PAUSE IT: What do you see? Hard shafts of light cut across actor Dirk Bogarde’s face in director Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Despair (1978). The shadows are moody, emotionally charged, indicative of the dramatic stakes that make up Fassbinder’s desperate world. Typically, a cinematographer will instruct their crew to create a quality of light that matches the director’s tonal intentions. To create the still above director Fassbinder relied on master cinematographer Michael Ballhaus and his team of technicians to craft this sumptuous imagery. Often times the lighting crew will use a piece of equipment called a cucoloris (or more colloquially, cookie). A cookie is a piece of lighting diffusion with slits, patterns, or shapes, cut out of it so that only certain amounts of direct light can pass through. Cookies can be used to break up unnatural looking sources of light, to emulate the shadows of artificial objects such as tree branches, or as in this case, a Venetian blinds effect. Made of pieces of cardboard or plastic, when positioned before a light source cookies can transform a rather mundane set into a location that has added character and visual interest.

Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Cast: Dirk Bogarde, Andréa Ferréol, Klaus Löwitsch  
Cinematography by: Michael Ballhaus
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