Retrospective

Since its founding in 1919, the American Society of Cinematographers has served as an integral presence within the film industry. The organization’s membership has included many of the cinematographers whose technical innovations and artistic contributions have defined what we think of as the visual language of American cinema. But the ASC has also been a vital community in which its members can exchange ideas and techniques, effectively shaping the history of cinema and its formal elements: composition, blocking, lighting, angles, camera movement, etc. On the occasion of the ASC’s centennial, the New York Film Festival pays tribute to the society with a selection of historically significant and brilliantly photographed films shot by some of its most notable members past and present.

Acknowledgments: Denis Lenoir; Department of Communication Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison; UCLA Film & Television Archive

America, America

  • Elia Kazan
  • 1963
  • USA
  • 35mm
  • 174 minutes

Cinematography by Haskell Wexler

Haskell Wexler’s sumptuous and kinetic black-and-white handheld cinematography suffuses America, America with a spontaneous energy, greatly enhancing Elia Kazan’s turn-of-the-20th-century portrayal of an immigrant’s journey to a better life.

Dave Chapelle’s Block Party

  • Michel Gondry
  • 2005
  • USA
  • 35mm
  • 103 minutes

Cinematography by Ellen Kuras

Michel Gondry’s 2005 documentary of a free daylong performance in Brooklyn hosted by comedian Dave Chapelle abounds with life, energy, and rhythm—thanks in no small part to DP Ellen Kuras’s nimble camera, which captures the all-star concert as a kaleidoscopic, reverberant event.

Days of Heaven

  • Terrence Malick
  • 1978
  • USA
  • 94 minutes

Cinematography by Néstor Almendros & Haskell Wexler

Néstor Almendros’s first Hollywood film was Terrence Malick’s anticipated follow-up to his debut, Badlands. Hired by Malick for his sure hand with natural lighting, Almendros ravishingly draws out and amplifies the inherent beauty and poetry of Malick’s 1916-set story.

Dead Man

  • Jim Jarmusch
  • 1995
  • USA
  • 129 minutes

Cinematography by Robby Müller

Jim Jarmusch’s hypnotic, parable-like, revisionist Western doubles as a barbed reflection on America’s treatment of its indigenous people and a radical twist on the myths of the American West, expressed in no small part by Robby Müller’s striking black-and-white cinematography.

The Godfather: Part II

  • Francis Ford Coppola
  • 1974
  • USA
  • 35mm
  • 212 minutes

Cinematography by Gordon Willis

Francis Ford Coppola and Gordon Willis enjoyed one of the 1970s’ most defining cinematographic partnerships, and their most astonishing collaboration was the second installment of Coppola’s adaptation of Mario Puzo’s best-selling novel, lent unsurpassed dimension and atmosphere by Willis’s masterful compositions and lighting.

The Grapes of Wrath

  • John Ford
  • 1940
  • USA
  • 129 minutes

Cinematography by Gregg Toland

Though Gregg Toland is perhaps best known for his work on such films as Citizen Kane and The Best Years of Our Lives, his camerawork in John Ford’s adaptation of John Steinbeck’s classic novel rates among the influential cinematographer’s greatest achievements.

The Hard Way

  • Vincent Sherman
  • 1943
  • USA
  • 35mm
  • 109 minutes

Cinematography by James Wong Howe

The pioneering Chinese-American cinematographer James Wong Howe shot more than 130 films during his distinguished career—perhaps none as engrossing and entertaining as Vincent Sherman’s 1943 genre-melding musical melodrama.

He Walked by Night

  • Alfred L. Werker
  • 1948
  • USA
  • 35mm
  • 79 minutes

Cinematography by John Alton

Alfred Werker’s pseudo-documentary noir, a lean, mean thriller concerning a petty thief (Richard Basehart) who kills a cop and roams Los Angeles, represents one of cinematographer John Alton’s crowning achievements, an endless, anxious maze of urban shadows.

Leave Her to Heaven

  • John M. Stahl
  • 1945
  • USA
  • 110 minutes

Cinematography by Leon Shamroy

Leon Shamroy’s Oscar-winning work on Leave Her to Heaven marks a historically inspired attempt at a kind-of squaring of the circle: shooting a gripping noir—with Gene Tierney as a murderously selfish femme fatale—in vibrantly beautiful Technicolor.

McCabe & Mrs. Miller

  • Robert Altman
  • 1971
  • USA
  • 121 minutes

Cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond

Robert Altman’s revisionist western, with Warren Beatty as fur-clad gambler John McCabe, who blows into a snowy town in Washington and sets up a brothel, is defined by Vilmos Zsigmond’s fleet camerawork, which masterfully captures Altman’s characters amid snow-covered landscapes and in candlelit back rooms.

The Passion of Anna

  • Ingmar Bergman
  • 1969
  • USA
  • 100 minutes
  • Subtitled

Cinematography by Sven Nykvist

Filmed by Sven Nykvist on Fårö, Ingmar Bergman’s bleak island home, The Passion of Anna is the case history of a contemporary Everyman, one Andreas Winkelmann (Max von Sydow), a lost soul ricocheting emotionally among a trio of equally damaged folk.

Soldier Girls

  • Nick Broomfield, Joan Churchill
  • 1981
  • USA/UK
  • 87 minutes

Cinematography by Joan Churchill

Following a platoon of female cadets through basic training at Georgia’s Fort Gordon, Nick Broomfield and Joan Churchill’s 1981 documentary endures as a comical and often critical look at the military industrial complex. Churchill’s dual role as cinematographer and director intensifies her already complicated relationship to the subject.

Street Angel

  • Frank Borzage
  • 1928
  • USA
  • 102 minutes

Cinematography by Ernest Palmer and Paul Ivano

Brilliantly shot by Ernest Palmer and Paul Ivano, Street Angel has endured as one of Borzage’s most transporting and affecting weepies, about a young woman (Janet Gaynor in an Oscar-winning role) forced into a life of crime by her ailing mother’s escalating medical costs.