Skip Navigation

Frame by Frame

Posts Tagged ‘Freddie Francis’

Cinematography Roundtable – The Hollywood Reporter

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014

The Hollywood Reporter’s Cinematography Roundtable is an invaluable video seminar.

As Gregg Kilday and Carolyn Giardina note in the text that accompanies this revealing half-hour discussion, “The visionaries behind some of the year’s most visually striking movies — Unbroken, Into the Woods, Gone Girl, The Theory of Everything, Noah and Mr. Turner — open up about everything from how to develop a relationship with a director to high-dynamic-range technologies

They’re sad that instead of projecting movies on film, theaters have turned to digital projection — even if it means they no longer have to worry about scratched or fraying prints. They’re resigned to the fact that reviewers never quite know what to make of their work. And especially when filming outdoors, they always keep one eye on the weather — in fact, veteran cinematographer Roger Deakins, 65, confessed he has four weather apps on his phone to make sure he remains prepared.

Fortunately the sun was shining when Deakins, who recently finished shooting Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken, got together at THR’s invitation with five fellow directors of photography: Into the Woods’ Dion Beebe, 46; Gone Girl’s Jeff Cronenweth, 52; The Theory of Everything’s Benoit Delhomme, 53; Noah’s Matthew Libatique, 46; and Mr. Turner’s Dick Pope, 67. They happily compared notes on their recent movies, which took them from the biblical realm of Noah to the 19th century British salons of Mr. Turner to the contemporary crime scenes of Gone Girl.

[But their work goes largely unappreciated by most observers. As Benoit Delhomme noted] ‘for me, it’s incredible to realize that what you can expect as a DP is to get one line at the end of the review saying just two words about your work.’ [Added Deakins,] ‘People confuse pretty with good cinematography. [The late cinematographer] Freddie Francis said there is good cinematography and bad cinematography, and then there’s the cinematography that’s right for the movie. I often feel that if reviewers don’t mention your work, it’s probably better than if they do.’”

Having just finished a book on the history of black and white cinematography on a worldwide basis, Black & White: A Brief History of Monochrome Cinema, which will be published by Rutgers University Press in late 2015, I can attest that this is absolutely true. As fate or luck would have it, I knew Freddie Francis very well from 1984 up until his death, and watched him at work on the sets of several films he either directed or photographed, and it’s absolutely true that most reviewers and critics have absolutely no idea of what the DP does on a film, or the degree of input they have on the final project.

Most often, from the beginning of cinema up to the present day, directors are more than content to take all the credit for the visual design of a film, when in fact the choice of a DP on any given film tells you much about how the finished project will look. I often think about the bold black and white work of DP John L. Russell on Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), for which he was nominated for an Academy Award – but lost out to Freddie Francis for Sons and Lovers – and while Hitchcock was certainly an assured and accomplished visual stylist, it’s clear to me that Russell’s work on the film was a major factor in the overall impact of the film.

But as with the DPs discussing their work here, credit often is not readily forthcoming, and so this discussion is an invaluable look behind the scenes for those who stick to a strictly “auteurist” view of the cinema – without the DP, you wouldn’t have any images on the screen at all.

The best DPs in cinema history, such as James Wong Howe, Gregg Toland, Freddie Francis, Stanley Cortez, Nicholas Musuraca, Robert Krasker, John Alton, Boris Kaufman, Gunnar Fischer, Sven Nykvist, Karl Freund, Fritz Arno Wagner, John Seitz, Robert Burks and many others created an alluring and phantasmal world out of nothing more than light and shadow, transforming the real world into a cinematic trompe-l’œil which was so seductive and all – encompassing that it became an entirely new universe. It’s only right that we acknowledge and celebrate their contribution to cinema history.

You can see the entire video by clicking here, or on the image above.

New Article – “Turn It Off!” – Sound and Silence in 1960s British Gothic Cinema

Friday, October 31st, 2014

I have a new article out today in Film International, on the use of silence in 1960s British horror films.

As I write, “it’s Halloween once again, and as one might suspect, American cable networks are offering a cornucopia of horror films, past and present, though the Universal films of the 1930s and 40s which started the entire horror cycle in America are now missing from most playlists. Val Lewton’s superb RKO gothics got better treatment from Turner Classic Movies, which ran a whole stack of them this year, and the British films produced by Hammer and Amicus in the 1960s were also well represented on the channel, albeit run at two and three in the morning, not exactly peak viewing hours.

