Sunday, March 21, 2010

James Wong Howe's pioneering shots

In The Outrage, Martin Ritt’s 1964 interpretation of Akira Kurosawa’s 1950 Rashomon - with another terrific performance by Paul Newman along with the magnificent Claire Bloom - one of the first things that strikes you as Howard Da Silva confronts a despondent young William Shatner along the railroad platform, is that magnificent desert landscape beyond the teeming rain. My eyes wanted to focus on those stark silhouetted mountains almost more so than the conversation starter which leads us to what will be four interpretations of a remote crime.... As the movie proceeds the camera shots continue to stand out – from ground angles of Newman chained to a post during his town square trial to the close-ups of horses galloping through the desert – it all begged the question: just who was the cinematographer?.....The director of photography was none other than James Wong Howe, of whom, I confess, I had never heard.....Howe was born in China in 1899 and started directing in the silent era. He was among the first to use deep-focus photography where both the background and foreground are in focus, which subliminally was probably what also caught my eye during those opening shots.....Howe would eventually work on more than 130 films. Among those were Sweet Smell of Success (Alexander Mackendrick, 1957), Picnic (Joshua Logan, 1955), Seconds (John Frankenheimer, 1966) and The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (Robert Ellis Miller, 1968)......Howe pioneered in lighting, camera angles, and use of hand-held cameras.....He was known for bringing out the best features of actresses without resorting to tricks such as shooting through gauze. He strapped cameras on to actors’ waists in an action sequence to capture a whole new exciting perspective......He was one of the few Asians to rise to the heights of Hollywood and, yes, one of the great cinematographers of the 20th Century.

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