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TCM Spotlight: 100th Anniversary of American Society of Cinematographers
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American Society of Cinematographers - Wednesdays in November


The American Society of Cinematographers celebrates its centennial this year. The Society was founded in Hollywood in 1919 with the purpose of advancing the art and science of cinematography and bringing cinematographers together to exchange ideas and promote the motion picture as an art form.

To join in the celebration, TCM is presenting films from eight decades with exceptional and highly honored cinematography, and a member of the Society will join Ben Mankiewicz as a co-host for all of the night's primetime screenings as shown below.

Robert D. Yeoman has credits as cinematographer dating back to 1983 and is especially noted for his collaborations with directors Wes Anderson and Paul Feig. Yeoman has won numerous awards for his work and was nominated for an Academy Award and BAFTA Award for Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014). His recent credits include Ghostbusters (2016) and Mama Mia! Here We Go Again (2018).

Cinematographers, more formally known as directors of photography, are in charge of lighting sets and photographing films. It is their responsibility to transform the concepts of the screenwriter, director, production designer and other visual artists into the actual images seen on the screen. Working closely with the director, the cinematographer determines the camera angles, setup and movement to achieve the former's vision.

Our tribute includes four screenings of a new documentary in its television premiere: Image Makers: The Adventures of America's Pioneer Cinematographers (2019), a TCM presentation of an Adama Films production. The film is produced and directed by Daniel Raim, an Oscar nominee for Best Documentary Short Subject for The Man on Lincoln's Nose (2000), a study of production designer Robert Boyle.

The documentary recounts the saga of a group of photographic adventurers who resisted Thomas A. Edison's grip on East Coast cinema and went West to film one- and two-reelers in adventurous locations, establishing a brave new world of cinematography. The backdrop includes the California land boom, two world wars and the Great Depression. Archival images are supplemented by new interviews with family members and collaborators of these pioneers.

Described below are examples of movies with exceptional cinematography from each of the decades screening on TCM in connection with the ASC anniversary.

Sunrise (1927): Cinematographers Charles Rosher and Karl Struss. The great German expressionist F.W. Murnau set a new standard of fluid visual storytelling with this silent fable about a man planning to murder his wife so that he can stay with his mistress. The film won three Academy Awards including the first-ever Oscar for cinematography. Critic Roger Ebert wrote that Rosher and Struss achieved "an extraordinary stylistic breakthrough" in an age when filming equipment was bulky and heavy.

Black Narcissus (1947): Cinematographer Jack Cardiff. British directors Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's film about the troubled lives of nuns in a remote Himalayan outpost was shot in breathtaking Technicolor and won Oscars for Cardiff's cinematography and the art direction of Alfred Junge. Michael Sragow wrote in The Baltimore Sun that Cardiff "worked with poetic intuition" and "pioneered the use of Technicolor as a vast expressive palette when others looked on it as eye candy."

On the Waterfront (1954): Cinematographer Boris Kaufman. Elia Kazan's study of dock workers in New Jersey won eight Oscars, including one for Kaufman's black-and-white cinematography. Shooting entirely on location, Kaufman captures what The Hollywood Reporter called "a mood of tortured, muted beauty."

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966): Cinematographer Haskell Wexler. Mike Nichols' film of Edward Albee's explosive domestic drama won five Oscars including one for Wexler's black-and-white cinematography. It was the last Oscar given specifically for a black-and-white film. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Wexler "made his camera the handmaiden of the story and its wide and diverse meanings. It moves like a wily but congenial inquisitor - displaying, revealing, highlighting."

Cabaret (1972): Cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth. Bob Fosse's provocative screen version of the Broadway musical won eight Oscars including one for Unsworth for his expressionistic photography. His vibrant yet smoky colors lend a lurid appeal to the decadent setting of pre-war Germany. Critic Peter Bradshaw wrote in The Guardian that Unsworth "lights and frames everything with genius."

Das Boot (1982): Cinematographer Jost Vacano. Wolfgang Petersen's highly acclaimed submarine drama, produced in Germany, enjoyed crossover success around the world. The film scored six Oscar nominations including one for Vacano for Best Cinematography. He won in that category at the Bavarian Film Awards and Germany's Golden Camera awards. Roger Ebert praised the color cinematography, writing that Vacano "hurtles his camera through the boat from one end to the other, plunging through cramped openings [and] hurdling obstacles on the deck."

Three Colors: Blue (1993): Cinematographer Slawomir Idziak. This French film is the first in a trilogy (also including White and Red, both 1994) by Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Kieślowski. This installment concerns a woman whose husband and child are killed in a car accident. Idziak's cinematography was nominated for a C├ęsar Award (France's version of the Oscars) and won several other awards including a prize at the Venice Film Festival. Kenneth Turan wrote in the Los Angeles Times that the "subjective, expressionistic camerawork" adds to the film's "sense of excitement and discovery."

In the Mood for Love (2000): Cinematographers Christopher Doyle and Mark Lee Ping-bin. This highly acclaimed romantic drama from Hong Kong, written and directed by Wong Kar-wai, is considered one of the major works of Asian cinema. It tells of a man and woman who are drawn together after being left by their spouses. The cinematography was named best of the year by the National Society of Film Critics Award. Peter Walker wrote in The Guardian that the camera "lingers lovingly" on the couple "for minutes at a time, saturating the screen with heat-muggy colors and light."

by Roger Fristoe
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