Magazine article American Cinematographer

Bringing Reality to Filming of "The Man without a Country"

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Bringing Reality to Filming of "The Man without a Country"

Article excerpt

Film story of a man who rejected America is photographed with great realism by cinematographer who adopted it as his country

It is ironically appropriate that Edward Everett Male's classic tale, "THE MAN WITHOUT ACOUNTRY," was filmed for television by Andrew Laszlo, ASC. The story is that of a man who rejected the United States; the filming was done by a man who adopted the country as his own. Both came to love it.

In Hale's fictional story, Army Lt. Philip Nolan, played in the film by Cliff Robertson, is tried for complicity with Aaron Burr during the latter's attempt to achieve, through separatist government, what he was unable to do at the polls. During his court-martial, Nolan angrily blurts out that he never wants to hear of the United States again.

That, ultimately, is the judgment handed down, and for the rest of his life- a period of some 50 years- Nolan lives aboard a succession of U.S. warships, where the crews are forbidden to mention or discuss the United States in his presence.

Cinematographer Laszlo was born in Hungary. He showed an early inclination for photography, and was beginning an apprenticeship at a Budapest moti on -picture studio when World War Il erupted and ruined his dream of a cinematography career in his native land. In 1947, he emigrated to the United States to seek a job-any job related to photography.

His first work was taking baby portraits; then he served as an in-plant photographer for a company manufacturing wallpaper. Later, to do movie work for an industrial film producer in Pittsburgh, he lived away from his family five days a week, commuting to his New York home on the weekends.

The big break came when he was hired as camera operator for "NAKED CITY," one of the first location-filmed TV series. Today, Laszlo says, there is virtually no place in New York that doesn't evoke for him some memory of "NAKED CITY" or other films he made there.

During filming of the series, Laszlo became a full-fledged Director of Photography, and was tapped ultimately to film a series of theatrical movies, including "ONE POTATO, TWO POTATO," "THE NIGHT THEY RAIDED MINSKY'S," "THE OWL AND THE PUSSYCAT," "THE OUT-OF-TOWNERS," and "LOVERS AND OTHER STRANGERS." His latest, "CLASS OF '44," is scheduled to be released later this year.

Signed for Special

When producer Norman Rosemont and director Delbert Mann were gathering a crew to film "The Man Without A Country"-a 90-minute ABC-TV special to be presented by Eastman Kodak Company April 24 at 8:30 p.m. (EST)-Laszlo was an obvious choice as director of photography. Because of his work in the east, he was familiar with locations in Mystic, Connecticut; Newport, Rhode Island, and Fort Niagara, New York. Laszlo eagerly accepted the challenge.

The result is a film that clearly adds to the pathos of the original story. If a word had to be chosen to describe its effect on viewers, the word would be "believable."

How Laszlo achieved this is perhaps best understood through a description of how he filmed the death scene. Nolan, now an old man, is dying. His last wish is for the captain, who is by now an old friend, to tell him something about the country he had forsaken.

"We had to capture the visual gloom of the impending end," says Laszlo, "and we also had to denote, in a few minutes on the screen, the passage of several hours during which Nolan and the captain talk. The technique had to be almost imperceptible, to make the viewer conscious of the passage of time, but not of how we created the illusion."

Working in tight quarters, with a Mitchell BNC camera and Eastman color negative film 5254, Laszlo did it with lighting. The scene is a small cabin and, as it opens, the dominant light is late afternoon sunlight. As the sun goes down, a candle and oil lamps are lit, and at the end of the scene the captain turns out the lamps, leaving only the candle to illuminate Nolan. …

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