Best Cinematography 1975

1927/28 through 1997

Which of the 1975 Oscar nominees for Best Cinematography was the best in its category?

Barry Lyndon (John Alcott)
18
95%
The Day of the Locust (Conrad Hall)
0
No votes
Funny Lady (James Wong Howe)
0
No votes
The Hindenburg (Robert Surtees)
0
No votes
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (Haskell Wexler, Bill Butler)
1
5%
 
Total votes: 19

The Original BJ
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Re: Best Cinematography 1975

Postby The Original BJ » Sat Aug 05, 2017 1:02 pm

This is another year where you wonder why the top-drawer candidates didn’t make more of an impression in this category. The gorgeous magical realist images of Amarcord would be my top alternate, but I agree that the casual observational style of Nashville and the rigorous technique (with a borrow from Hitchcock) of Jaws would have made solid nominees as well. The Jaws omission is particularly puzzling -- given how many terrible blockbusters were nominated in this era, you’d think such an impressive one would have been a gimme.

The Hindenburg isn’t even competent on the terms of a disaster movie. The action doesn’t even get started until the last fifteen minutes, so most of the movie amounts to nothing more than a blandly shot soap opera. And then at the moment when you’re wanting the most visual wow -- the crash itself -- the color shifts to black-and-white! (To better mix the film’s footage with actual shots from the disaster -- a dubious aesthetic choice.) A stupid nomination.

If Funny Girl felt old-fashioned in 1968, the (far worse) Funny Lady just feels ancient in the context of 1975. There are certainly some flashily lit production numbers -- James Wong Howe was enough of an artist that it looks professional enough -- but this was yet another Old Hollywood dinosaur nominee, and there are plenty of better places to honor Howe than for this last hurrah.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a solid nominee, but clearly not a winner. There are plenty of memorable images in the movie -- the opening portrait of the Oregon landscape, Nicholson’s final shot, the Chief’s escape -- and the camera throughout captures the faces and environs of the institution with plenty of variety. But it’s just simply not as beautiful a visual experience as its competition.

The Day of the Locust is a compelling but very uneven movie. But there’s no denying that the photography is dynamic. The film has a nostalgic glow to it that reminds us of Old Hollywood, but it’s a Hollywood that never was, where sun-dappled jaunts through the hills are juxtaposed against harshly lit sequences of grotesque debauchery. The plot can often be all over the place, so the energy of the camerawork is responsible for keeping a lot of the movie alive.

But, DUH. The winner is Barry Lyndon. The film's cinematography somehow manages to come off beautifully old-fashioned -- with its compositions inspired by paintings, and use of natural light -- and strikingly modern -- as the use of wide-open lenses in low light makes the film seem so much less artificial than the embalmed period look of so many Hollywood movies up to that point. This nomination was, surprisingly, John Alcott's only Academy citation, despite impressive work on several other Kubrick pictures. But if he was to be honored for one film alone, Barry Lyndon is it, as it's one of the most ravishingly beautiful pieces of photography in the history of film.

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Re: Best Cinematography 1975

Postby Big Magilla » Thu Jul 27, 2017 2:35 pm

Mister Tee wrote:I'd guess that the Wexler credit, which seems to give him primary kudos, results from something contractual. My recollection is, Wexler was gone within two weeks, and Butler was responsible for most of the film. (And if you look at the other credits Butler has before and after, it's not likely he was just there to do touch-up work.)


Per the IMDb. trivia page, director Milos Forman and star Jack Nicholson didn't speak and conveyed messages to each other through the cinematographer, though it isn't clear if it was all three cinematographers or not. In any event, the film was done in sequence except for the boat sequence, which was filmed last. Here's the breakdown:

Haskell Wexler worked 31 days on the film as cinematographer. His replacement Bill Butler worked 30 days and then had to leave to work on another project. That left the door open for William A. Fraker to come on board and work uncredited on the boat sequence.
“‎Life is a shipwreck, but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats.” - Voltaire

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Re: Best Cinematography 1975

Postby Mister Tee » Thu Jul 27, 2017 1:54 pm

Big Magilla wrote:
Mister Tee wrote:As I recall, the Wexler/Butler shared nod for Cuckoo's Nest is a bit misleading. Reports were that Milos Forman found Haskell Wexler's rigorous set-ups at odds with the improvisational style he wanted for the film, with the result being an early Wexler departure. Butler -- who had a big year, also doing full duty on Jaws -- was supposedly responsible for the great majority of the film (though, curiously, despite this nomination, IMDB has Wexler as the sole person credited).


The IMDb. credits list Bill Butler and William Fraker for additional photography under Camera and Electrical Department. Fraker was probably the second unit director.

The on-screen credits read:
Director of Photography Haskell Wexler
With Bill Butler


I'd guess that the Wexler credit, which seems to give him primary kudos, results from something contractual. My recollection is, Wexler was gone within two weeks, and Butler was responsible for most of the film. (And if you look at the other credits Butler has before and after, it's not likely he was just there to do touch-up work.)

