Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Deceased--Bruce Surtees

Bruce Surtees, right, with Clint Eastwood, during the filming of High Plains Drifter.

Bruce Surtees
July 23rd, 1937 to February 23rd, 2012

"Bruce Surtees obituary"

Oscar-nominated cinematographer who worked on Lenny, Dirty Harry and The Beguiled


Chris Wiegand

February 27th, 2012

The Guardian

The American cinematographer Bruce Surtees, who has died aged 74, became known as "the prince of darkness" for his muted and often lugubrious style of lighting. However, while Surtees was well-suited to the nocturnal street scenes of Dirty Harry (1971), the Rembrandt-esque arrangements of The Beguiled (1971) and the claustrophobic interiors of Escape from Alcatraz (1979), all directed by Don Siegel, he was also at home with the wide open spaces of the western Joe Kidd (1972) and the surfing movie Big Wednesday (1978).

His deceptively simple black-and-white scheme for Lenny (1974), Bob Fosse's semi-documentary biopic of the comedian Lenny Bruce, earned Surtees an Oscar nomination. The film's compelling stand-up sequences owe almost as much to the expert lighting of the nightclub as they do to Dustin Hoffman's performance. As Hoffman paces the stage, chased by his own shadow, the light captures wisps of cigarette smoke and almost carries the smell of bourbon.

Cinematography was the Surtees family trade. Bruce was born in Los Angeles, where his father, Robert, was starting out as a camera assistant and operator. Robert had worked regularly with the acclaimed cinematographer Hal Mohr, and chose Mohr for one of Bruce's middle names. When Bruce was a teenager, Robert hit his stride as a director of photography, winning his first Oscar for King Solomon's Mines (1950).

Bruce attended the Art Centre College of Design in Pasadena, gained experience as a technician for Disney and assisted his father on films including The Hallelujah Trail (1965). He had proved to be a reliable camera operator – memorably capturing a motorcycle chase in Coogan's Bluff (1968) – and Siegel gave him the chance to graduate to the role of cinematographer on his US civil war film The Beguiled. In his autobiography, A Siegel Film, the director remembered Surtees's response to this offer: "Bruce's face became flushed, his breathing heavy … Tears appeared in his eyes and he spoke with great difficulty." Surtees rose to the technical challenges of The Beguiled, which starred Clint Eastwood as an injured soldier recuperating in a house full of women whom he seduces.

While many mainstream cinematographers employ three or more principal sources of light in a set-up, Surtees experimented with fewer and used them at lower levels. He achieved increased depth and contrast in the process, as well as creating stronger shadows. For one sequence in The Beguiled, he relied on a solitary bulb to replicate candlelight. Siegel was thrilled: "We didn't care that it was black, that it wouldn't show up on a television screen when the studio sold the picture to some network in a couple of years. Screw them. We liked it. It was exciting."

Surtees's drab palette complemented The Beguiled's gothic tone, Louisiana locations and the montage of sepia war photographs used in its title sequence. The film was a box-office disappointment but ensured his lengthy collaboration with Siegel and Eastwood. In Dirty Harry, a deserted sports stadium was eerily lit and shrouded in mist for the scene in which Eastwood's cop confronts the serial killer Scorpio. Eastwood's directorial debut, Play Misty for Me (1971), was shot around Carmel, California, where the star later became mayor and Surtees's own family also settled. His breezy location photography – including scenes at the Monterey jazz festival – matched the star's freewheeling role as Dave, a late-night DJ, but he introduced heavier shadows as Dave is threatened by his jilted lover. The film was made for a modest cost with a small crew and Surtees's efficiency was valued by Eastwood, who has always prided himself on bringing in films on time and under budget.

For Eastwood's High Plains Drifter (1973), influenced by the star's spaghetti westerns, Surtees favoured a wide aperture to ensure as much light as possible was captured in the Eastern Sierra setting of California. In the opening and closing sequences, he achieved a spectral light as Eastwood's mysterious stranger appears and disappears amid the shimmering desert haze. Eastwood's later westerns The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) and Pale Rider (1985) were shot in autumn, with Surtees exploiting the softer light and low sun. On Escape from Alcatraz, his last film with Siegel, the minimal lighting matched the grey and blue prison uniforms. After Pale Rider, he was replaced as Eastwood's regular cinematographer by his former camera operator Jack Green.

Throughout the 70s and 80s, Surtees lit leading men such as Gene Hackman (in the noirish Night Moves), John Wayne (in his final role, in The Shootist) and Laurence Olivier (in the much-derided epic Inchon). Major actors were not always pleased with the prospect of languishing in Surtees's signature shadows, but the glossy, bright lighting he provided for Risky Business (co-photographed with Reynaldo Villalobos, 1983) and Beverly Hills Cop (1984) enhanced two of the decade's biggest box-office stars, Tom Cruise and Eddie Murphy. In his later years, Surtees could still be relied upon to give an extra polish to middling material such as The Crush (1993), Corrina, Corrina (1994) and the television film Dash and Lilly (1999), the last of which brought him an Emmy nomination.

