Robert Surtees (cinematographer)

Last updated
Robert Surtees
RobertSurteesImage.jpg
Born(1906-08-09)August 9, 1906
DiedJanuary 5, 1985(1985-01-05) (aged 78)
Occupation Cinematographer
Years active1931–1978
Known for The Bad and the Beautiful
Ben-Hur
The Graduate
King Solomon's Mines
The Last Picture Show
Oklahoma!
Same Time, Next Year
The Sting
Summer of '42
Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo
The Turning Point
Quo Vadis
Spouse(s)Maydell Surtees
Children4

Robert L. Surtees, A.S.C. (August 9, 1906 – January 5, 1985) was an American cinematographer who won three Academy Awards for the films King Solomon's Mines , The Bad and the Beautiful and the 1959 version of Ben Hur . Surtees worked at various studios, including Universal, UFA, Warner Brothers, and MGM, lighting for notable directors Howard Hawks, Mike Nichols, and William Wyler, gaining him a reputation as one of the most versatile cinematographers of his time.

Contents

Early life and education

Robert L. Surtees was born in Covington, Kentucky, on September 8, 1906. He grew up in Ohio where he got a job as a photographer and retoucher at a portrait studio in Cincinnati. Surtees then moved to New York City for a year to study photography, but always had a goal of becoming a cinematographer. [1]

Career

With an intention to attend college, Surtees moved to California in 1925. Roy C. Hunter at Universal offered him a job after some of his work was published in Towing Topics Automotive Club magazine. He assisted Harry Neumann, ASC, on a Hoot Gibson Western Hey, Hey Cowboy in 1925, Jerry Ash, ASC, on the Andy Gump comedies also in 1925, and Jackson Rose, ASC, on the Reginald Denny Leather Pushers series in 1926. The Man Who Laughs (1928), photographed by Gil Warrenton, ASC was Surtees' first high budget picture as an assistant. [1]

From 1928 to 1929 Surtees worked for Universal and UFA as an assistant to Charles Stumar in France, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy. [1] Some sources say that he assisted Gregg Toland and Joseph Ruttenburg in the latter years of the 1920s before going abroad and this is what kick-started his career. [2] In 1930 Surtees returned to California and assisted Hal Mohr, ASC, on King of Jazz. He went on to shoot 36 pictures with Mohr at Universal, Warner Brothers, Pathé and Fox Studios over a period of 6 years from 1930 to 1936. In 1935, Surtees applied to be a member of the ASC as a camera operator just after completing 13 weeks as an operator at Warner Brother's Studios on the film A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935).

Surtees' first film as a director of photography was This Precious Freedom (1942), a propaganda film made for the US army, which was only released to the military. [3]

He shot a few more pictures with various directors such as Frank Buck and Ed Sutherland on Jacquerai in September 1942, and Les Goodwins on Ice Capades in October 1942. On October 20, 1942, Surtees submitted another application to ASC as a director of photography while employed at Freelance Independent Producers.

Shortly after this Surtees landed a job at MGM where he began his long tenure and produced his most notable work beginning with Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo , shot alongside Harold Rosson, ASC and nominated for an Oscar in the category of Black and White Cinematography in 1944. Robert Surtees went on to film nearly 100 motion pictures in his 48-year career, including King Solomon's Mines (1950), The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), and Ben Hur (1959), which each won an Oscar. [4] Not to mention his 13 other films that also received nomination for Best Cinematography, including The Graduate (1967), The Last Picture Show (1971), and The Sting (1973).

Legacy

Surtees was a sought-after cinematographer because of his versatility -— "I have liked doing all kinds of pictures—musical, comedies, and action-adventure". [3] He also gained a reputation for being a stickler for precise color control and proper exposure of the negative, arranging his lighting and camera angles so he could provide the lab with the best negative he could make.

Surtees enjoyed experimenting with lighting, and always found ways to properly light a scene, even without all the necessary equipment; for instance, on King Solomon's Mines (1950), when generators could not be transported throughout the dense African jungle, Surtees lit the whole film with reflectors.

He also played a role with regards to technological innovations, being one of the first to use a telephoto lens (500mm) in The Graduate (1967).

Personal life

He married his wife Maydell before moving to California in the mid-1920s and had two daughters Linda Lowers and Nancy Corby, as well as two sons, Thomas and Bruce. [1] Bruce Surtees was also a director of photography, working alongside his father on Lost Horizon (1973), as a first cameraman on a second camera unit.

Robert Surtees died on January 5, 1985, following a long illness.

Filmography

Academy Awards and nominations

Robert L. Surtees Best Cinematography [5]

Further reading

Related Research Articles

Cinematographer Chief over the camera and lighting crews working on a film

A cinematographer or director of photography is the chief over the camera and light crews working on a film, television production or other live action piece and is responsible for making artistic and technical decisions related to the image. The study and practice of this field is referred to as cinematography.

<i>Quo Vadis</i> (1951 film) 1951 American film by Mervyn LeRoy

Quo Vadis is a 1951 American epic historical drama film made by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) in Technicolor. It was directed by Mervyn LeRoy and produced by Sam Zimbalist, from a screenplay by John Lee Mahin, S.N. Behrman, and Sonya Levien, adapted from the novel Quo Vadis (1896) by the Polish Nobel Laureate author Henryk Sienkiewicz. The score is by Miklós Rózsa and the cinematography by Robert Surtees and William V. Skall. The title refers to an incident in the apocryphal Acts of Peter.

