Ghostbusters is not a stage play, a novel, a comic book or a dance. It's a movie.
This stunningly original observation will no doubt garner this project a wide assortment of critical accolades, but more relevantly, it guides our study of the piece. To fully appreciate how a movie works, we can't limit our understanding of movies to the words in the script and the actions of the characters; there's a whole 'how' to the language beyond the 'what'. It's John Ciardi's age-old question, "How Does a Poem Mean?", and cinema is an art of execution rather than concept. Formal analysis is necessary—sounds thrilling, I know, but by 'formal', we refer to the question of form, not wearing fancy clothes. Or, as the oft-repeated reminder in my first film studies class ran, don't say anything that you can say about a novel.
Cinema is image, and now that we've explored how Ivan Reitman selected his images to tell the story, we can discuss how they were photographed and how those artistic choices impacted the storytelling. In the previous chapter, we focused primarily on mise-en-scène (i.e. the content of the images) and the staging of the scenes, veering occasionally into composition. Now, we turn to lighting and camerawork—a subtler component of cinematography, certainly in Ghostbusters, but no less rich.
"A Guy Who Can Get Things Done"
By the mid-'80s, Ivan Reitman's taste in cinematographers was keeping pace with his career. Stripes, his first American movie, was lensed by no less a luminary than Oscar-nominee Bill Butler, who'd already shot The Conversation, Jaws, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (uncredited) and Grease, and was at the time amidst a smattering of Rocky sequels.
For Ghostbusters, the director turned more baroque. László Kovács was not a conventional choice for a comedy, but, then, Ghostbusters was not a conventional comedy. Having made his reputation on iconoclast Dennis Hopper's Easy Rider, Kovács knew how to foster a collaborative atmosphere, to make the camera work in conjunction with the writer-actors—on his sets, the camera was a storytelling tool, not a technical hindrance. "The look has to come from the story," he mused in an interview for ICG Magazine. "Every story has its own life, and its own dimensions. The tones and colors are different from other stories. This is what you have to sense. It's usually a subconscious process."
As Kovács told American Cinematographer, Reitman "didn't want this film to look like a comedy. He wanted it to look like a dramatic piece of film… Automatically, everybody shoots comedy in the traditional way: very high-key photography, bright, cheerful and all that." Reitman concurs, looking back on No Strings Attached: "What's tricky about comedies—it's often overlooked—is that you have to create the same level of truth that you do in a drama." So Ghostbusters goes deeper, searches for verisimilitude. "László Kovács' cinematography communicates ideas and emotions," gushed Michael Goodwin in Take One. "[H]e is aware of the emotional and ideological implications of his technical operations. Putting it another way, his shots mean something."
A friend and collaborator of legendary cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, Kovács started out shooting documentary television and B-feature schlock before Easy Rider ushered in the New Hollywood's naturalist aesthetic, with its lens flares, dappled light and balletic staging of cameras and cycles in motion. He would come to Ghostbusters with Five Easy Pieces, What's Up, Doc?, The King of Marvin Gardens, Paper Moon, Shampoo and New York, New York under his belt, not to mention supporting stints on Close Encounters of the Third Kind and The Last Waltz.
Here was an artist who'd all but defined the 1970s trend of cinematographic realism, now transitioning into big-budget Hollywood fare with a project where preserving verisimilitude was key. And at ease with spontaneity, to boot, able to light a setup on short notice—the perfect candidate to work with some of the most talented improvisers in the business. In short, a match. "You don't make beautiful compositions just for the sake of making compositions," Kovács would say in Masters of Light: Conversations with Contemporary Cinematographers. "You have to serve that same emotional and dramatic level that everybody is working for." And he served Ghostbusters so skillfully that the audience never notices.
"A Little Unusual"
Elegantly enough, the easiest way of pinpointing the cinematography's subtle but palpable effect on the audience is to mention something that nobody is meant to notice.
Ghostbusters may be one of the most purple movies ever made.
It doesn't quite look like other movies of its day, largely due to a slight purple cast over nearly every scene. You can see it in the browns, the grays, the beiges that dominate the sets and costumes, all skewing just a tad violet. Color casts are hardly unique to Ghostbusters, of course—The Empire Strikes Back (cinematographer: Peter Suschitzky) was tinted blue with a bleach-bypass technique for a stark, cold, dangerous feeling, while Bill Pope plunged the digital world of The Matrix into dismal greens to evoke the lifeless look of monochrome computer screens. Oswald Morris shot Fiddler on the Roof entirely through a nylon stocking for an earthy, gauzy look and an Academy Award.
