Restaging the Worst Allied Disaster of World War II

American Cinematographer, April 1977 | Go to article overview

Restaging the Worst Allied Disaster of World War II


Actor-turned-director Richard Attenborough takes on the task of re-creating the most catastrophic event of the Second World War

Sir Richard Attenborough, the director of "A BRIDGE TOO FAR", has enjoyed successful careers in several aspects of the dramatic and cinematic arts.

Born in Cambridge, England, and a scholarship student to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art when he was 16, Attenborough's first film experience came in Noel Coward's "IN WHICH WE SERVE". Since then he has never strayed far from a camera. A star of more than 50 films, he also produced - with Bryan Forbes - four of Britain's more successful motion pictures.

In 1968 he changed direction again and took on the task of directing "OH! WHAT A LOVELY WAR". With producer Joe Levine he has devoted the past two years to "A BRIDGE TOO FAR". He was knighted by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in the 1976 New Years Honours List.

What follows has been excerpted from Attenborough's comments to the American Cinematographer Editor during filming of the parachute assault sequences for "BRIDGE" on location in Holland:

The physical problems of shooting a film like "A BRIDGE TOO FAR" are massive and a great problem that Geoff Unsworth has had to face on this particular picture is that of having to shoot in almost any weather condition. The star lineup that we have predetermined a time schedule from which we really couldn't depart. Had we done so, it would have put the budget up to an astronomical figure - above the astronomical figure where it is already. Consequently, Geoff has had not only the requirement of shooting with varying stops, in varying light, under a varying cloud base, in varying degrees of visibility, and so on - which he is more than content to do - but he has had to match all of this variation within sequences, which has been very difficult indeed. But he is a master; he is unquestionably a master and the results on the screen that he has achieved and the operators have achieved and even the laboratories have achieved so far have been absolutely wonderful. Certainly the Panavision cameras and lenses have never let us down; they have been absolutely superb. I can only say that we are now in our 19th week of shooting and we are on schedule to the day - literally, to the day. Bob Redford arrived yesterday, the day that he was contracted to arrive on six months ago, which seems almost unbelievable.

Concerning the visual approach to this picture, I can say that if one had had total freedom, one might have been very tempted indeed to do it in black and white. It is a period piece which depends upon its absolute veracity, on its acceptability as a document of a gallant and tragic episode of thirty years ago. But we have not done the picture in black and white and now I don't regret it at all. On the contrary, we've done it in color and Geoff Unsworth has created an image on the screen which is quite magical.

We talked from the word go about trying to bleed out almost all the color - but only up to a certain point. The main force reached a certain town in Holland called Einhoven where there was a massive reception - thousands and thousands of people suddenly in the square, waving Dutch and American and British flags. Much of what had gone on before had to do with the armies - the green khaki of the American forces, the total khaki of the British forces, the greenish-gray of the Germans - and we had really kept color out of it, until suddenly the screen is massively alight with this bouquet, this cavalcade, these pyrotechnics of color, and it has the most extraordinary effect. By taking advantage of all modern concepts, all modern technology, Geoff has yet given the picture a marvelous period feeling, which is more than one could ask of any cameraman. …

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