Month: February 2016

Douglas Slocombe

Douglas Slocombe, the cinematographer who shot Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981),  Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), and Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade (1989), has died aged 103.

His daughter announced to the Agence France-Presse that he died in hospital on Monday, Feb 22 2016. bfi-00n-0ca

At the 30th anniversary of the Raiders  film’s release,  Harrison Ford recalled that Slocombe never used a light meter.   ‘He used to read the density of the shadow by his thumb against his palm.”  Director Steven Spielberg said he never worked with a Director of Photography before or since who used that technique.

Slocombe received 3 Oscar nominations, all without success.   ‘Travels with my Aunt’ (1972),  ‘Julia’ (1977) and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981).  But his legacy extends far beyond those nominations.  He shot what is regarded as one of the scariest British films of all time – the 1945 Dead of Night.

In 1949 he was Director of Photography on the outstanding black comedy ‘Kind Hearts and Coronets’ (1949), where Alec Guiness portrayed no fewer than 7 characters – all from the same family. His most famous image in the film was a mutli-processed shot of Alec Guiness as all the characters, situated around a table.  To achieve the shot he reverted to an early film technique where the illusion was manufactured entirely within camera.
Slocombe’s association with Ealing comedies continued with ‘The Man in the White Suit’ (1951) , ‘The Lavender Hill Mob’ (1951) and ‘The Titfield Thunderbolt’ (1953).

His cinematography in ”The L-Shaped Room” (1962) impressed the cast so much that Leslie Caron remarked to producer Richard Attenborough ”I hope to god no one ever photographs me again, other than Doug Slocombe. I’ve never looked better”

He found working with director Ken Russell difficult.  After shooting ‘The Music Lovers’  (1970), Slocombe refused to shoot Russell’s follow up film ‘The Devils’ (1971).   ‘Ken , I’d love to work with you again, but the cameraman has to look at the scene he is photographing and some of your stuff is so appalling I can’t bring myself to look at it’ Slocombe said.

His association with Steven Spielberg began several years before the Indiana Jones franchise, on the film ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ (1977).   Slocome was part of the second unit crew who shot sequences in India.  Spielberg was impressed with the rushes and promised the cinematographer they would work together again.   They did four years later.
Spielberg directed so quickly on the Indiana Jones set that Slocombe recalled ‘he would shout action! while I was still setting lights’.

Slocombe’s resume also included the films ‘The Italian Job’ (the 1969 Michael Caine version),  ‘Never Say Never Again’ (1983), ‘The Lion in Winter’ (1967) and ‘The Great Gatsby’  (the 1974 Robert Redford version).

He was born the son of bohemian parents.  At age 10, he met author James Joyce,who personally delivered a pre-publication copy of Ulysses to them.   Douglas  grew up to document the German invasion of Poland, a visual memory that influenced his style when filming ‘Guns at Batasi’ (1964).   ”There was a documentary aspect to that film which did take me back to my war days with the roving camera.   I probably instinctivly gave the film the feeling that I had felt in some of the documentary footage I shot. ”

It was director Richard Attenborough who said of Slocombe, ” he took away the theatricality of lighting of films and brought a reality.”

Slocombe’s career spanned five decades.