But purple, however subtly employed, was and is something out of the ordinary—not only visually, but semiotically. Purple, in cinematography, doesn't come loaded with values the way some other colors do. Tint a scene red and you get anger, heat, passion; drench it in sepia and you have the feeling of age. Lean purple, just a bit, and the audience doesn't know what to do with the image, if they even spot the difference at all. They only know, from the very first shot, that something isn't quite right.
And so we begin, again, with the very first shot.
The film isn't one for fancy camera moves, and indeed the library prologue features a more active frame than most of the ensuing movie. It kicks off with a big tilt, and then the camera remains mobile practically right up until the main title.
Kovács lets the frame get a little rough as we follow Alice down the stairs, through the stacks. Sometimes she drifts too close to the edge, sometimes a bit of her head slips out of view, but this only helps set the mood; we're following her, a breathing, vigilant presence peering in, and some human sloppiness is to be expected. Notice how the camera bobbles at the very end of the shot of floating books; note the way we slowly trail her to the card catalog. She's being watched.
The stacks are lit uniformly, with any corridor the same as the others, no exit route in sight, just more books. This matches the equally uneventful lighting pattern from the practical lights—that is, the light sources that exist in the world of the story. As she runs, and we run with her, the only lighting changes are slight variations on her face from the ceiling lamps above.
That is, until the last shot, where she glimpses the horror. It's improbably darker, casting a shadow across her cheek; something before her has changed her world. And then, a ghastly vision, a flood of light, and a scream.
We can glean from all this an excellent indication of how Kovács will shoot the bulk of the film. Unspectacular but moody lighting patterns, favoring not overt menace but that nagging something's-not-right feeling, with arresting visuals saved for privileged moments. Not three minutes in, and all the groundwork's been laid.
The first shot of Columbia is as good a place as any to note the image's purple tint, easily spotted in the wet walkways, in the gray stone of Butler Library. This is no ordinary rainy day. It's also the first of many rather wide shots the film indulges in. Ghostbusters shot in the 2.35:1 anamorphic aspect ratio, historically the province of big-screen epics over funny films—even most other high-concept comedies of the '80s (Gremlins, Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit) stuck to 1.85:1. But Ghostbusters demanded something more expansive.
After a couple of moves to reveal objects of interest, the camera stays more or less in place for Venkman's introduction—not obviously moving, but not locked down, either. The human presence remains, and the frame shifts a bit to regard Jennifer, shakes when the male student is electrocuted for guessing 'circle'. We've been invited to join in the experiment, and enjoy Venkman's torture techniques (shades of Milgram!), and the camera sits us down in a chair, acts as our eyes to look the people over.
Indeed, even after the experiment, the camerawork provides a certain invitational feel, an inclusiveness. After the male student departs and Venkman parks himself beside Jennifer, we draw in, as if to take part in the conversation, as the easygoing music plays. When Stantz butts in, and draws Venkman away, the camera reframes to be part of their council—but the lighting's more dramatic in their little corner, casting shadows on the sides of their faces, a portent of the evil lurking ahead.
Even when shooting in a familiar location with a look we've already established, Kovács isn't afraid to use light expressively, to show us a difference that the characters themselves are not expected to pick up on. As the parapsychologists head down into the stacks, we detect the alternation of light and shadow from the overhead practicals on Venkman far more clearly than we did on Alice; this more dramatic look, clashing head-on with his mock-scared attitude, conveys his ironic detachment from what's supposed to be spooky. There's a special light beaming down on the tower of stacked books, as if to highlight their importance, but to no particular end; no human being would light books like this, as Venkman might say. But why?
Finally, we get some answers. The library ghost's aura plays new light on their faces, and the film tips its hand on the meaning of its omnipresent tint: the library ghost is, of course, purple.
Reflecting on shooting Harold Ramis's Multiplicity, Kovács told American Cinematographer, "I felt that the most important thing for this story, even though it is a comedy, was to give it a sense of credibility, a real environment, real sources and sets and real situations. Because of that, I tried to follow the sources very strongly. If there was a window, I made sure the window became the source. If there were practicals such as table lamps, we strove for the best possible lamp to follow the source of that type of light."
The idea was already in place on Ghostbusters. Everything flowed organically for the funniest, scariest story.
