Paint It Black: The Silhouettes of Cinematographer Roger Deakins

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A montage of the premier cinematographer’s aesthetic signature.

There are many facets of the cinematography of Roger Deakins that make him one of the foremost directors of photography not just of his time but all-time, but if you had to select one as a signature of his aesthetic, undoubtedly that would be his frequent framing of characters in silhouette.

Though typically they imply a sense of mystery, foreboding, or dread, throughout his illustrious career Deakins has employed silhouettes to convey a broader variety of implications, including authority – like the steam-encircled figure of Jesse James staring down a train – proficiency – like the DEA Agents of Sicario stalking, guns raised, at dusk – urgency – James Bond running against the burning backdrop of Skyfall – resolve and determination – as seen in the form of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter working out after lights out in prison – and even fragility – as evidenced in Llewelyn Moss’ twilight run from drug smugglers in No Country for Old Men.

Deakins has transformed a facet of German Expressionism borrowed stateside by Film Noir from an element that embraces darkness into an element that excepts light and either hides from it, stays ahead of it, or yearns for it, and the emotional, cognitive, and narrative consequences of this evolution have led to some of the most memorable and important film imagery of the last half–century.

In the following video I’ve gathered the most breathtaking and significant silhouettes from Deakins’ filmography and stitched them together to demonstrate the wide variety of impacts for which they’re employed. The result, I hope, is a montage that captures not only the versatility of Deakins’ cinematography, but also its boundless beauty.

Novelist, Screenwriter, Video Essayist