How was the high-contrast cinematography done in Kill Bill?

How was the high-contrast cinematography done in Kill Bill? - Photo camera with glasses placed on black jacket

In the Kill Bill feature film duo, there are numerous black and white scenes with high contrast. The cinematography is remniscent of the work of Ansel Adams. Presumably the interesting appearance was created by the film's cinematographer, Robert Richardson. How did he achieve these stunning, high-contrast effects (film, lenses, etc)?

Best Answer

From page 2 of "A Bride Vows Revenge":

[Robert] Richardson[, ASC] did design a specifically "textural" look for a sequence in which a wizened monk (Gordon Liu) helps The Bride (Uma Thurman) sharpen her fighting skills. "Quentin wanted to replicate the visual generation loss in these old kung fu films - the scratches, the higher-than-normal contrast," he explains. Instead of attempting to create the effect digitally, Richardson employed a photochemical process. He began by capturing the action on contrasty Kodachrome color-reversal stock. He processed that normally, struck an internegative from the print and then struck an interpositive from that, and so on. "We just kept making dupes and prints back and forth until Quentin was happy with the look," he says.

Of note, Richardson was also the D.P. for Oliver Stone's The Doors and JFK which also used similar techniques.

The article continues:

The production filmed in the Super 35mm format using Richardson's preferred Panavision Platinum cameras, fitted with Primo lenses and configured for 3-perf shooting. Nevertheless, both Richardson and Tarantino had lingering reservations about maintaining visual fidelity in the oft-maligned format, citing traumatic experiences on Casino and Reservoir Dogs, respectively.

Super 35mm (3-perf) 2.35:1
Panavision Platinums Primo lenses
Kodak EXR 100D 5248, EXR 200T 5293, Vision 320T 5277, Vision 500T 5279, Vision 800T 5289 and Double-X 5222
Digital Intermediate by Technique

The Double-X 5222 film stock is black and white, so that with the Primo lenses and Richardsons eye/artistry/engineering would account for the "Ansel Adams"-esque shots in black and white. Ansel Adams made use of the "zone system" and printing techniques of "burning and dodging" as opposed to the use of neutral density filters while shooting.

As leery as the director was about Super 35, he was even more wary of anything labeled "digital." "Quentin doesn't like that word," Richardson says. "I'm still intimidated by [digital timing] in some ways myself. It's like putting me in the cockpit of a 747: what the hell am I going to do besides put it on autopilot? But as you learn, you do become less intimidated, and you can do things that are simply not possible photochemically. In this particular case, I saw the DI as the best way of maintaining control over the imagery, which is why Quentin finally decided to go with it."

Given Tarantino's dislike for digital processing, I would imagine Richardson made use of graduated neutral density filters while shooting (as well as his own knowledge of the zone system) and "pushing" when printing film positives as well as whatever he learned of utilizing digital intermediates for print timing.

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Who did the cinematography for Kill Bill?

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