Surtees is survived by his wife, Carol.

"Bruce Surtees, Oscar-Nominated Cinematographer, Dies at 74"


Margalit Fox

February 28th, 2012

The New York Times

Bruce Surtees, an Oscar-nominated cinematographer known as the Prince of Darkness for his skill at summoning sharply etched figures from the inky depths of prisons, nightclubs and other inhospitably lighted places, died on Thursday in Carmel, Calif. He was 74.

The cause was complications of diabetes, his wife, Carol, said.

Known in particular for his long association with Clint Eastwood, Mr. Surtees (pronounced sur-TEEZ) shot more than a dozen films in which Mr. Eastwood starred. Many of these were also directed by Mr. Eastwood, including “Play Misty for Me” (1971), his first feature as a director; “High Plains Drifter” (1973); “The Outlaw Josey Wales” (1976); and “Sudden Impact” (1983), the fourth Dirty Harry movie.

Mr. Surtees dealt in shadows. Through his nuanced, often minimal use of lighting on the set, he meticulously conjured the stark contrast of lights and darks on the screen that he and his directors often sought.

“He was fearless,” Mr. Eastwood said in a telephone interview on Tuesday. “He wasn’t afraid to give you sketchy lighting if you asked for it. He didn’t believe in flat light or just bright, ‘Rexall drugstore’ lighting, which a lot of times you can get if you get somebody that isn’t very imaginative.”

Mr. Surtees’s earliest work as a cinematographer was for the director Don Siegel, for whom he shot “Dirty Harry” (1971) and “Escape From Alcatraz” (1979), both starring Mr. Eastwood, and “The Shootist” (1976), starring John Wayne.

He had previously been a camera operator whose work included Mr. Siegel’s pictures “Coogan’s Bluff” (1968) and “Two Mules for Sister Sara” (1970) before he was named the cinematographer on “The Beguiled” (1971), a Civil War drama directed by Mr. Siegel and starring Mr. Eastwood and Geraldine Page.

Mr. Surtees earned an Academy Award nomination for his work on “Lenny” (1974), a biopic about Lenny Bruce starring Dustin Hoffman that was shot in black and white at the request of its director, Bob Fosse. In Mr. Surtees’s hands, the finished film looked like a living photograph by Weegee. (The Oscar went to Fred Koenekamp and Joseph Biroc for “The Towering Inferno.”)

Cinematography was part of Mr. Surtees’s genetic endowment. His father, Robert Surtees, was a cinematographer who won Oscars for “King Solomon’s Mines” (1950), “The Bad and the Beautiful” (1952) and “Ben-Hur” (1959). The younger Mr. Surtees, born in Los Angeles on Aug. 3, 1937, was named Bruce Mohr Powell Surtees in honor of his father’s mentor Hal Mohr, also an esteemed cinematographer.

Bruce Surtees studied at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif., and began working as a cameraman under his father.

Mr. Surtees’s first marriage, to Judy Rucker, as she is now known, ended in divorce. Besides his wife, the former Carol Buby, whom he married in 1979 in Seoul while on location for “Inchon” (1981), directed by Terence Young and starring Laurence Olivier, he is survived by a daughter from his first marriage, Suzanne Surtees; a brother, Tom; and a sister, Nancy.

His other films include “Blume in Love” (1973), directed by Paul Mazursky; “Night Moves” (1975), directed by Arthur Penn; “Leadbelly” (1976), directed by Gordon Parks; and “Beverly Hills Cop” (1984), directed by Martin Brest.

Mr. Surtees, who lived in Carmel, was also the cinematographer for “White Dog,” Samuel Fuller’s controversial film about a dog trained to attack black people. Made in 1982, it was not officially released — on DVD — until 2008 because of the studio’s fears that it was inflammatory. (The film, which stars Kristy McNichol, Paul Winfield and Burl Ives, is ardently anti-racist.)

In the 1990s and afterward Mr. Surtees shot several television movies, including “Dash and Lilly” (1999), starring Sam Shepard and Judy Davis as Dashiell Hammett and Lillian Hellman, for which he received an Emmy nomination.

Mr. Surtees brought to his work not only an impeccable eye but also something directors found just as valuable: a gift for frugal improvisation.

“He was perfect for me, because we didn’t have very big budgets in those days,” Mr. Eastwood said on Tuesday, recalling his early directorial outings. “He’d make dollies by towing a blanket across the floor with the cameraman sitting on it.”

Mr. Surtees’s jury-rigged dollies worked spectacularly well, Mr. Eastwood said, provided the floor was smooth enough.

Bruce Surtees [Wikipedia]

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