The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Return to Table of Contents May 2015 Return to Table of Contents
Presidents Desk
The Water Diviner
The Thing
ASC Close-Up
President’s Desk

Even though reading for pleasure seems to be a rapidly declining habit, I’d like to recommend a number of books written by cinematographers that are well worth seeking out. Instead of technical manuals, each is a personal memoir that recounts the lives and careers of some incredibly talented and interesting individuals. Their narratives vary in style, but they all offer a detailed glimpse at what it was like to be engaged in what was once an exceedingly romantic occupation. Leaf through any one of the following titles and I’m sure you’ll be reminded of why you got into this business in the first place. I certainly was.

One Reel a Week (Arthur Miller, ASC, with Fred Balshofer; 1967): With seven Academy Award nominations — and three wins — Miller is one of the giants of ASC history. He started as an assistant to his lifelong friend and co-author Balshofer in 1908 and worked on some of the best films produced by Hollywood for the next four decades. His amazing account paints a vivid picture of the time during which cinematographers were encouraged to make up the rules as they went along. Interesting sidelight: Miller’s own camera, which he used to shoot The Perils of Pauline (in 1914!), is still on display at the ASC Clubhouse. The book also features a foreword by fellow Society member Kemp R. Niver, a longtime curator of the ASC Museum.

Billy Bitzer: His Story (Billy Bitzer with Beaumont Newhall; 1973): For another glimpse into the earliest days of the film industry, this rollicking autobiography is a fabulous place to start. Bitzer is best known as cinematographer for the majority of D.W. Griffith’s films, including Birth of a Nation and Intolerance. To this day, Bitzer remains one of our greatest innovators; he is in fact the creator of many effects and conventions for which Griffith is often credited. Added value is provided by the perspective of his co-writer, who was a giant in the field of photo curation.

The Light on Her Face (Joseph Walker, ASC, and Juanita Walker, with a foreword by Barbara Stanwyck; 1984): Another fabulous entry in the canon, this time from perhaps the most unsung genius in ASC history. Walker spent most of his career at Columbia Pictures, where he shot more than 140 films, including 24 with Frank Capra. In addition to his four Oscar nominations, he was also an inventor who held 20 patents for camera-related equipment. Use this book as a guide to seek out examples of his best work. I guarantee you will be blown away by his artistry.

Every Frame a Rembrandt: Art and Practice of Cinematography (Andrew Laszlo, ASC, and Andrew Quicke; 2000) and It’s a Wrap! (Andrew Laszlo, ASC; 2004): When he retired, Andrew embarked on a writing career that included several wonderful works of fiction. That same talent is on display in both of these books, as he imparts much of the wisdom he earned during a life behind the camera. His great humor and sharp observations are present in abundance and make this depiction of a more recent era a delight to read.

The Lion and the Giraffe: A Naturalist’s Life in the Movie Business (Jack Couffer, ASC; 2010): For something completely different, try this one. An early pal and collaborator of ASC legends William A. Fraker and Conrad Hall, the author had a career as a wildlife cinematographer that eventually took him to every corner of the world. In addition to a fruitful period writing, directing and shooting episodes of The Wonderful World of Color for Walt Disney, Couffer has shot footage that's appeared in countless features. In 1973 he was Oscar-nominated for his work in Jonathan Livingston Seagull; his writing style is evocative of that movie’s breezy tone.

If those are not enough, here are some others you’ll enjoy: Conversations With Jack Cardiff: Art, Light and Direction in Cinema (Justin Bowyer; 2003); Huston, We Have a Problem: A Kaleidoscope of Filmmaking Memories (Oswald Morris, BSC, with Geoffrey Bull; 2006); Take One: Tales From Behind the Camera (Alex Thomson, BSC; 2008); and Freddie Francis: The Straight Story From Moby Dick to Glory (Freddie Francis, BSC, with Tony Dalton; 2013).

After a tough winter throughout most of the country, it’s good to know the days of sun, sand and surf are right around the corner. It’s not too early to start compiling your summer reading list, so get to it!


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