[Hm I Through the ' lens ( Now enjoying retirement, l f Christopher Challis was i l

one of the best lighting cameramen Britain

. ~ , a a .2

produced. Alan Morrison . . . . Ayoung Christopher Challis on the set of

met hlm to discuss his Saadia(1953)

anecdotes that feature some vcr‘} famous names indeed (".lly tirant. Albert Finney. Audrey Hepburn. Robert Mitchum. Yul Brynner. . . the list goes on. Challis writes in a very natural style. almost like an after-dinner raconteur. It's clear that he admires filmmakers with a sense of artistic innovation and doesn't suffer fools gladly. but even the most trying times (bad weather. incompetence. personal danger) become the source of some hilarity.

new autobiography.

All too often. the work ol a cinematographer is relegated to the sidelines of film history while glory falls on the actors or director. But think of those wonderfully lit shots of Garbo and Dietrich. glorious colour sunsets and landscapes, the quirky effects that startle the viewer. It‘s the man with his eye to the lens and the knowledge of how to transform the director‘s intentions into celluloid images who really crafts cinema into an art form. Britain has produced some of the world's best cinematographers Jack Cardiff. Freddie Francis. Nicolas Roeg. Chris Menges and Christopher Challis. to name but a few. Now retired and living in a small village in East Lothian. Challis has put 50 years of film industry memories into his autobiography. Are They Really Sn Alvjiilf’. Avoiding the buffet'y of a technical manual. the book is an engaging and entertaining series of

Beginning his career on newsreels. he quickly became one of the world‘s leading experts in colour cinematography. when Technicolor introduced their process to the UK in l937. Wings ()fT/le illurning was the first British film to be shot using this technique. and Challis knocked about in the darkroom as a trainee loader: following this. Technicolor kept him on and soon he had mastered each step of the laboratory process. After a period ill

the RAF during World War II. he


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joined Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger as second unit camera operator on A Matter QfLi/e And Den/ll. thus beginning a fruitful spell with this innovative team. Challis then

. went on to spend 40 years as a director

of photography. jealously guarding his freelance status. shooting such diverse films as Genevieve. Bun/e ()fT/Ic’ River

' I’lure. A Shot In The Dark. Arabesque

(for which he won a BAFTA). C/lirry

! ('llitlv Bang Bang, The Private Life Of Sher/rick Holmes (with Billy Wilder). ' T/ll’ Dee/2. [fri/ Under The Sun and 'Iilp

Secret. ‘Very few directors talk to their camel'amen about how they want the

1 thing to look.' he says. looking back.

"l‘he director is the storyteller. and he

f has to tell it through the medium oflllc i camera. A lot of them have no visual

sense at all or. ifthey do. they were not able to communicate it. I was very lucky that I worked a lot with Michael Powell and Emeric Pressbul'ger. and of all the films I worked on. I like 'lides ()f‘liriiiillrlil most. It was years ahead of its time. Being an opera. it was all theatrical effects. We changed backgrounds with gauzesjust like you would in the theatre and did a lot of the effects ill the camera. just like in the early days of cinema.‘

(‘hallis is a firm believer that good photography can enhance. but never save a bad film. He's also quite open about the fact that. occasionally. be had to work on lesser projects just to pay the rent. With such a range of films and filmmakers to contend with. did he have a style that was discernably his own‘.’ ‘I suppose there is an underlying principle which now would be



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considered very old fashioneth he admits. ‘I had a fairly purist approach. I like simplicity in lighting. Take a scene in a hotel. where in reality you've got lights all the way round the dining room and. if you look at somebody close to. they‘ve got shadows running in every direction. People had to look right because they demanded it. sometimes to the point of lunacy.‘ During the (IDS and into the 70s, Challis shot six films for director- producer Stanley Donen (who will be the subject of a retrospective at this year‘s Drambuie Edinburgh Film Festival). It was with Donen that Challis introduced some innovations that camcramen everywhere now take for granted. “There used to be an unwritten rule that. if you were shooting scenes with people ill a car. the camera had to be inside the ear. otherwise it would be illogical to be able to hear the dialogue. Well. I always thought that was rubbish. When we came to make Two For The Road. which was virtually all set in cars. we were going to do it with back projection screens all the way round. with lights on huge Catherine wheels which would revolve and were reflected ill the windscreen and on the faces of the actors. I said. “Why don't we try it for real‘.’". so we stuck the catnera on the front of the car. Now. of course. they've got all sorts of limpet attachments. but we had to do it with bits of wood and tape. So I suppose you could say that was a bit of pioneering work.‘ Are They Really Sn /Ilt_'/Il[ ." by ('lrrismpller (flirt/[is is published by Janus I’ll/dishing. priced £14.95.


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