Black and White Cinematography: The Apartment

Working with The Apartment (1960) was really a joy. Difficult, but at the same time wonderful because it is such a rich and deep movie which nonetheless has a lot of levity. It's sort of everything I want from a movie. Thinking about The Apartment really made me appreciate this medium of video essays as well because I get to work with the best material available most of the time.

The thing I want to drive at here, though, is the materialistic and objectivist approach to creating clear images in black and white. Wilder uses the objects that are in front of his camera to make the image clear, this as opposed to the play of light in the camera and on to the film as an alternative.

So basically patterns, textures, the arrangement of objects gets what is needed for clear cinematography here. You might say that The Apartment is as much an achievement of art direction as it is of cinematography. And with this is mind you'll see this approach in many really great examples of black and white cinematography. Something to key a viewer into this technique might be the presence of, particularly, lines and other repeating shapes which tend to naturally create a connect the dots game along the edge of an object in the frame.

But at the end of the day, The Apartment is a triumph all around. It's writing is superb dark comedy that is still resonant today. There's a reason that classics like this are considered timeless and this movie proves it in the image. The approach to cinematography, for instance, I argue underscores many of the themes that are present here.