Magazine article American Cinematographer

Gabriel Figueroa at the Tehran Film Festival

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Gabriel Figueroa at the Tehran Film Festival

Article excerpt

World-famous Mexican cinematographar discusses his early apprenticeship in Hollywood, and how his photographic style has changed completely of late

On the select roster of internationally famous cinematographers the name of Mexico's Gabriel Figueroa ranks near the top - and has for almost 40 years. During that period he has won countless awards for his cinematic artistry and several of the films he has photographed - "THE PEARL", to name just one - have become classics to be reshown year In and year out at retrospectives and In film schools throughout the world.

Figueroa's occasional artistic collaborations with American directors have resulted in such memorable efforts as John Ford's "THE FUGITIVE" and John Huston's "THE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA". For many years the dean of Mexican cinematographers, he has an almost adolescent enthusiasm and his ideas are as modern as tomorrow.

In Iran to serve on the prestigious jury for the Third Tehran International Film Festival, Mr. Figueroa, in the following exclusive interview for American Clnematographer, discusses his life in cinematography - past, present and future:

QUESTION: Can you tell me a bit about how you began your career as a Clnematographer?

FIGUEROA: Before I became a cinematographer I was a still man in the movies, but before that I started in a photographic studio, where I did darkroom work and everything else. When the film industry began in Mexico I was very anxious to work in it and I got a job as a studio still man. In the meantime, I studied cinematography with Alex Phillips. After I had worked as a still man for a while and had also helped do the lighting on three pictures, Clasa, a very big company, offered me a job as a cinematographer - but I turned it down because I didn't think I was ready for that yet. Later, I was working on a film that Jack Draper was photographing and we did about two months of exterior shooting in Vera Cruz. Then they had problems which caused the picture to shut down for a month. By the time they were ready to start again (with studio interiors), Draper, who was under contract to MGM, was called to do a picture in Hollywood. The studio asked him: "What are we going to do about the photography?" Jack said: "Take Gaby. He knows my style. He has been the still man on this picture and he can take over." The studio said: "But Gaby doesn't know how to operate a camera." Jack said: "I'll leave the operator." The operator, by the way, was William Clothier, ASC. So I accepted, and Bill Clothier operated the camera while I did the lighting. Right after that picture the studio wanted to sign me to a contract as a cinematographer, but I said: "I don't have the capacity yet." They said: "When will you have it?" I said: "After I've done a lot more studying." They said: "Well, if you'll sign a contract, we'll send you to Hollywood and pay you to study." I said: "Alright. What is a contract?"

QUESTION: What year wa» It that you made that trip to Hollywood?

FIGUEROA: It was around 1936, more or less. I had the very good fortune to be accepted by Gregg Toland as a kind of pupil. He was working at the GoIdwyn Studios and I followed him around and observed him working on a whole picture. It was "SPLENDOR", with Miriam Hopkins. When I returned to Mexico the company was starting a very big picture and the Mexican director said to me: "Gaby, you are not going to be the cinematographer on this picture, because it's a big one and we have Jack Draper - but you can have any other job on the picture that you would like to have." I said: "Alright. I will tell you tomorrow. " That night I went to talk with Jack Draper and I said: "I don't know how to operate a camera. I have to become an operator; will you give me a chance? I know that you operate very well and I promise that the moment I feel I can't do a movement or something I'll ask you to give me a hand. " Jack agreed and I operated the camera for him on about three pictures. …

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