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James Wong Howe ASC - google celebrates his 118th birthday
  • James Wong Howe: The pioneering Hollywood cinematographer’s five most exquisitely lit films /

    Celebrated director of photography brought his mastery of light and dark to the service of some of America's very greatest movies

    Known for his delicate use of light, Howe worked on 130 films over his long career, taking in everything from lavish costume melodramas to the murky shadows of film noir.

    imdb Biography

    His was a genuine Horatio Alger "Up From His Bootstraps" narrative, as by 1917 he had graduated from editing room assistant to working as a slate boy on Cecil B. DeMille's pictures. The promotion came when DeMille needed all his camera assistants to man multiple cameras on a film. This left no one to hold the chalkboard identifying each scene as a header as the take is shot on film, so Jimmie was drafted and given the title "fourth assistant cameraman. He endeared himself to DeMille when the director and his production crew were unable to get a canary to sing for a close-up. The fourth assistant cameraman lodged a piece of chewing gum in the bird's beak, and as it moved its beak to try to dislodge the gum, it looked like the canary was singing. DeMille promptly gave Jimmie a 50% raise.

    Because of the problem with early orthochromatic film registering blue eyes on screen, Howe was soon promoted to operating cameraman at Paramount (the new name for the Lasky Studio), where his talents were noted. A long-time photography buff, Jimmie Howe enjoyed taking still pictures and made extra money photographing the stars. One of his clients was professional "sweet young thing" Mary Miles Minter, of the William Desmond Taylor shooting scandal, who praised Jimmie's photographs because they made her pale blue eyes, which did not register well on film, look dark. When she asked him if he could replicate the effect on motion picture film, he told her he could, and she offered him a job as her cameraman.

    Perhaps the greatest honor that can be bestowed on James Wong Howe is that this master craftsman, a genius of lighting, refutes the auteur theory, which holds that the director solely is "author" of a film. No one could reasonably make that claim on any picture on which Howe was the director of photography.

    James Wong Howe, ASC – The Great Cinematographers

    In December 1945, as reported in the American Cinematographer, “Stephen Longstreet, a nationally-known novelist, editor, critic and currently a motion picture scenarist, made passing comment that ‘brilliant cameramen are the curse of the business’ in an article appearing in the August issue of the Screen Writers Guild monthly publication The Screen Writer. He generated a quick retort from James Wong Howe, ASC.

    Howe: Camera gymnastics and strange angles are not what I would call the stock of a "brilliant cameraman." A man of limitations, director or cameraman, may use these mechanics to cover his thinness of understanding. Some of the most well-known writers possess technical skill and slickness and very little else. A limited writer can do far more harm, or lack of good, than a limited cameraman, because of the power of word and thought. I believe that the best cameraman is one who recognizes the source, the story, as the basis of his work.

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  • Film Clips:

  • James Wong Howe: Cinematographer

    This film about legendary cinematographer James Wong Howe was produced by the University Film and Video Foundation in 1990.

  • Zizek on Seconds

    James Wong Howe ('Hud,' 'Seconds,' 'Body & Soul') talking about his career in Hollywood and taking questions from the audience at the 1974 San Francisco Film Festival