"I'll Tell You What The Effect Is"
People tend to remember the film as more static than it actually is. Perhaps it's because we don't think about camera moves in comedies; perhaps it's because we remember movie scenes in terms of still photographs, staring up at us from textbooks and magazines. In any case, the frames in Ghostbusters that we read as still are often just a little bit livelier than that; Kovács and his camera operators were aware of how Reitman and his actors worked, and that meant rolling with the punches. In the Dean Yeager scene, for instance, the camera shifts as Bill Murray does, on "But the kids love us!" and "I see," catching his hesitation.
Kovács knew that the camera had to be just as quick as Bill Murray. "I never like to go home and do my homework," he admitted to American Cinematographer. "I know the whole story of the script and the relationship of that scene to the overall structure. I also have a general idea of the approach for the lighting, but I'm not going to sit down and start working on a floorplan because that would be insane… actors can bring tremendous color, tremendous detail that you can never even dream of at your desk."
Michael Chapman, who shot Ghostbusters II, explains the situation: "It really is a group of people who are at ease with each other and havin' a hell of a time. And in that case, what the cameraman should do is step back and give them space to do it in. And, you know, light it intelligently and block it intelligently, but we're not talking about Caravaggio here, we're talking about, you know, giving the comic actors—and in the case of Billy, comic genius—space to do what they do and not be hampered by, they have to hit a mark here or they have to have a light that comes into their eye there."
So the fancier moves are saved for special moments, like the dolly as Venkman pronounces "Call it fate, call it luck, call it karma," complete with an emotional lift in the score. Ghostbusters succeeds because of moments like this, where all the elements of the film work together in concert. Kovács' photography may not be flashy. But it tells the story.
And that's what cinematography is for. The camera can mark a transition, as it does on the scene-spanning move following the guys out of the bank and down Fifth Avenue. The camera can explain the characters' attitudes, as it does in the first firehouse scene, following each man as he presents his point of view. It can establish a mood, as it does in Dana's building, all soft lights and low contrast, or it can heighten an existing tension, as it does with the deliberate push in on the eggs. Directors and cinematographers don't need to top the opening of Touch of Evil in order to take advantage of their medium. They merely need to understand what the scene is about and how the image can express that. "Cinematography," Kovács explains, "is the art of using light and color like words and punctuation." The camera is the pen that writes the story, not the machine that records it.
The camera follows Venkman outside Ghostbusters headquarters, and inside as he crosses to Janine's desk. Wedding our viewpoint to his reminds us that he is the protagonist and that—no matter where the camera is—we essentially see the movie from his perspective. This is important, as he's about to see something special.
Dana enters the firehouse without fanfare, but there's something eye-catching about her. Her blue coat sets her off from the dingy earth tones of the old building, and she catches little cracks of light from the door as she comes in, briefly granting her hair an attractive halo, her figure an attractive, luminous edge sliding down her sides as we look her over from head to toe. (It's the visual equivalent of the difference between her upper-class accent and Janine's decidedly outer-boroughs sound.) It's funny how she makes the whole dusty, cobwebbed place look a little classier; indeed, when she and the men repair upstairs, she is subtly backlit with a desk lamp, and there's a lot more sunlight coming in than there was in the lobby. Considering the illumination situation in the Ghostbusters' last laboratory, it's a major step up.
Maybe it's just imagination taking hold, but Dana's apartment seems a little darker the second time around, a little cooler. Has Kovács moved his lights, or does the rumpled Venkman simply look out of place on the twenty-second floor? At any rate, the living room comes off less inviting, the kitchen merely prosaic. Indeed, the biggest effort Kovács makes to pretty up the image is to use the fridge light for low-rent chiaroscuro, as Dana rebuffs Venkman's attempts at charm. So much for romance.
It's not a time for victories. Our first night shot is hardly a glamorous Manhattan evening: the firehouse is just a big gray box on a wet night, and the sign looks small and sad. It's drab upstairs, and downstairs, all is cloaked in darkness, with corners falling off to black entirely. Yet the situation brightens up, literally, when a call comes in: although the Ghostbusters slide past the overhead practical lights and said lights aren't on, their closet area seems lit, somehow. (One is reminded of Ron Garcia's story to American Cinematographer about shooting Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me for David Lynch: "He asked, if I used motion picture lights, where the light would come from naturally in the middle of the forest? I said the light would come from the same place the music comes from—he didn't laugh!")
Ghostbusters is creating a moment here, realism be damned. Ecto-1 is dramatically backlit for high contrast, with smoke filling the firehouse for no logical reason. The moment works in part because we've come to trust the filmmakers to tell the story straight; the direct, symmetrical compositions, the mannered lighting and the unexplained smoke all signal special stylistic choices that are the exception and not the rule. And off the wholly unrealistic car tears into the night, its roof lights flinging anamorphic lens flares about for that action-movie feel. Our heroes are on the move.
