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Douglas Slocombe (10 February 1913 – 22 February 2016)

Douglas Slocombe

When looking back over a career that spanned five decades, it’s clear that Douglas Slocombe was a very talented cinematographer whose range and versatility came to be appreciated by many. And there were different stages to his career, stages that meant new challenges, new associations and inevitably, greater heights. He began, as so many of his generation did, as a photojournalist working for Life magazine and Paris-Match (he even filmed a speech given in Berlin by Josef Goebbels just before the invasion of Poland). During World War II he was a newsreel cameraman, and while he worked (mostly uncredited) on a handful of movies and documentaries, it wasn’t until 1945 when he shot Ealing’s Dead of Night that his future in the industry was secured. Slocombe’s realistic visual style suited Ealing perfectly, and he went on to shoot some of their most memorable and iconic releases.

In the late Fifties and early Sixties he worked on a succession of British dramas that were praised for the natural approach of their narratives, the performances, and their photography. Slocombe also proved adept at moving from black and white to colour, and showed he had a mastery of both mediums. If some of the movies he made during the Sixties and early Seventies weren’t always as successful as their makers had hoped, there was always Slocombe’s work to commend them, and his reputation remained untarnished; he was unable to shoot a movie badly or with less than his usual attention to detail and his strong sense of how a scene should be lit.

As his career moved into its final decade, Slocombe worked on a movie that proved his confidence and talent behind the camera was as assured as it ever was, and he became famous for never using a light meter during the shoot. The movie was a relatively small-scale adventure yarn called Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981); when it came time to make the second and third movies in the series, there was no one else considered for the role of DoP, and fittingly, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) was Slocombe’s last movie. He was nominated for three Oscars during his career, and a number of BAFTAs (some of which he did at least win), but Slocombe was really one of those cinematographers whose work told you all you needed to know; any awards were merely an acknowledgment of what was already apparent: that he was an artist with an instinctive grasp of light and shade and colour and depth, and he was one of a kind.

Dead of Night

1 – Dead of Night (1945)

2 – Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)

3 – The Titfield Thunderbolt (1953)

4 – The Servant (1963)

The Servant

5 – The Lion in Winter (1968)

6 – The Italian Job (1969)

7 – Travels With My Aunt (1972)

Travels With My Aunt

8 – Jesus Christ Superstar (1973)

9 – Julia (1977)

10 – Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Raiders of the Lost Ark