Best Cinematography 1974

1927/28 through 1997

What was the Best Cinematography of 1974 among the Oscar nominees?

Chinatown (John A. Alonzo)
Earthquake (Philip H. Lathrop)
No votes
Lenny (Bruce Surtees)
Murder on the Orient Express (Geoffrey Unsworth)
The Towering Inferno (Fred J. Koenecamp, Joseph F. Biroc)
Total votes: 20

The Original BJ
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Re: Best Cinematography 1974

Postby The Original BJ » Thu Jul 20, 2017 3:14 pm

I certainly agree that The Godfather Part II, with amber-lit flashback sequences of almost heavenly beauty, and Badlands, the first of Malick's many dreamlike portraits of the American landscape, should have placed. I would also throw out The Conversation as another strong option.



Murder on the Orient Express is a nomination that's just okay for me. I don't think it looks hideous or anything, but I'm not sure why exactly it would be cited here either. There isn't a ton of imagination or variety in terms of shooting within that mostly claustrophobic train set, and the general quality of the images just doesn't feel frothy enough for what is essentially a lark of a whodunit.

The remaining two nominees are both first rate. I recounted my first experience with Lenny in the Best Picture thread -- I watched it preparing to dutifully check off a Best Picture nominee, without having heard much about it, and was dazzled by the filmmaking on display. And the cinematography was perhaps the element that contributed most to this feeling -- the shadowy black-and-white captures the dank underbelly of American life in a striking manner, and I like the way the movie finds a visual style that combines both gritty kitchen sink realism with stylized theatricality, the perfect match for a character like Lenny Bruce.

But I have to join the consensus here, because the sheer visual beauty of Chinatown puts it over the top for me. Chinatown obviously didn't invent neo-noir, but its photographic achievement is a key factor in the film's reputation as a classic of the genre -- it manages to capture the shadows, stark compositions, and elegant camera moves of classic films noirs, while adding color in a manner that makes the entire film look like a faded photograph, a fitting visual strategy for the film's themes. I think one also has to give the cinematographer credit for lighting the film in such a way that makes 1930's Los Angeles feel like a real place, despite being shot in those environs decades later. (In contrast, Earthquake couldn't even make mid-70's LA feel real.) Its loss in this category is one of the most outrageous of the modern era, maybe ever.

Mister Tee
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Re: Best Cinematography 1974

Postby Mister Tee » Wed Jul 19, 2017 4:37 pm

In addition to Godfather II and Badlands, good alternates would have been The Sugarland Express and maybe The Three Musketeers (though where the latter truly got robbed was art direction and especially costumes).

Earthquake had that ugly Universal-set look and then cheesy special effects. But it was still high-season for big studio behemoths, so naturally the film picked up big tech nominations (and even a win under Sound).

The Towering Inferno winning this category may not be "the worst thing that ever happened at the Oscars," but it's sure in the top 20 -- not just for the film's bland look and its clear inferiority to other nominees, but because its victory was the moment in the evening when it became clear Chinatown was being essentially blackballed (following this, I was uncertain of original screenplay until the envelope was opened). A terrible choice.

I put the cinematography for Murder on the Orient Express the same place I do the film as a whole -- in middling territory. My recollection is of a somewhat muddy-looking film...not quite ugly, but not all the way to stylish, either.

Lenny was a beneficiary of The Last PIcture Show's "black and white can be cool" stance -- without the success of Bogdanovich's film, it's hard to imagine Fosse/Surtees getting studio approval to shoot this way. I think Magilla well undersells the achievement here: Surtees really captures the smoky dark corners of 50s American nightclubs -- sleaze seems to seep from every frame. This is a spectacularly well shot film.

But Chinatown is one of the best-shot films of the era, and it, in a way, is rebuttal to The Last Picture Show: it says, we can shoot in color and still capture the nuances of an era 40 years past. There are too many memorable shots in the film to recount: Jake tracking the Mexican kid in the dry river; Jack lying back in the rowboat as his flunky oars them through Echo Park; Jack and Faye escaping the Albacore Club; the lighting in Dunaway's house that's been packed up for departure; the stark lights of Chinatown, leading to the famous final shot. This should have been winner by acclamation, and it's an enduring shame for the Academy that they went with a ho-hum disaster movie instead (despite the many disaster movies that got nominated in the category, this is the only time one ever took the prize). I hope we give it a deserving win here.

Big Magilla
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Re: Best Cinematography 1974

Postby Big Magilla » Wed Jul 19, 2017 4:37 am

I forgot that Amarcord wasn't Oscar eligible until 1975, so let's take that one off the table and add either Lenny or The Towering Inferno to the mix of creditable nominees, but not both since Badlands should have been there in place of one of them and The Godfather Part II certainly should have been there in place of the joke that was Earthquake.
“Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.” - Voltaire

Big Magilla
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Best Cinematography 1974

Postby Big Magilla » Wed Jul 19, 2017 4:18 am

What should been a two-way race between Gordon Willis for The Godfather Part II and John A. Alonzo for Chinatown and could have been an easy win for Alonzo without Willis in the race turned out to be something quite different.

Also conspicuous by their absence, in addition to Willis, were Giuseppe Rotunno for Amarcord, Fellini's best film in ten years, and Tak Fujimoto, Stevan Larner and Brian Probyn for Badlands, Terrence Malick's impressive debut film.

Those would have been my top four picks for the nominations with Geoffrey Unsworth for the stylish Murder on the Orient Express rounding out the list.

On the other hand, a case could certainly be made for the inclusion of Bruce Surtees for Lenny. Stepping in for his father Robert who won three Oscars out of sixteen nominations, this was the younger Surtess' only nomination in what was also a distinguished career. Having cut his teeth woring for one-take-and-print-it Don Siegel and Clint Eastwood, it must have been something of a chore for him to have to print ten takes of everything for taskmaster Bob Fosse, especially since he had to work around delays for the special stock Fosse had Kodak make to give the film the black-and-white sheen he demanded. Fosse had Surtees use so much of it, Kodak had a hard time keeping up with the demand.

The on-screen credits for The Towering Inferno give producer Irwin Allen cinematography credit along with veterans Fred Koenecamp and Joseph Biroc, but he was not given credit as one of the Oscar nominees and winners for the film. Koenecamp photographed the dramatic scenes, while Biroc and Allen shared photography on the action sequences. IMDb. lists Allen as second unit director, but doesn't give him credit for cinematography at all. He did receive a Best Picture nomination as the film's producer and won an Oscar twenty-one years earlier for the documentary, The Sea Around Us, so there's no reason to feel sorry for him.

A cinematography win for The Towering Inferno is not the worse thing that ever happened at the Oscars, especially since it was the only win for Koenecamp and Biroc in their long careers, but it is was not a good one considering what might have been.

As for Earthquake, one of the most poorly written, acted and directed films ever to be foisted on the public, that thing shouldn't have been anywhere near the Oscars. Philip H. Lathrop was also the d.p. on two of the year's other embarrassments, Airport 1975 and Mame. It was a long way down for him from his high atop the boom in the legendary long opening shot of Touch of Evil.
“Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.” - Voltaire

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