"I Need Some Room To Put the Trap Down"
The dim corridors of the Sedgewick Hotel make the perfect receptacle for the film's purple cast, dark enough to hold the hue without adding too much color of its own. More interesting, though, is how a technical problem is posed for the filmmakers—and how the camera choices resolve it.
Most effects shots in Ghostbusters combining a ghost or proton streams (or both!) with live-action footage used a locked-down plate of the actors, to save the overworked effects team the task of matching their work to a moving target. The film prepares us for a string of static shots, then, by consciously employing a few even without effects. In the elevator scene, for instance, the camera only moves at the very end, in order to help tell the joke. A few moments later, the sight of the Ghostbusters standing around awkwardly apologizing to the chambermaid is made funnier by its stillness. The film makes sure to get in its dose of motion in other shots, of course—an unusually dramatic push in on Venkman, an energetic Steadicam jog following Stantz down the hall—just so all seems natural. Even when the effects make demands on the storytelling techniques, the storytelling comes first. No wonder Ghostbusters stands head and shoulders above so many effects-driven comedies.
For the second confrontation, blood has already been drawn, or at least slime, and so the ballroom is shot more dramatically than the hallways. Slimer is now above our heroes, taking advantage of the higher ceilings, and shadows abound—even once the characters crawl out from behind the curtains. We can see a dark pattern on Stantz on his "ready, throw it" shot; the practical light from the proton guns, the golden streams and the sparking chandelier further intensifies the contrast. The overall effect is a more dynamic image for an altogether rougher fight—with graver consequences. Note how the scene seems just a little darker as Spengler explains what happens if they cross the streams. Film noir it ain't, but the point is made.
And so the stage is set for action. It's an awfully outlandish thing the Ghostbusters do, but the film grants it verisimilitude, and the image helps sell it; green Slimer, the orange proton beams and the purple cast of the negative space create a secondary color triad, contrasting but in balance, and when these colors are joined in a triangular composition as they catch the ghost, everything seems stable. Like this is the way it's supposed to be.
There's a warmer, healthier glow to the room when the Ghostbusters emerge from the ballroom, a little more red and orange in the flesh tones. They're flushed and full of life. And the deadest thing in the hotel is safely trapped away.
"The Speed of Light"
Kovács cut his teeth shooting little non-fiction films, and, with fellow student Vilmos Zsigmond, not only recorded but smuggled out over 30,000 feet of film chronicling the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. As such, it's no wonder the "Ghostbusters" musical montage looks so convincing, so documentarylike. Reitman likes to look back on the first day of shooting Ghostbusters, seeing the trio in costume jogging along Madison Avenue, and getting chills that he was actually witnessing such a sight. The montage is meant to give us all those same chills—to help us believe that this craziness really happened. And it was shot just as it might have transpired in life: the guys showed up, performed their action and got out. All for real.
Kovács understood the importance of capturing the moment, the little priceless things that happen only once. He was, after all, working with improv comedians. "Ivan asked me to utilize two 35mm cameras," he told American Cinematographer, "and, whenever I could, cover the scene in a close-up and a medium shot simultaneously, or shoot a full shot and medium shot, depending on how he wanted to present the action."
Yet even when shooting out on the street the look was not neglected. "New York is very far north, and during wintertime the arc of the sun is much lower, creating a much more pleasing light… wonderful backlight. So I try to stage the action in backlight, or shoot from a certain direction."
The montage concludes with a rather deliberate camera move, panning up Zeddemore's torso to his face, then cutting even higher to see what he's looking at—the Ghostbusters logo sign. Here's a guy who really wants the job. As befits his personality, Zeddemore's shots in his first dialogue scene are stable, settled. The exhausted Venkman and Stantz get stuck with the slow drag across the floor.
There's a splash of warm sun on Dana as she notices Venkman at Lincoln Center, and in their profile two shot, their hair catches a soft, romantic backlight. (The violinist, by contrast, looks flat, dim and boring—"the stiff" indeed!) Kovács's facility with natural light, so crucial to the New Hollywood aesthetic, has found a home in a studio comedy. "A cinematographer is a master of light," Kovács told MovieMaker in a 1998 interview. "We need to think about light, to learn to see it in all its different moods and approaches. It is absolutely the most important tool we have to work with as cinematographers and, I think, as people, too." Venkman understands; in his celebration at the scene's end, from "I'm sorry I didn't get to meet you, sir!" on, we see Avery Fisher Hall awash in a golden glow.
