The Five Best Photographed Motion Pictures of 1978

American Cinematographer, May 1979 | Go to article overview

The Five Best Photographed Motion Pictures of 1978


The technology involved in getting a motion picture image onto the screen has currently attained such a height of sophistication that it would boggle the minds of those who pioneered this industry almost 90 years ago. Marvelously compact and electronically automated film cameras, super-fast lenses that can almost literally see in the dark, new HMI light sources that rival the sun in brilliance while using little power, fabulous new color film stocks with high speed, extremely fine grain and incredible latitude-all these marvels are readily available to the present-day cinematographer.

The tools of the trade used by the Director of Photography and his crew continue to grow more compact, more efficient and more automated with each passing year-but the skill of the man himself, this unique artisttechnician, can never be automated. His metier is much more than a kind of reflex expertise born of vast experience in his chosen field. It involves such all-important intangibles as taste and style and a peculiar gut-feeling for achieving the specific images that will best tell the story.

Five superlatively photographed motion pictures were nominated for the Best Achievement in Cinematography "Oscar" to be bestowed during the 51st Annual Academy Awards Presentation. Obviously, only one could be the recipient of the cherished statuette. But the members of the American Society of Cinematographers consider the nominations for this highest accolade to be as important as the Award itself, and it is with that thought in mind that the membership of ASC salutes with pride the following Directors of Photography who received nominations in the category of "Best Achievement in Cinematography" for the Academy's 51st Annual Awards Presentation:

NESTOR ALMENDROS

"Days of Heaven"

WILLIAM A. FRAKER, ASC

"Heaven Can Wait"

OSWALD MORRIS, BSC

"The Wiz"

ROBERT SURTEES, ASC

"Same Time, Next Year"

VILMOS ZSIGMOND, ASC

"The Deer Hunter"

NESTOR ALMENDROS: "DAYS OF HEAVEN"

What excited Nestor Almendros most about starting work on DAYS OF HEAVEN was the prospect of making a motion picture in which the cinematography itself became a graphic extension of the characters' feelings and moods. As director Terrence Malick envisioned the project, creative visuals were to bear an unusually important part in telling the story.

"The film was truly a cinematographer's dream come true. Malick was willing to go to great lengths to what I felt were ideal photographic techniques for this motion picture. He understands photography on both an artistic and technical level, and it didn't take any arm-twisting to get the conditions we wanted," Almendros says. These included filming some scenes at the twilight "magic hour" when the sky is glowing, but the sun has disappeared from sight.

These periods actually last only about 20 minutes, so the DAYS OF HEAVEN crew assembled at sundown daily during many days of shooting. Because only a short time was available, scenes had to be exhaustively rehearsed, then frantically filmed as the sunlight waned.

Almendros and his assistants became experts at gauging the changing light values and its color temperature, managing to provide good matches even within scenes shot on consecutive days. At times, for non-sound shots, he had the actors move slowly to permit longer exposures at eight frames per second.

"We wanted to do things simply, using simple lighting, or no lighting at all," Almendros points out. DAYS OF HEAVEN was his second American motion picture in recent years (GOIN' SOUTH was the other). Born in Barcelona, and a political exile three times-once from Franco's Spain and twice from Batista and Castro's Cuba-Almendros now lives in France. His credits include seven pictures for Francois Trauffaut (WILD CHILD, THE STORY OF ADELE H) and, most recently, KRAMER VS. KRAMER starring Dustin Hoffman with Robert Benton as director. …

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