The Mirage of Movies

The cinematographer, the director's collaborator and confidant, uses the lens, camera, and lighting equipment to make the fake look real and the real authentic. He creates the visual appearance and style of the film. Freddie Young (1902-98), combining stamina and discipline, was perhaps the greatest cinematographer of the century. The youngest son of a large and recently impoverished English family, he left school at 14 and began as a lab assistant in Gaumont Studios in London. He occasionally served as a stunt man and was injured while filming explosions. Wearing owlish spectacles that seemed to reflect the lens of his camera, he shot horse races and soccer matches. He worked on the first sound pictures in Britain, when noisy hand-cranked cameras had to be placed in soundproofed booths, and sometimes shot three movies at the same time. In his long career, he completed 161 feature films.

Young was a great artist, but he prided himself on being tough, even abrasive with his crew. He emphasized that "you mustn't let yourself be pushed around by these [studio] executives, no matter how big they are, if you want to protect your reputation as a cameraman." He worked with famous directors like George Cukor, John Huston, and John Ford. He quotes Ford—guarding the director's prerogative—saying; "I only shoot what I want to use, to stop the bastards recutting the film afterwards." Young helped train...

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