We cut from one wide shot to another. Discussion of the camerawork in these firehouse scenes need not be rehashed; it follows the blocking, and the lighting is straightforward. The wilder stuff is waiting around the corner.
The image becomes abruptly stylized as the storm clouds cluster over Central Park West; the rooftop temple is rendered in high contrast, with unnaturally blue flashes representing lightning. Like the reveal of Ecto-1, this is a special moment, favoring the 'genre' movie playbook over the straight shooting we're used to. One of reality's larger dominoes has toppled.
Inside, Dana's apartment is as dark as we've seen any set thus far, with the background plummeting into impenetrable shadow.
The stylized lighting choices intensify at the terror dog attack, with a golden cast over her face as the creature rumbles outside, cracks of light spilling between the door and its frame. (In a moment of pure movie magic, the monster appears to provide its own backlight.) The chair drags Dana through a sea of soft colors, almost imperceptibly complicating and corrupting the image; we don't know quite what we saw, only that it was weird.
The return to the rooftop, with its sweeping camera move, high-contrast lighting and howling score–and the shattered terror dog shells—confirms that it was, as a matter of fact, very weird indeed.
Louis's terror dog isn't lit for horror; we've already had that moment, and this time the film favors comedy, lighting unremarkably. This allows us to giggle at the coats flung on top of the creature (note how the light from the door creates a variant of the 'peek-a-boo' effect), to cackle at the panicked party guests. The lighting indicates that this is not a scary scene—so it comes across as a goof, and we laugh at the characters for reacting just as we were asked to only a scene ago. Admittedly, this flat lighting choice may well have been to ease the inclusion of the stop-motion terror dog on a tight effects schedule. But, as with the static camera in the hotel, Ghostbusters is too smart a film to tip its hand on that front.
Everything changes when Louis escapes the building; the natural spookiness of Central Park at night takes hold. At Tavern-on-the-Green, a shadow crosses Louis's face when he turns back, an ominous note looming on the soundtrack. Compare the image within the restaurant to without; inside it's calm, evenly lit, normal. Outside, all is dark.
Venkman encounters a similar dichotomy en route to his date. The hallway of the twenty-second floor, while a bit worse for wear, retains a standard lighting setup. But when the Gatekeeper opens her apartment door, we see into another world, darker, deeper.
Within the apartment, we can see the characters' shadows skulk about behind them, the exaggerated cross on the wall from the window in her bedroom. These expressionistic techniques help the image reflect the moods of the characters; furthermore, they wed the movie to the horror film tradition, which counts German Expressionism as an influence. The plaster-like pallor of Dana's skin, the way it spreads and holds the light without reflecting quite enough back, emphasizes her otherworldliness; her face is the same lifeless shade as her wall.
Indeed, a shadowy spirit seems to have settled over the whole film. Even things at the firehouse are looking a little darker. "Anyone can learn to record perfectly exposed pictures," Kovacs once told International Photographer. "The art is in the way you control light. Light can be tactile and affect how the audience feels the coldness and experiences the darkness. The more freedom we have in controlling light, the more creative we can get."
"And the Sun Became as Black as Sackcloth"
The simplicity of the Judgment Day scene belies its effectiveness. Lighting-wise, it's a minimal setup, with menacing beams sweeping the car on occasion, recalling lightning.
Reitman opens and closes the scene with landscape shots; the use of the helicopter, as discussed, helps to highlight the conversation's importance, but the sheer wideness of the framing is notable as well. There's an expansion of consciousness in this scene, a revelation. The darkness of the closed mind slowly comes to dawn.
Wide shots remain important over the scenes to come, and each time the film lets us take a little more in, it also reminds us how high the stakes are becoming. The trend culminates in the ridiculously grand view from Dana's apartment, as the Keymaster and Gatekeeper finally meet; it's the whole world, spreading out before them.
One might expect the distinctive purple cast of the image to intensify around this portion of the film. Out of subtlety, this never happens, and indeed a couple of the scenes play warmer than most; in prison, the men languish far from the sun, under artificial light, carrying a rusty feel, and in City Hall, the windows admit an intense rose backlight that often outweighs the usual tint. (This, to be fair, falls into the category of things you only notice after seeing the movie way too many times, but as there seems to be no story reason for the formal slip, it comes off a little strange.)