The Hammer films, once ‘X’-rated in Britain upon their initial release, now seem like quaint fairy tales, which is what Hammer director Terence Fisher always claimed they were – ‘fairy tales for adults.’ These are films I know well, have seen many times, and have written about on numerous occasions. I no longer watch them all the way through; instead, I dip into them, keying in on certain scenes that I admire, and then switching to another film with much the same purpose in mind.

But as I sampled one Hammer and/or Amicus film in this fashion in the past few days, something hit me more forcefully than it ever has before in this particular subset of films – the use of silence, and a lack of dialogue, is a trait that nearly all of these films share. The most effective of these films operate through the power of the image alone, in concert with the movements of the actors, and the music of Elisabeth Lutyens and James Bernard, the two most accomplished composers who worked on the Hammer and Amicus films.”

You can read the entire essay here – Happy Halloween!

Hammer Studios Restores Its Classic Films

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

Bray Studios, for many years the home of Hammer Films.

Click on the image above to go to Hammer’s official website.

Hammer Films, arguably the most important studio in the history of Gothic horror films, and home to directors Terence Fisher, Freddie Francis, Val Guest and many others, has begun an ambitious plan to bring their many of the classic films in their archive into the Blu-ray era, working in conjunction with Studiocanal and others. As Nancy Tartaglione-Moore reports, “legendary horror studio Hammer has announced a global restoration project for its library of films. In partnership with Studiocanal, Pinewood and other international players, more than 30 films will be revamped in HD for Blu-ray and other new media supports. Hammer’s original U.S. production partners, 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros and Paramount, are also participating in the project. The first title to be released is Dracula Prince Of Darkness, which will go out in March in the UK. The studio was founded in 1934 and went on to make such titles as The Plague Of The Zombies, Frankenstein Created Woman, The Witches and The Mummy. Since 2008, it’s been a division of the Exclusive Media Group. After ceasing production in the 1980s, Hammer returned to features in 2010 with Matt Reeves’ adaptation of Swedish hit Let Me In. This year, it will release Daniel Radcliffe-starrer The Woman In Black.”

Excellent news! You can read the entire story by clicking right here.

Don Sharp, Last of the Classic British Gothic Filmmakers

Monday, December 19th, 2011

Don Sharp, director of a series of lavish and tastefully brutal horror films for Hammer Productions in the 1960s, has died at the age of 89. No cause for grief here; Sharp had a long and varied career. He worked with such actors as Deborah Kerr, Vanessa Redgrave, Donald Sutherland and Lee Remick on numerous projects, and was really a jack of all trades in the film business.

Still, as Dave Rattigan points out in the Gather website, “fans of Sharp’s era in British filmmaking, especially Hammer horror afficianados, will rue his passing as one more of the old school sadly dying off, leaving few stalwarts behind. Don Sharp belongs up there with names such as Terence Fisher (Dracula, Prince of Darkness), Freddie Francis (Dracula Has Risen from the Grave) and Roy Ward Baker (Quatermass and the Pit) as one of the legends of the British Gothic horror genre.” Fisher, Francis — a dear friend of mine — and Baker are all gone now; if you click on the links above, you’ll see clips from some of their Hammer films.

The poster above is from Kiss of the Vampire, one of Sharp’s most accomplished films; click here, or on the image above  to see a clip from the film itself, which was heavily censored upon its initial release, and still plays in cut form — in some cases — on television to this day.

Nightmare (1963)

Monday, October 17th, 2011

Jennie Linden and Brenda Bruce (bottom frame) in Freddie Francis’s Nightmare (1963)

Click here, or on the image above, for an interview with two-time Academy Award winning director Freddie Francis.

As Donald Guarisco writes, “This Hitchcock-inspired blend of mystery and thriller from Hammer Films is gimmicky in the extreme but that’s also part of its charm. Nightmare hinges upon a rather flamboyant narrative from house scripter Jimmy Sangster: some logic loopholes become apparent if you look at his wild plot too closely but he attacks his storyline with great gusto and pulls off a clever, Psycho-derived plot switcheroo that will throw the audience for a loop. It also helps that Nightmare is directed with great panache by Freddie Francis, who uses John Maxwell’s moody black-and-white photography to tremendously atmospheric effect. Francis creates a number of genuinely intense setpieces along the way, cleverly using his framing choices and editing to comment on the story’s events. Finally, Nightmare benefits from committed performances by a solid cast: Jennie Linden offers an intense turn as the film’s troubled young heroine and her work is supported nicely by strong turns from Brenda Bruce as a wise, sympathetic teacher and Moira Redmond as a mysterious nurse brought in to watch over Linden. To sum up, Nightmare is an effective little chiller that packs a surprising punch for a film of its age.”

