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 52nd 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 52nd Annual Awards Presentation:
"Kramer vs. Kramer"
WILLIAM A. FRAKER, ASC
FRANK PHILLIPS, ASC
"The Black Hole"
GIUSEPPE ROTUNNO, ASC
"All That Jazz"
Nestor Almendros remembers his first thoughts when Robert Bentonserrthim a script for KRAMER VS. KRAMER. He felt that the characters were real; that they could be made to come alive on the motion picture screen.
Almendros was also excited about working in New York City, the practical location for the movie: He had studied filmmaking at CCNY, under Hans Richten and the opportunity to work in the city where he had done his early experimental work was exhilarating.
As for the cinemagraphic opportunity, Almendros says, "If someone had asked me whether I thought KRAMER VS. KRAMER would be nominated for an Academy Award"-for cinematography, I would have answered that there was absolutely no chance."
The assignment came on the heels of the completion of principal cinematography for DAYS OF HEAVEN, which earned Almendros an Academy Award last year. In that picture, director Terrence Malick envisioned the cinematography as a graphic extension of the characters' feelings and moods. Creative visuals played an unusually important part in telling the story.
In contrast, KRAMER VS. KRAMER had no spectacular landscapes, crowd scenes, or pageants. Instead, it is a very intimate film with the faces of people telling much of the story. That is not the kind of a film which normally gets an Academy Award for cinematography, as Almendros points out.
We had an opportunity to visit with Almendros after he was nominated for an Oscar for the second consecutive year:
QUESTION: There has been much written about you, especially since you won an Academy Award last year. However, we would like to hear the facts directly from you. Tell us about your background and how you got started in the motion picture industry.
ALMENDROS: I was born in Barcelona and grew up in Cuba. I've been a political exile three times: once in Spain from Franco and twice from Batista and Castro's Cuba. I became interested in movies by going to them when I was very young. …