American Society of Cinematographers

The American Society of Cinematographers (ASC), founded in Hollywood in 1919, is a cultural, educational, and professional organization that is neither a labor union nor a guild. The society was organized to advance the science and art of cinematography and gather a wide range of cinematographers to discuss techniques and ideas and to advocate for motion pictures as a type of art form. Currently, the president of the ASC is Stephen Lighthill.

Roy Henry Wagner III, ASC is an American cinematographer known for dramatic, dark imagery. Named by Kodak as one of the "Top 100 Directors of Photography in the World" Wagner's career has spanned 35 years in the motion picture and television industries. He has also received the ASC Award for Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography for a Miniseries, and is a two-time Primetime Emmy Award nominee.

Philip H. Lathrop

Philip H. Lathrop, A.S.C. was an American cinematographer noted for his skills with wide screen technology and detailed approach to lighting and camera placement. He spent most of his life in movie studios. Lathrop was known for such films as Touch of Evil (1958), Lonely Are the Brave (1962), The Americanization of Emily (1964), The Cincinnati Kid (1965), Point Blank (1967), Finian's Rainbow (1968), The Traveling Executioner (1970), Portnoy's Complaint (1972), Earthquake (1974), Swashbuckler (1976), The Driver (1978), Moment by Moment (1978), A Change of Seasons (1980), Foolin' Around (1980), Loving Couples (1980), and Deadly Friend (1986).

Freddie Young British cinematographer (1902-1998)

Frederick A. YoungOBE, BSC was a British cinematographer. He is probably best known for his work on David Lean's films Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Doctor Zhivago (1965) and Ryan's Daughter (1970), all three of which won him Academy Awards for Best Cinematography. He was often credited as F. A. Young.

Joseph Francis Biroc, ASC was an American cinematographer. He was born in New York City and began working in films at the Paragon Studios in Fort Lee, New Jersey. After working there for approximately six years, he moved to Los Angeles. Once in Southern California, Biroc worked at the RKO Pictures movie studio. During World War II, he served in the U.S. Army Signal Corps, and filmed the Liberation of Paris in August 1944. In 1950, Biroc left RKO Pictures and freelanced on projects at various studios. In addition to his film work, which included It's a Wonderful Life (1946) and The Flight of the Phoenix (1965), Biroc worked on various television series, including the Adventures of Superman and Wonder Woman. He frequently collaborated with film director Robert Aldrich.

William Ashman Fraker, A.S.C., B.S.C. was an American cinematographer, film director and producer. He was nominated five times for the Academy Award for Best Cinematography. In 2000, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) honoring his career. Fraker graduated from the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts in 1950.

Frederick James Koenekamp, A.S.C. was an American cinematographer. He was the son of cinematographer Hans F. Koenekamp.

Ralph E. Winters Canadian film editor

Ralph E. Winters was a Canadian-born film editor who became one of the leading figures of this field in the American industry.

Owen Roizman is an American cinematographer. He has received five Academy Award nominations for Best Cinematography, for the films The French Connection (1971), The Exorcist (1973), Network (1976), Tootsie (1982), and Wyatt Earp (1994). He served on the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and was president of the American Society of Cinematographers.

Sam Zimbalist was a Ukrainian born American film producer and film editor.

Stephen Henry Burum, A.S.C. is an American cinematographer.

Bruce Mohr Powell Surtees was an American cinematographer, the son of Maydell and cinematographer Robert L. Surtees. He is best known for his extensive work on Clint Eastwood's films, mostly westerns of the 1970s and early 1980s. His cinematography was compared to that of the Dollars trilogy of Sergio Leone.

Oswald Norman Morris, BSC was a British cinematographer. Known to his colleagues by the nicknames "Os" or "Ossie", Morris's career in cinematography spanned six decades.

John Newton Green, ASC, is an American cinematographer and film director best known for his Oscar-nominated collaborations with actor/director Clint Eastwood, taking over from Eastwood's previous collaborator Bruce Surtees.

Alfredo Donelli was a leading Italian cinematographer who worked on a number of silent films including the largely abandoned Italian-shot scenes of MGM's blockbuster Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925). For Italian studios he worked on big-budget epics such as Quo Vadis (1924) and The Last Days of Pompeii (1926).

Harry Stradling Jr. was a two-time Oscar-nominated American cinematographer and the son of cinematographer Harry Stradling.

Edward Colman was an American cinematographer who worked on many Walt Disney films during the 1960s. He was nominated for two Academy Awards.

References

  1. 1 2 3 4 "Robert Surtees Obituary." American Cinematographer (March 1985): 101. Print.
  2. "Robert Surtees." International Photographer V. 37 no.5 (May 1965): 14-15. Print
  3. 1 2 "Robert Surtees: Same Time Next Year." American Cinematographer (May 1979): 468, 522-524. Print
  4. "Creators of the Dream Machine." American Cinematographer (August 1986): 34A. Print.
  5. "Awards for Robert Surtees". IMDb.