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Stratego by way of Vermeer

June 14, 2007

Thirty years ago, director Ridley Scott made a little-seen picture (his first) called The Duellists. Despite the incongruous casting of Keith Carradine and Harvey Keitel as feuding officers in Napoleon’s army, the movie succeeds due to its remarkable cinematography, period detail (yes, tall bicorne hats!), dry humor, effective score, and Keitel’s intense performance as Feraud, the brooding Hussar.

But the movie’s real star is indeed its cinematography, which looks as good today as it did then. Scott (working also as camera operator) and director of photography Frank Tidy created 100 minutes of stunning, painterly images — think Vermeer — on a relatively low budget for its time ($900,000) by using the moody natural lighting of a French winter, graduated filters, and copious amounts of smoke — a Scott trademark in his subsequent films. The last two shots in the movie are indelible.

“I felt like playing Stratego afterwards,” says Orange Bear.

Or, like watching it a second time.

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