The visual impact of the great cinematic moments in film history remain indelibly imprinted on people’s minds. If you’ve seen the films, you can virtually close your eyes and see the scenes from your favorite movies.
Remember the numerous, inimitable, pioneering depth-of-field shots portrayed throughout “Citizen Kane”? These came courtesy of cinematographer Gregg Toland.
And the frightening scene in “In Cold Blood” where two rampaging killers are vividly shown waving around a flashlight in a cellar in complete darkness? That dramatic, artistic shot was created by this year’s American Society of Cinemtographers’ Lifetime Achievement Award-winner, Conrad Hall.
Or how about the chilling moment in “Bound for Glory” in which you felt as if you were walking with legendary folksinger Woody Guthrie through a crowd in a labor camp? That free-flowing movement was provided by the venerable Haskell Wexler, the first ASC director of photography to use a Stedicam.
All of these images — captured by members of the American Society of Cinematographers — pay tribute to motion picture photography as an interpretative art form.
But it wasn’t until seven years ago that the cinematographers responsible for creating such memorable and enduring images began acknowledging their peers for excellence behind the lens.
Thus, in 1987, the ASC held the first of its annual Awards for Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography. At that inaugural event, acting legend Gregory Peck presented Jordan Cronenweth, ASC, (“Blade Runner,””The Front Page,” etc.), with an award for his outstanding feature film work on Francis Coppola’s “Peggy Sue Got Married.”
That function at the ASC Clubhouse in Hollywood was an intimate one, drawing some 75 people, according to this year’s awards co-chairman Philip Lathrop, known for lensing such movies as “Earthquake,””The Pink Panther,””Days of Wine and Roses,””Mame” and “Lonely are the Brave.”
The second awards event attracted 200 people to the Universal Studios commissary.
“Word caught on after the second year,” says ASC president Victor Kemper, noting that the third such program drew more than 700 Hollywood luminaries, dignitaries and crafts vets to the Grand Ballroom of the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills.
Indeed, the function grew quickly from an almost private, self-congratulatory event into an international affair, with such stellar presenters as Jimmy Stewart, Ed Begley Jr., Annette Bening, James Woods, Ed Asner, Bette Midler and Daryl Hannah.
This year’s Diamond Jubilee ceremony, which takes place Feb. 27 at the Beverly Hilton, is expected to pull in more than 900 guests, from the giants of cinematography to the mainstays of virtually all of the trades and arts in world cinema.
“It’s been a major boost to our prestige and to the public’s awareness as to who we are and what we do,” says Kemper, in discussing the only awards competition for cinematographers where nominees and winners are chosen by voting among their peers.
“Many times, the cinematographer’s efforts go unnoticed,” contends awards co-chairman Bud Stone. “They deserve all the recognition they get,” adds the Deluxe Laboratories president, who has been an ASC associate member since 1977.
At this year’s ceremony, director Steven Spielberg will receive the ASC Board of Governor’s Award — an occasionally given award reserved for acknowledging special artistic achievements and professional contributions from non-cinematographers.
“Steven is a remarkable visual storyteller who has made an incomparable impact on the art form,” says Stone, noting that the award is “a symbol of appreciation for the encouragement he has given to cinematographers …”
In addition, Conrad Hall, ASC (“In Cold Blood,””Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” etc.) will receive the 1994 Lifetime Achievement Award and Great Britain’s Jack Cardiff, BSC (“Black Narcissus,””The Red Shoes,””Pandora and the Flying Dutchman,””The African Queen,” etc.) will receive the International Achievement Award. Moreover, four other cinematographers will be singled out for their outstanding work on features, episodic TV, TV movies and miniseries cinematography.
The weekend’s festivities also include a nominees’ dinner on Friday night at the ASC clubhouse, and an open house for film students on Saturday.