Richard H. Kline, ASC Joins King Kong Tribute at Cinematheque

Oscar-nominated for his work in the epic 1976 adventure-fantasy remake, the cinematographer enjoys 40th anniversary spotlight with close collaborators.

David E. Williams

Forty years after its release, the big-budget remake King Kong (1976) — directed by John Guillermin and photographed by Richard H. Kline, ASC — was the focus of a tribute screening by the American Cinematheque at their Aero Theater venue on December 10 in Santa Monica, Calif.

Richard H. Kline, ASC shooting King Kong (1976).
Richard H. Kline, ASC in 1976.

The event was planned by writer-director and genre aficionado Don Mancini (Child's Play, Hannibal, Channel Zero), who reached out to the ASC to extend a special invitation to Kline, who earned an Academy Award nomination for his epic widescreen work in the picture.

The cinematographer, who recently celebrated his 90th birthday, was honored with the ASC Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006.

Richard Kline, ASC and Rick Baker
Kline and makeup-effects master Rick Baker during the Q&A session at the Aero. Photo by Lee Christian, courtesy of the American Cinematheque.

Another key contributor to the project in attendance for the event was legendary make-up artist Rick Baker, who designed, built and performed in the gorilla-like Kong suit throughout the film's difficult production, working closely with Kline throughout. “Rick proved to be a most talented and cooperative performer,” Kline told American Cinematographer in a 1976 cover story about the King Kong production.

In close-ups, one of Kline’s most effective tools for giving Kong life was also perhaps one of his least powerful: a small quartz lamp that he would handhold just off camera. Using his bare fingers or a gobo to delicately flag and shape the light, he added a bit of free-floating fill to the creature’s expressive brown eyes, which were, in fact, Baker’s own, covered with oversized scleral contact lenses. “It’s more than just an eyelight, really,” the cameraman said of his “Kline Light,” a technique he began using many years before Kong. “It adds just a twinkle of life, a glimmer, and a touch of fill. I’d fan it and direct it based purely on intuition, depending on what the performer was doing. Because I stood right next to the lens, I could see exactly what was needed.”

Moderating the tribute Q&A featuring Kline and Baker was King Kong: The History of a Movie Icon author Ray Morton. Also participating were Richard Kraft of Kraft-Engel Management, who spoke on behalf of the film's composer, John Barry, actor Jack O'Halloran, and Martha De Laurentiis, wife of the film's legendary producer, Dino De Laurentiis.

Richard Kline, ASC
At the Aero screening, Kline revisited AC's 1976 cover story on his work in the picture. Photo by Lee Christian, courtesy of the American Cinematheque.

Below are a few Kong production stills from the AC archives, depicting Kline and his crew at work on location at the World Trade Center in New York City, shooting the picture's finalé with a full-size prop Kong:



A shot from the sequence.

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