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Posts Tagged ‘Henry James’

Freddie Francis, BSC, on The Innocents (1961)

Sunday, May 10th, 2015

Freddie Francis, the Oscar winning cinematographer, did some of his best work on The Innocents.

Freddie Francis was one of the greatest cinematographers in the history of the cinema, in addition to directing a number of underrated Gothic thrillers in the 1960s and 70s, but he is best remembered for his fantastic work in monochrome, or black and white, films.

One of his favorite films was Jack Clayton’s The Innocents (1961), adapted from Henry James’ classic ghost story The Turn of the Screw. I knew Freddie from 1984 up until his death in 2007, and watched him at work on the sets of many of his films, including his last as a DP, The Straight Story (1999), which was directed by David Lynch and shot in Iowa in a mere 23 days.

I wrote a book on Freddie’s work, aptly titled The Films of Freddie Francis in 1991, conducted a lecture /screening of his work at the British Film Institute with him shortly thereafter, and frankly, I miss him a lot – he was a good friend, and a good colleague. When I shot my feature film What Can I Do? in 1993, it was Freddie who put me in touch for much of the technical staff who worked on the film, and though we never had a chance to work together formally, we remained close friends throughout the years.

In any event, Freddie and I had a friendly argument over the years that above all other formats, he loved black and white CinemaScope the best. Freddie always denied it, saying that such things as aspect ratios were just part of the business arrangement of setting up the production of a film, and as this excerpt from his autobiography demonstrates, there was certainly some truth to that – The Innocents started out as a project in Academy ratio, but was bumped up to CinemaScope at the insistence of the 20th Century Fox front office.

Nevertheless, as the triptych of stills above illustrate, once he was told that he had to shoot The Innocents in ’scope, Francis and director Jack Clayton embraced the format with such stylish assurance that it seems that the film had always been meant to be shot that way.

In Francis’ later films, it always seems to me that in his ’scope work, especially with his tendency to highlight the outer edges of the frame on the left and right, and leave the middle as a more atmospheric buffer, Francis was pursuing a conscious strategy that prevented his work from ever effectively being subjected to “pan and scan” treatment, which shows only a portion of the film. One of the most effective Gothic thrillers of all time, The Innocents is well worth seeking out and viewing – it’s a remarkable film in every respect.

You have to see The Innocents in its original format, as this interview clearly demonstrates.

What Maisie Knew

Wednesday, May 15th, 2013

What Maisie Knew is a sharp, smart, effective little film, well worth your time.

As the film’s press kit notes, “directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel, written by Carroll Cartwright and Nancy Doyne, starring Julianne Moore, Alexander Skarsgård, Steve Coogan and Joanna Vanderham, introducing Onata Aprile as Maisie, the film is a contemporary reimagining of Henry James’ novel, What Maisie Knew tells the story of a little girl’s struggle for grace in the midst of her parents’ bitter custody battle. Told through the eyes of the title’s heroine, Maisie navigates this ever-widening turmoil with a six-year-old’s innocence, charm and generosity of spirit.

An aging rock star (Moore) and a contemporary art dealer (Coogan)—Susanna and Beale are too self-involved even to notice their neglect and inadequacy as parents; their fight for Maisie is just another battle in an epic war of personalities. As they raise the stakes by taking on inappropriate new partners, the ex-nanny Margo and the much younger bartender Lincoln (Vanderham and Skarsgård), the shuffling of Maisie from household to household becomes more and more callous, the consequences more and more troubling.

Always watchful, however, Maisie begins to understand that the path through this morass of adult childishness and selfish blindness will have to be of her own making.” What could easily have been treacly and sentimental here is rendered in bold, aggressive strokes, and while all the performances are standouts, Onata Aprile is the real center of the film, and she holds both the screen, and the audience’s attention, effortlessly.

You can see the trailer for the film by clicking here, or on the image above.

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. All comments by Dixon on this blog are his own opinions. To contact Prof. Dixon for an interview, reach him at wdixon1@unl.edu or wheelerwinstondixon.com

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