Glory - the Rockets' Red Glare

By Heuring, David | American Cinematographer, November 1990 | Go to article overview

Glory - the Rockets' Red Glare


Heuring, David, American Cinematographer


Understanding the relationship between a director and a director of photography is difficult; a true grasp of the workings between two people cooperating for a common goal is always elusive. Personality, experience, habits, technical proficiency, sensitivity, communication skills, beliefs, creative processes, egos - all these factors enter into the human equation, not to mention external ingredients such as script and budget. Almost without fail, when the final product is transcendent, the director and the cinematographer speak of a certain simpatico, something beyond a merely efficient human exchange of information. "We just clicked," they say.

The search for common qualities among these successful pairings is frustrating simply because for every team there is a unique modus operandi. Obviously, the division of duties and responsibilities varies widely. There are those directors who draw a clear line between "creative" concerns and "technical" concerns, leaving the latter completely up to the director of photography. Just as often, directors consider the cinematographer a complete and equal partner in every set decision, creative, technical or otherwise. The majority, of course, fall somewhere between these extremes.

All we know for sure is, when it works, it works. How then do those of us without graduate degrees in psychology gain insight into the workings of this complex relationship? If every combination is atypical, the only solution is to examine each combination separately and hope for the best.

In the case of Glory, the director-cinematographer pairing was especially unusual. Edward Zwick, a young, innovative director acclaimed for his work in television (thirtysomething), met up with Freddie Francis, BSC a venerable cinematographer whose imposing credit list dates from before Zwick's time. (see accompanying article.) Their collaboration yielded a critically praised film nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Cinematography.

Francis brings extensive directorial experience to his work behind the lens; Zwick's appreciation for the art of the cinematographer is strong.

"You can always tell those directors who seem to evidence a control of the film language and those who don't," says Zwick. "I think those who do are to a man very involved in the selection and composition of shots and lenses. This is not to suggest that they are in any way autocratic. If they are also smart, they will be partaking deeply of the experience of someone as gifted as Freddie. Where you put the camera and which lens you choose is what it's all about. That's what gives the impact to the shot, particularly in something like Glory, where more is revealed in the image than in the word."

Glory is the Civil War story of the first black regiment to be allowed into battle against the South. Personal loyalties and bigotries are played out against the larger canvas of war. Much of the story is told through image - in fact, the last two reels of the film contain only a few snippets of specific dialogue. Crucial to wordless storytelling of this sort is that director-cinematographer understanding-an understanding Zwick prepared for from the beginning.

"To begin with, I looked at almost all of Freddie's films as a cinematographer," Zwick says. "He was in the forefront of the socalled realistic cinematographers of the late fifties and early sixties. That movement went along with the Angry Young Man school of playwriting in England - a kind of gritty look which had come about to serve that. As a result, Freddie was accustomed to working at low light levels and doing a lot of available light cinematography at a time when most people weren't. He was very much on the cutting edge, and he was celebrated for it, and also severely challenged on the basis of it."

The next step is to determine a general approach, a visual aesthetic appropriate to the film. To establish common ground and a frame of reference, Zwick and Francis looked at hundreds of period photographs.

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