.  Also, compared to the blue tones, the sense of twinkling particles of light, stirred up in the air, shine on the bath water and reflect off of the man’s face.  (omission)

In contrast to this scene is the postman, Jules, and the beautiful opera singer, Cynthia,  strolling through the Tuileries Garden.   This mismatched couple sit down on a bench near the fountain and gradually the space between them closes.  Jules tries to put his arm around her.  She notices and smiles.  There aren’t any words, but everyone knows it is a sad, short-lived love affair.  There is no intense sunlight shining in the garden, but Cynthia  is still holding on to her white sun parasol.  Under that dull Paris sky the white sun parasol is too obvious.  Natural sunlight in Paris can be intense, as if it is announce the budding emotions of an overbearing love affair.