Best Cinematography 1971

1927/28 through 1997

What was the year's Best cinematography from amongst the 1971 Oscar nominees?

Fiddler on the Roof (Oswald Morris)
No votes
The French Connection (Owen Roizman)
The Last Picture Show (Robert Surtees)
Nicholas and Alexandra (Freddie Young)
No votes
Summer of '42 (Robert Surtees)
Total votes: 18

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Re: Best Cinematography 1971

Postby Sabin » Fri Jun 30, 2017 1:20 pm

The Last Picture Show, but I've always felt that the big miss of the category as McCabe & Mrs. Miller. The Conformist is a gorgeous piece of work but there's something about the cinematography of McCabe & Mrs. Miller that's just struck me as special. The kind of special you have to hide from the studios until it's already done.
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Re: Best Cinematography 1971

Postby The Original BJ » Wed Jun 28, 2017 4:38 pm

Alternates this year were plentiful. I'd single out the striking tableaux of A Clockwork Orange, the chilly winterscapes of McCabe & Mrs. Miller, and the harsh light streams of The Conformist for inclusion.

Nicholas and Alexandra is a pretty enough costume piece, but the cinematography, like the movie as a whole, is so lacking in personality it's impossible to consider. The best you can say is that it's not an ugly movie to look at -- something I would definitely say about a few baffling nominees in the years ahead.

As someone who wasn't around at the time, it was interesting for me to read Mister Tee's comment about how Summer of '42 established a style for a certain kind of nostalgic period drama. Because, honestly, I wasn't really sure how it got this nomination -- there's a delicate quality to the seaside beach scenes that's pleasant enough, but nothing approaching a visual knockout. But I take the point that it likely came off more innovative in its time, before this style became so commonplace.

I agree that Fiddler on the Roof is more of a bummer choice because of what it triumphed over, rather than for being inherently lousy. As far as big musicals go, this has far more photographic grace than the recent brigade of nominees like Hello, Dolly! and Star!, and the beauty of the sunrises and sunsets, as well as the overall earthy quality of the images, makes the film feel more lived-in, and less like a phony soundstage extravaganza than some in the genre. But at the end of the day, its style is a bit too steeped in, well, tradition.

Most discussions of The French Connection inevitably start with its legendary chase sequence, and you have to credit the muscular camerawork for capturing the film's biggest action set piece with such energy and bravado. But the movie is good-looking throughout, with a lot of evocative shadows, and down-and-dirty images that capture the grit of New York's underbelly with real veracity. It would be my runner-up.

I join the nearly overwhelming majority to endorse The Last Picture Show. If one were studying how to convey a feeling through photography, examining those haunting shots of the empty town and its closed movie theater near the end of the film would be as good a place to start as any. The whole movie is like an elegy for a dying world -- of course it had to be filmed in going-out-of-style black-and-white -- and the strikingly lit shots of characters cast against the landscape are so etched with sadness, and yet so beautiful to look at, you want to frame nearly every one. This is one of the best shot films of the 1970s, and was sorely robbed of this prize.

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Re: Best Cinematography 1971

Postby Mister Tee » Wed Jun 28, 2017 1:59 pm

The big miss is The Conformist. Years later, the lasting image from the film -- the ground-level shot of swirling leaves in the driveway -- stays with me. And A Clockwork Orange should surely have been nominated, as well.

Newer, more inventive sorts of cinematography were beginning to show up on the roster, but the old white elephant claque still had power, and they're responsible for the Nicholas and Alexandra nod. I suppose we should be grateful the film didn't sweep all three visual categories.

Fiddler on the Roof was somewhat in that mode, as well, but it's a much stronger film than N&A, and looks better in general, too. I'm sorry the film won, but more for what it defeated than for its own sake. It's a respectable enough example of a bland winner.

The nomination for The French Connection is a sign of the category's coming era. In years just prior to 1971, non-epic films had had difficulty securing this nomination, even when they became best picture contenders or winners (In the Heat of the Night, Midnight Cowboy). Look a few years ahead, and you'll see Cuckoo's Nest, Network and Kramer vs. Kramer all taking slots. The idea that this street-level, handheld camera work was to be cited alongside sprawling epics represented a sea-change in thinking for the category (though it did hearken back to more inventive black-and-white nominees like The Naked City). I wouldn't vote for the film here, but only because of its competition. I fully endorse its nomination.

