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By Williams, David E. | American Cinematographer, June 2007 | Go to article overview
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Williams, David E., American Cinematographer

ASC International Award

Honoree Freddie Francis, BSC, 1917-2007

ASC International Award honoree and two-time Academy Award winner Freddie Francis, BSC died on March 17 at the age of 89.

His stature as a director of photography was cemented by a slew of awards. He earned Academy and BSC awards for Sons and Lovers (1960); BSC Awards and BAFTA nominations for The Elephant Man (1980) and The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981); Academy and BSC Awards and a BAFA nomination for Glory (1989; see AC Nov. '90); and a BAFTA nomination for Cape Fear (AC Oct. '91).

His other credits included Time Without Pity (1957), Room at the Top (1959), The Innocents (1961), The Executioner's Song (1982), The Man in the Moon (1991), School Ties (1992), Princess Caraboo (1994) and Rainbow (1996). His final feature was The Straight Story (AC Nov. '99), his third collaboration with director David Lynch, after The Elephant Man ana Dune (AC Dec. '84).

In 1998, just weeks before traveling to Hollywood to accept the ASC's International Award, an excited Francis told this reporter, "As a kid, I wanted nothing more than to be a part of the film business. I really looked up to the many talented members of the ASC, such as Gregg Toland. Over the years, I've visited the ASC several times and met many of the people I admire; to get this award torn them is an absolute highlight in my career. In a way, it brings me closer to those who inspired me."

Francis served as president of the BSC from 1998-2000. He was honored by that organization with its Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2002, Francis was given the Camerimage Lifetime Achievement Award, and in 2004, he received a Special Achievement Award from BAFTA.

Born in London on December 22, 1917, Francis was trained as a still photographer before becoming a clapper/loader. He rose up through the ranks as an assistant and operator, and when England was engulfed by World War II, he served in the Army Kinematograph Services. After the war, he worked as an operator for many of the BSC's top cinematographers, including Oswald Morris, BSC on Moulin Rougeana Beat the Devil, both directed by John Huston. "John Huston gave me a very free hand as an operator," Francis said. "We did seven pictures together, but in 19551 told him I had to start shooting on my own, so he brought me in as the second-unit cameraman on Moby Dick. After that, I was recommended to a couple of producers, and I did A Hill in Korea [1956], my first film as a director of photography."

After shooting the "kitchen-sink" dramas Room at the Top and Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Francis began gaining notice for his work. The acclaim led to his next project, Sons and Lovers, which was based on D.H. Lawrence's novel and directed by Jack Cardiff, BSC. An article in the May 1961 issue of AC noted that Francis' Oscarwinning CinemaScope camerawork had "unusual visual beauty and is marked by photographic ingenuity throughout that easily makes it one of the finest monochrome photographic achievements to come along in some time.

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