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Re: Best Cinematography 1975

Postby Big Magilla » Thu Jul 27, 2017 4:04 am

Mister Tee wrote:As I recall, the Wexler/Butler shared nod for Cuckoo's Nest is a bit misleading. Reports were that Milos Forman found Haskell Wexler's rigorous set-ups at odds with the improvisational style he wanted for the film, with the result being an early Wexler departure. Butler -- who had a big year, also doing full duty on Jaws -- was supposedly responsible for the great majority of the film (though, curiously, despite this nomination, IMDB has Wexler as the sole person credited).


The IMDb. credits list Bill Butler and William Fraker for additional photography under Camera and Electrical Department. Fraker was probably the second unit director.

The on-screen credits read:
Director of Photography Haskell Wexler
With Bill Butler
“‎Life is a shipwreck, but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats.” - Voltaire

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Re: Best Cinematography 1975

Postby Mister Tee » Thu Jul 27, 2017 12:06 am

This begins a five-year stretch of truly fine Academy choices -- one might quibble with one or two winners, but none are indefensible, and several are to me such obvious knockouts that picking against them seems like contrarianism. This admirable streak helped to wash away the stench of the Towering Inferno win in 1974.

For substitutes, sure, Amarcord was gorgeous and deserved notice, and Dog Day Afternoon seemed to me to provide texture that gave great variety to its limited setting. And two other best picture contenders, Nashville and Jaws, were well-enough shot that they wouldn't have been ignoble nominees.

All these were preferable to The Hindenburg, yet another belch from the behemoth crowd, and a pointless nominee.

Funny Lady was a mediocre (not to mention unnecessary) movie, but it looked pretty enough, and it's hard to begrudge James Wong Howe a nomination.

As I recall, the Wexler/Butler shared nod for Cuckoo's Nest is a bit misleading. Reports were that Milos Forman found Haskell Wexler's rigorous set-ups at odds with the improvisational style he wanted for the film, with the result being an early Wexler departure. Butler -- who had a big year, also doing full duty on Jaws -- was supposedly responsible for the great majority of the film (though, curiously, despite this nomination, IMDB has Wexler as the sole person credited). The film looked fine, but wasn't in the league of the remaining two nominees.

The Day of the Locust drew exceedingly mixed reviews -- some overwhelmed by it, others thinking it a crude version of West's very-difficult-to-film novella. But few disputed it was a great-looking effort: the film could easily have been cited for art direction and costumes as well as here. It's my clear second choice.

But...come on: Barry Lyndon is here. A film so beautifully shot and lit -- full of images you'd be happy to look at in a coffee-table book -- that, at the time, you could have made a case it was the most gorgeously-shot film ever. (A strong challenger would emerge just a few years down the pike.) Among this pack of nominees, it's a no-brainer.

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Re: Best Cinematography 1975

Postby mlrg » Wed Jul 26, 2017 5:49 am

Barry Lyndon by a mile

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Best Cinematography 1975

Postby Big Magilla » Wed Jul 26, 2017 4:11 am

One of the most gorgeous films ever, Stanley Kubrick's film of Thackery's Barry Lyndon swept Oscar's major technical awards - Cinematography, Art Direction, Costume Design and Original Score with good reason. Even those who had problems with the film's screenplay, languid pace and star performance, couldn't deny the exquisite look of it. John Alton's cinematography was in a league of its own.

Haskell Wexler and Bill Butler's cinematography for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest doesn't supply too many opportunities for beautiful pictures, but the opening and closing shots are breathtaking. Beyond that, their cameras maneuver around the interiors of the hospital and the faces of the mental patients with dexterity and make good use of the film's rare outside shots. It was a good nomination.

I actually watched The Day of the Locust for the first time in years in preparation for this discussion. I remembered the virtuoso camerawork in the film's shocking climax, but was surprised to find that Conrad Hall's cinematography throughout is continuously interesting. It was another good nomination.

Funny Lady was an unnecessary sequel, but did surprisingly well at the box office and managed to pick up five Oscar nominations despite not being very good. The film was a troubled production - Streisand refused to make it until she was sued by producer Ray Stark (Fanny Brice's son-in-law). Stark fired Vilmos Zsigmond because he didn't like the way he was shooting it, called in James Wong Howe to replace him. Howe, 75 and in poor health, collapsed on the set and had to be temporarily replaced by Laszlo Kovacs, but returned and finished the film, living long enough to get his 10th Oscar nomination, but dying the following July. For his troubles, Howe earned admiration and respect, but not another Oscar nomination.

The Hindenburg was not the best of the 1970s special effects winners, but it wasn't the worst either. Robert Surtees' cinematography was, of course, highly professional, but was that enough to earn him his 13th Oscar nomination having already won three statuettes? Not in my book.

Oswald Morris, a previous winner for Oliver!, would have been my choice for his BAFTA nominated work on The Man Who Would Be King over Surtees. Either Nestor Almendros for The Story of Adele H. or given that his film was Oscar eligible this year, Giuseppe Rotunno for Amarcord, would have been my choice for the fifth slot over the sentimental gesture accorded the great Jimmy Howe for Funny Lady.
“‎Life is a shipwreck, but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats.” - Voltaire


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