Watching all the clips included in my Best in Cinematography playlist made me realize they all share certain things in common...
1) They're all shot in black and white. (DUH!!)
2) They all construct purely imaginative worlds, built from the stuff of history, but not as concerned with accuracy as with the possibility of a world where creative ideas can flourish. This concept runs all through my writing on this blog and elsewhere... I've recently realized it's a thread that links all my favorite authors, music, and movies. Fantasy.... "A world of pure imagination".
3) The stories are told primarily visually... with little or no dialogue. In the case of Von Sternberg, as was brought up in an earlier post about him (click on his name in the labels beneath this post if you're interested) the dialogue was a smoke screen... a surface illusion... a mask of a story designed to subtlely disguise the real story being told through the visuals alone. In Marketa Lazarova, and in Two Lane Blacktop (not included in the playlist but another of my favorites) dialogue is sparse and used almost musically... to punctuate with notes of pure emotion now and then rather than to explain.
4) I'm becoming increasingly aware of a different kind of black and white photography.... markedly different from the high-contrast Expressionist stuff with its emphasis on light and dark areas and with lots of solid black.
Look at the visuals of Marketa Lazarova for instance... not much solid black in most shots... in fact the lighting is very diffused and all-pervasive, being shot outdoors in snow. There also seems to be plenty of fill light, some natural and I'm sure some added artificially. The visual interest lies in contrasts of shapes, textures, tones... in other words, the principle elements of design... of art itself.
This suggests to me that it's necessary to design your sets.. in fact your entire production, well before the story writing stage -- with these textures and shapes in mind. Much the way modern fantasy movies and video games are based on concept art which is done very early in the planning stages of a production.