Freddie Francis, second from right in black hat, directing Nightmare on location.

The Skull

Saturday, September 3rd, 2011

Patrick Wymark and Peter Cushing contemplate The Skull

Those who are in the mood for an atmospheric and intelligent horror film could do much worse than checking out The Skull, a 1965 horror film directed by Freddie Francis from a script by Robert Bloch, based on his short story “The Skull of the Marquis de Sade.” Recently released in an immaculate DVD in both regular and Blu-ray formats, in its original Techniscope / Technicolor aspect ratio, and boasting a cast that includes Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Patrick Magee, Patrick Wymark, Nigel Green and Jill Bennett, with music by avant-garde symphonic composer Elisabeth Lutyens, The Skull is perhaps Francis’ masterpiece as a director, and if you haven’t seen it — well, what are you waiting for?

Those who are looking for gore will be disappointed, but those who can appreciate an intelligent and superbly photographed film — the last 30 minutes are absolutely wordless, consisting only of a series of ever more ominous images as the skull takes possession of those who would trifle with it — recall the best of Val Lewton’s 1940s films, and remain as arresting and evocative as when they were first presented on the screen. Francis also photographed numerous films for other directors, including David Lynch’s Elephant Man, Dune, and The Straight Story – this is the work of a master craftsman, who won two Academy Awards for his cinematography on Sons and Lovers and Glory. As a director, his work is hard-edged, brutal, and always stylish.

Here’s the trailer for the film – now get the DVD before they’re all gone.

The Straight Story

Thursday, September 1st, 2011

Freddie Francis, the two time Academy Award winning director of cinematography — for Sons and Lovers (1960) and Glory (1989) — was a dear friend of mine, and I’ve watched him at work on the set many times, from his film The Doctor and The Devils (1985) through Her Alibi (1989) and finally The Straight Story (1999), which was shot in 23 days in Iowa. A director as well as a director of cinematography, Freddie had two distinct careers, although in his directorial efforts, he was early on “typed” as a Gothic director, much to his dismay, and never really got the chance to do a non-genre film.

The Straight Story tells of Alvin Straight (Richard Farnsworth), who decides to make the long journey to visit his ailing brother Lyle (Harry Dean Stanton), but, being unable to drive a car because of his health, is forced to make the trip on a John Deere lawnmower, which takes him six weeks, until he finally arrives on Lyle’s doorstep in the film’s final sequence.

When the filming started, Freddie called me up and asked me if I wanted to come out and visit him; it was to be our last meeting. Since most of the film was shot in Iowa, it was an easy trip, and I set out to meet the crew on location. I was present during the last two or three days of filming, and watched in awe as Freddie knocked out one set-up after another, usually getting it done in one take or two, racing against the end of the day, when Harry Dean Stanton as Lyle, in for one day of shooting only, would have his penultimate meeting with Alvin. The scene was ultimately shot in near darkness, but Freddie flooded the porch set with so much light that it matched the daytime sequences perfectly, and the film came in on time and under budget.

Freddie was in ill health for much of the shoot for The Straight Story due to a gallstone attack, but he nevertheless kept up his usual whirlwind pace on the set, organizing not only the main unit, but several second unit crews to do pickup and background shots to get the filming completed all that much faster. He was, as always, absolutely in control.

The Straight Story is a gorgeous, deeply life affirming film, and contains Richard Farnsworth’s last performance, as well as Freddie’s final work as a cinematographer. Shot entirely on location, and based on a true story, the film is easily David Lynch’s most humane and accessible film, a tribute to the spirit of human determination in the face of seemingly nearly insurmountable odds. Freddie and David had worked before on The Elephant Man (1980) and Dune (1984), but in this, their final collaboration, I think they created their finest work as a team.

About the Author

Wheeler Winston Dixon

Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of thirty books and more than 100 articles on film, and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. To contact Prof. Dixon for an interview, reach him at 402.472.6064 or wdixon1@unl.edu. Visit him at his website wheelerwinstondixon.com.

RSS Frame By Frame Videos

  • War Movies
    UNL Film Studies professor Wheeler Winston Dixon at one of the earliestand most enduring film genres, the war movie. […]
  • Frame By Frame - Hollywood Composers
    UNL Film Studies professor Wheeler Winston Dixon highlights the most prolific Hollywood film composers. […]

In The National News

National media outlets featured and cited Wheeler Winston Dixon on a number of topics in the past month. Find out more on the website http://newsroom.unl.edu/inthenews/