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The Lighting Technique Mattered in John Wayne's Last Film "The Shootist" in 1976

Updated on July 12, 2017

The Type of Lighting used in "The Shootist"

Low-key light is the type of lighting used in the western movie, The Shootist. This time setting of this movie was January 1901. At that time, this town had electricity and gas lamps for lighting. Western towns, such as this one, were not well lit.

Scenes throughout most of this movie are low-key lighting. Many scenes show the faces of the main characters lit up well in the picture with the camera capturing their faces and expressions and, then, the surrounding scenery is low-key dark and shadowy, such as the faces of John Books and Mrs. Bond Rogers (a widow who owned the boarding house where Books stayed).

The lighting is lighter and brighter during the outdoor scenes where John Books and Mrs. Rogers take a carriage ride out to the country and picnic.


Assessing the Impact of the Lighting Used to Establish the Theme

Low key light is the type of lighting used in the western movie, The Shootist. This time setting of this movie was January 1901. At that time, this town had electricity and gas lamps for lighting. Western towns, such as this one, were not well lit.

Scenes throughout most of this movie are low-key lighting. Many scenes show the faces of the main characters lit up well in the picture with the camera capturing their faces and expressions and, then, the surrounding scenery is low-key dark and shadowy, such as the faces of John Books and Mrs. Bond Rogers (a widow who owned the boarding house where Books stayed).

The lighting is lighter and brighter during the outdoor scenes where John Books and Mrs. Rogers take a carriage ride out to the country and picnic.

The Benefits of the Style of Lighting Used

This style of lighting showed the true look of a western town back in 1901. Low-key was just perfect. It did a very good job of truly depicting the look of a western town from that time.

With the final shootout scene, the low-key lighting is perfect. The lighting is low, of course, in the saloon during the daytime. The low-key lighting was just right in that it showed the true lighting of a saloon during the daytime in 1901, and also was a good amount of lighting that enabled viewers to see well the gunfight action that went on inside the bar.

Also, the addition of keeping the look of kind of dark and shadowy look in many scenes and being able to highlight the faces of the main characters in those scenes gave the viewers more of a feeling of who J.B. Books and John Wayne himself is in this movie and in all the western movies viewers had seen him in before. Also, the highlighting worked out well in showing the main characters during special scenes, such as in scenes where J.B. Books and Bond Rogers are in the scene together.

The lighting is lighter during the outdoor scenes where John Books and Mrs. Rogers take a carriage ride out to the country and picnic. This highlighted the good moment here that John Books and Bond Rogers share together. It is clear that they care about each other. The lighter look shows the more carefree fun and feeling of these two people going on a picnic date together.

Ways in which the Lighting Style Contributed to the Theme

The low key lighting technology used in this movie, The Shootist, contributed favorably to this movie. The technique used was correct for a western set in 1901. Dramas/westerns utilized the low-key lighting as the norm for doing these movies. The theme is that of a well-known, famous gunslinger coming into town, staying at a boarding house, and setting up a shootout in the saloon so that he can die as he chooses, by gunfight, instead of going out of this world in a slow, agonizing, and painful way by cancer. Low-key lighting contributed appropriately for this theme.


How the lighting Technology Suited the Genre of this Film

The lighting technology used in this film was well suited to its “western” genre. A western contains guns and gun shooting. This movie contained both, too. The low-key lighting technique was perfect for a western town set back in 1901.

This movie was about a dying man who had been a lawman who was very good with his gun. He was well-known for being good with a gun, and many men would come looking for him to have a shootout and be the one recognized as having killed J.B. Books in a gunfight.

Comparisons of how the Scene would Play if Different Choices were Made

The main scene in the movie was the famous, final shootout, in which, all of the key gunfighters are killed, including J.B. Books played by John Wayne. This shootout was done best with low-key lighting. This allowed the appropriate low-level lighting of a daytime saloon. The shots were light enough where viewers could see the important players in this scene and to be able to see well the final shootout scene in its entirety.

High-key lighting, used on comedies, would not be correct for a western movie. High-key lighting is all wrong for a western that contains people, guns, and gunfights; saloons and bar fights; and sickness and death. The Shootist film’s famous final gun fighting showdown would not have been adequately filmed in high key lighting.

Three-point lighting was not correct for this final gunfight scene. This scene depicted all of the characters important to this scene in a way so that viewers would see exactly what was going on from all angles of the saloon. Three-point lighting would not have accomplished this as well as subtle lighting.


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