TCM Celebrates ASC Centennial with Special Programming Series

At top, on far left, James Wong Howe, ASC — one of the subjects of the new TCM documentary The Image Makers — prepares to shoot a scene for The Thin Man (1934).

During the month of November, Turner Classic Movies is airing a slate of feature film programming honoring exceptional cinematography and the 100th anniversary of the founding of the ASC in 1919.

Many of the 37 titles in the TCM series are all-time classics that have become creative touchstones for generations of cinematographers, and included in the ASC’s 100 Milestone Films in Cinematography of the 20th Century list, which was voted upon by ASC members and coordinated by Steven Fierberg, ASC.

Also screening is the new feature-length documentary Image Makers: The Adventures of America’s Pioneer Cinematographers (2019), directed and edited by Daniel Raim, produced by Raim and Curtis Clark, ASC and narrated by Michael McKean.

The film’s narrative is rooted in the life and times of such geniuses and trailblazers as Billy Bitzer and ASC members William Daniels, Karl Struss, James Wong Howe and Gregg Toland.

As detailed in the film’s production notes: 

The epic tale we tell in Image Makers — the saga of American cinematography — is the origin story of American movies.  

It’s rooted in the fearless personalities of camera-cranking visionaries who saw possibilities for the art form that couldn’t be contained in Thomas A. Edison’s peepshows. Edison patented everything about movies, including the sprocket holes in the celluloid. But a hardy bunch of photographic adventurers and innovators battled their way out of his control. They went West to film one- and two-reelers in locations that to the rest of the globe looked like a brave new world. Because of them, it was. When Edison sent armed thugs to shoot holes in their cameras, they fought back. By the time the dust settled a new show business was born.  

Against the dynamic backdrop of the California land boom, two world wars, and one Great Depression, pioneer cinematographers spring to life in Image Makers. Using every means at hand, including archival images and sound as well as new interviews with family members, collaborators, and creative heirs — especially great contemporary cinematographers — we bring texture and shadow to our portraits of virtuosos like Charles Rosher, Karl Struss and William Daniels.

We see them empower studios by mastering artificial illumination — and then help studios create stars by lighting magical performers like Greta Garbo with passion and ingenuity.  

Howe trailblazes on roller-skates while shooting his breakthrough boxing film Body and Soul (1947).

Used to swapping stories in order to learn everything from creating dissolves in the camera to employing mattes for special effects, they establish the first and still the most active and congenial professional club in Hollywood — the American Society of Cinematographers, or the ASC as it is known among friends, a true fraternity of light.  

We see the studios strive to enlarge and keep their audience while our heroes bring the silent camera to a peak of fluidity, then free the sound camera from the tyranny of the microphone and make it a tool of personal expression (Citizen Kane).  

Snatches of classic American cinema make our points viscerally, like the switch from black and white to color in The Wizard of Oz and from silence to sound in Singin’ in the Rain

We see James Wong Howe smash racial barriers with his brilliance. Careers such as Howe’s span Tinseltown history from frontier days shooting Zane Grey Westerns to “the New Hollywood” of Hud.   

In his previous feature, Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story, Oscar-nominated director, Daniel Raim proved his ability to convey emotion and character in the documentary form. In Image Makers he tops himself as he gives movie-lovers a new appreciation of cinematographers as master craftsmen, outsize personalities, and improbable poets.  

Greta Garbo surrenders lovingly to William H. Daniels, ASC’s camera for the pre-code talkie Romance (1930).

On-camera interview subjects include John Bailey, ASC; Kevin Brownlow (film historian, filmmaker, preservationist); George Spiro Dibie, ASC; Steve Gainer, ASC, ASK (Curator, ASC Camera Museum); Ms. Lothian Toland-Skelton (daughter of Gregg Toland, ASC); Leonard Maltin (author, film historian); Rachel Morison, ASC; Matt Severson (director of the Margaret Herrick Library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) David Totheroh (grandson of Rollie Totheroh, ASC).

Ms. Lothian Toland-Skelton being interviewed at the ASC Clubhouse, sitting beside her father’s Mitchell BNC camera used to shoot Citizen Kane.

Here's the complete TCM airing schedule:

Wednesday, November 6
100th Anniversary of The American Society of Cinematographers – Day One 

6:00 AM         The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) Stanley Cortez, ASC
8:00 AM         Casablanca (1942) Arthur Edeson, ASC
10:00 AM        On the Waterfront (1954) Boris Kaufman, ASC
12:00 PM        North by Northwest (1959) Robert Burks, ASC
2:30 PM          The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
5:30 PM          The Searchers (1956) Winton C. Hoch, ASC
8:00 PM          Image Makers (2019)
9:30 PM          The Grapes of Wrath (1940) Gregg Toland, ASC
12:00 AM        Image Makers (2019)
1:30 AM          Sunrise (1927) Charles Rosher, ASC & Karl Struss, ASC
3:15 AM          Metropolis (1927) Karl Freund, ASC

Wednesday, November 13
100th Anniversary of The American Society of Cinematographers – Day Two

6:00 AM          Bicycle Thieves (1948) Carlo Montuori
7:45 AM          8 ½ (1963) Gianni Di Venanzo
10:15 AM        I Am Cuba (1964) Sergey Urusevsky
12:45 PM        The Battle of Algiers (1966) Marcello Gatti
2:45 PM          Breathless (1960) Raoul Coutard
4:30 PM          Image Makers (2019)
6:00 PM          Black Narcissus (1947) Jack Cardiff, BSC
8:00 PM          The Red Shoes (1948) Jack Cardiff, BSC
10:30 PM        Dr. Strangelove (1964) Gilbert Taylor, BSC
12:30 AM        Seven Samurai (1954) Asakazu Nakai
4:15 AM          Rashomon (1950) Kazuo Miyagawa

Wednesday, November 20
100th Anniversary of The American Society of Cinematographers – Day Three

 6:00 AM         Doctor Zhivago (1965) Freddie Young, BSC
9:30 AM          Fanny and Alexander (1982) Sven Nykvist, ASC
1:00 PM          Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) Haskell Wexler, ASC
3:30 PM          Cabaret (1972) Geoffrey Unsworth, BSC
5:30 PM          Cool Hand Luke (1967) Conrad Hall, ASC
8:00 PM          McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971) Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC, HSC
10:15 PM        Klute (1971) Gordon Willis, ASC
12:30 AM        The Last Picture Show (1971) Robert Surtees, ASC
3:00 AM          The Wild Bunch (1969) Lucien Ballard, ASC

Wednesday, November 27 
100th Anniversary of The American Society of Cinematographers – Day Four

6:00 AM         Three Colors: Blue (1993) Sławomir Idziak, PSC
8:00 AM         Wings of Desire (1987) Henri Alekan
10:30 AM        Paris, Texas (1984) Robby Müller, NSC, BVK
1:00 PM          Being There (1979) Caleb Deschanel, ASC
3:30 PM          Das Boot (1981) Jost Vacano, ASC
6:00 PM          In the Mood for Love (2000) Christopher Doyle, HKSC & Mark Lee Ping Bin
8:00 PM          Lawrence of Arabia (1962) Freddie Young, BSC
12:00 AM        Citizen Kane (1941) Gregg Toland, ASC
2:15 AM          Image Makers (2019)
3:45 AM          2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) Geoffrey Unsworth, BSC

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