The art of filmmaking is intimately connected to the ability to harness light; in this medium, the dance of illumination and darkness is both literal and symbolic. And perhaps the most evocative light of all is candlelight, which has come to be a shorthand for beauty, sophistication and, of course, romance. As beautiful as it may be, filming candlelight comes with its share of technical challenges and is often attempted only by the surest of hands. With the 2018 Sydney Film Festival well underway, we pay tribute to a few of the most evocative candlelight scenes in cinematic history.
This 1970s Stanley Kubrick classic broke new technical ground with its use of candlelight, and is still considered a reference point for filmmakers today. The reason: Kubrick was determined to shoot as much as possible without electric lights, which meant that entire scenes in the 19th century period drama were lit only with candles. The legendary director reportedly used a camera lens developed for NASA to get exactly the right effect for one scene. Another scene involving thousands of candles took a week to set up, before eventually being scrapped and replaced. The effort paid off, as the film won Academy Awards for both art direction and cinematography (not to mention music and costumes).
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One of the cult teen-angst films of the 1980s, Sixteen Candles saw Molly Ringwald’s Prom Queen suffer through a birthday that was overlooked by her entire family and the wedding of her annoying older sister. But all was right with her world by the end, when she shared a kiss with a hot senior in the closing scene. Her candle-laden birthday cake was, of course, the icing on top.
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Sex and The City I
In keeping with the slightly over-the-top opulence of the first SATC film, candles are never depicted as a simple pillar or discreet votive. No, in the world of Carrie and co, they hang by the dozens in lavish chandeliers suspended from double-height ceilings. They add a flattering glow to her wedding-dress shoot for Vogue and lend drama to that fateful pre-wedding dinner at Buddakan. And of course, the giant pillars topped with blazing candles in the foyer of the New York Public Library only heighten the emotion as Carrie flees her own wedding scene.
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At Martha Farnsworth’s Seminary for Young Ladies, candlelit dinners double as an opportunity for headmistress Nicole Kidman, teacher Kirsten Dunst and their students to catch-up on the day’s happenings. Then wounded soldier Colin Farrell arrives on the scene and (controlled) chaos ensues as the women compete for his attention. With the film set during the American Civil War, candlelight was de rigeur and director Sofia Coppola has revealed that many different types of candles were tested before she settled on a double-wick option for the right effect.
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Written by Michelle Bateman