At any rate, once again the film takes up the documentary look as the Ghostbusters and their convoy roll out to commence "Savin' the Day". Kovács deploys his cameras like a journalist, as if filming an event—indeed, a television news crew runs in front of our camera at the end of the kickoff tracking shot. Wide shots again, observing; b-roll of the crowd. A long shot as Ecto-1 first arrives, following it down from Columbus Circle, then two more shots, closer, from limited viewpoints, capturing glimpses of it in between rubberneckers, before we can cut to our on-the-ground cameras and see the action up close. One can almost imagine how this footage might appear in a network news report.
Even by Ghostbusters' standards, it's a lot of trouble taken to establish the film in reality. This is not only important in light of the general outlandishness of what's to come, but the specific effect just around the corner; much of the earthquake sequence was shot not on a New York street but on a Hollywood set, and it was paramount that the audience accept it all as one. Fortunately, the cinematographer and the talented effects team create a consistent and convincing look throughout, and the result is better than impressive: it's real.
Up on the roof, lightning rages in pinks and greens and smoke pours from nowhere, signaling something, well, otherworldly. Eventually, the more standard-issue (for movies, anyway) blue bolts return, dominating the lighting setup as the Ghostbusters arrive.
Indeed, even beyond lightning, the environment provides its own illumination for the duration of the scene. The temple floor and staircase are self-lit, not to mention the magical glow emanating from atop the structure, and the resulting white light overexposes the Ghostbusters. This not only lends them the classic deer-in-the-headlights look, but shows how dusty and battle-worn they are. Spectral searchlights sweep the perimeter. It's something out of an action movie.
Gozer gets an intense rose backlight for her arrival. (Between her costume, her hair, the floor lights and the smoke everywhere, the effect is vaguely reminiscent of an MTV video.) Her skin is made-up and lit with a more intense version of Dana's face post-Zuul, a plaster-like sheen, not the look of living flesh.
Below, the crowd is lost in darkest night, and indeed the low-angle shots depicting the top of the building show the disparity in illumination. Something strange has collected up there. When the men line up at the edge of the building (after "This chick is toast!"), in relative darkness, we see how quickly the light from the temple spills off. They march forward, onto the floor lights, into the white glow, into Gozer's presence.
After neutronizing Gozer, the Ghostbusters collect at the edge of the building again, off the floor lights—the camera shoots away from the temple, implying the loss of the intense power within. The effect here is to create the calm before the ensuing storm, a garden-variety night of dread rather than the blast of supernatural weirdness.
And then the colored lightning returns. And the darkness below. From here, the lighting choices continue in much the same pattern, aside from the additional practical light created by the incinerating hundred-foot marshmallow. Once you've laid down the cinematographic plan for the end of the world, there's not much else to say.
When the temple is demolished, most of the roof's practical illumination is lost. Kovács helpfully steps in to fill the gap with blue lights and orange fires, complementary colors that pop in the darkness. The smoke continues, of course.
Then it's on to the celebratory end credits, which repeat the feel of "Savin' the Day"; festive, excited and real. Attention to the camerawork reveals the human touch of the operator even on ostensibly still shots, and indeed the entire scene has the feel of documenting real-life action rather than telling a story. A feeling of 'this really happened' to send the audience home.
Then the car drives away, and the camera is left with nothing else to do. The film gives us one last wide shot: peace restored, a neighborhood cleaning up. Then Slimer breaks the fourth wall, giving this tranquility a well-deserved comic kick in the pants, and we're done.
"He never once spoke about cameras, lenses, film stock and lights technically," said Kovács disciple Navroze Contractor, "only what you could do with them, only ideas and moods."
The great cinematographer concurred. "The nitty-gritty things like what particular lenses or cameras... it's all instinct. Those things don't matter," he told interviewer Jason Whyte in 2005. "The vision, the composition, the camera movement, that is what tells the story."
The lighting and camerawork of Ghostbusters draw us into a story of memorable characters in a weird and wonderful city where we believe in ghosts, and the imaginative visual effects fit beautifully into the world Kovács paints. Everything works together. The cinematography doesn't write the script or come up with the characters or design the ghosts. But it helps you understand them, and believe them.
To some, Ghostbusters may fall short visually because it's better remembered for its laughs than its lenses. But Kovács would disagree. "What's really important, no matter what kind of film you are making, you visually tell the story," he insisted. "That's the power of cinema. And it has to be taken very seriously."
Perhaps now László Kovács' work on Ghostbusters can be taken seriously, too.
BIBLIOGRAPHY (will open in separate window)
Overthinking Ghostbusters © 2012 Adam Bertocci.
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