Summer of '42 was Robert Surtees' secondary credit for the year, but I think it was a very likely nominee on its own. The film created a nostalgic glow that may not have run deep, but was certainly distinctive (as might have been said in The Big Lebowski, at least it's an ethos). It established a style for period pieces that was frequently imitated over the ensuing years, and deserves credit for that.

As we know from the way we've approached this category, we're only five years from black-and-white films having their own set of nominees -- yet the change of the industry to all-color (paralleling TV's similar switch) was so complete that, by the time The Last Picture Show opened, the fact it was in black-and-white was by far the most commented-on aspect of it. (Bogdanovich said it was the first question every interviewer asked him.) There had, in fact, been a few B&W films released in the year or two prior, but they were either indies or foreign titles. What Bogdanovich/Surtees essentially did was reclaim black-and-white for studio films, not as commercial necessity (in fact, at this point, it was becoming MORE expensive to shoot that way), but as an artistic choice. This opened the door for subsequent films like Bogdanovich's own Paper Moon, Lenny, Young Frankenstein, and, eventually, Manhattan and Raging Bull.

And The Last Picture Show did this by 1) making the choice seem an obvious one: it was hard to imagine this film capturing the early 50s as well as it did had it been made in color and 2) achieving extraordinary memorable visuals even within that b&W framework. We all of course remember the zoom-in on Ben Johnson at the pond -- but we can also recall the lighting of the indoor swim party; the ominous look of Jacy's pool-hall assault; the parched look of the landscape as Sonny and Jacy attempt and fail at escape from the town's contours. This is an altogether stunning-looking movie, and one that clearly deserved the year's award for cinematography.

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Re: Best Cinematography 1971

Postby Precious Doll » Wed Jun 28, 2017 9:29 am

The Last Picture Show - an easy choice for me and ironically enough the only one I have seen on the big screen and more than once.

My own personal top 5 of the year were The Devils, A Clockwork Orange, Walkabout, The Last Picture Show & Death in Venice. Great year for cinema in general and cinematography befitting that great year.
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Best Cinematography 1971

Postby Big Magilla » Wed Jun 28, 2017 4:43 am

I don't usually re-watch films just for these polls, but I did re-watch The Last Picture Show, not because I needed reinforcement for its selection, but because I wanted to see if I could determine how much of the look was the director's vis-a-vis the cinematographer's. I didn't get it from watching the film, but I did get in a 2009 interview with Peter Bogdanovich which is one of the supplements on the Criterion Blu-ray. Bogdanovich was quite emphatic about his concentration on the actors while Robert Surtees did all the interfacing with the crew. The look is primarily his, and along with the superb acting, makes the film.

Surtees was already a three-time winner who was receiving his tenth and eleventh nominations for this and Summer of '42 and would receive five more before he was through, so he didn't need another win, but he did deserve it.

Oswald Morris was a fine cinematographer who won three back-to-back BAFTAs for The Pumpkin Eater, The Hill and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold before earning his first Oscar nomination for Oliver!. His cinematography for Fiddler on the Roof was striking, but this was one of many instances where the Oscar went to the prettiest picture.

Owen Roizman received the first of his five nominations for The French Connection, largely for the chase scene, although it was the Oscar-winning editing of that scene and the film in general that excited voters more.

Freddie Young's cinematography was the best thing about Nicholas and Alexandra, but it was in the service of a rather stuffy epic.

This year's films with the most striking cinematography, aside from The Last Picture Show, were in my opinion A Clockwork Orange for which John Alcott was curiously given credit as lighting supervisor rather than cinematographer; Sunday Bloody Sunday for which Billy Williams (Women in Love) should have gotten a consecutive nod; Harold and Maude for which John Alonzo should have gotten his first nomination four years before Chinatown; and The Conformist for which Vittorio Storaro should have been nominated nearly a decade before he actually was nominated and won the first of his three Oscars for Apocalypse Now.

Death in Venice, The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, The Go-Between, McCabe & Mrs. Miller and Walkabout are five more that could have been considered in what was an excellent year for finely photographed films.
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