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Watch: A Video Essay About the Power of the Lens Flare

Watch: A Video Essay About the Power of the Lens Flare

The lens flare is typically used, or perhaps over-used, to show a brush with the unnameable, in whatever form that might take. Jacob Swinney takes us through over 50 of these instances in this video essay, but they are all unified by a sense of sublimity, either benign or horrific. We see lens flares at the opening of Saving Private Ryan to signal the enormity of the war carnage approaching. When Leatherface spins his chainsaw around, and around, and around, the lens flares recall the grandiosity of the bloodshed that has preceded this moment. The technique doesn’t always have to signal dread, though, of course. In Punch Drunk Love, its presence signals the growth of love between Barry and Lena; in There Will Be Blood, we catch lens flare as Daniel Plainview ponders the possibilities of oil. It’s been argued that the technique is a cinematic trick, somewhat facile; it’s also been suggested that lens flares are annoying, little bursts of light that interrupt visual narrative for not certain purpose. This viewer tends to find their effect somewhat different–the lens flare almost always expands what I’m looking at, increases its potential, and brings speculativeness into the picture. Swinney’s beautiful video piece concludes, quite sensibly, with lens flare from one of the more expansive and widely appreciated stories of the last century: E.T., in which the earthly touched the unearthly, both in a literal and figurative sense.

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