Sunday’s Academy Awards marked an historical moment in the annals of cinematography. With his win for “Birdman,” Emmanuel Lubezki became just the fifth cinematographer ever in Hollywood history to win back-to-back Oscars (he took home the statuette last year for “Gravity”). Lubezki’s impressive and deservingly Oscar-winning “single-take” illusion will surely be much discussed over the coming weeks, but let’s take a moment now to turn back the pages of the history books and revisit one of the late, great cinematographers — John Alcott.
Alcott passed away nearly 30 years ago, but he remains, in memory, one of the best cinematographers of his time. Though he has multiple additional credits to his name, he is best known for his four collaborations with Stanley Kubrick. The two men first worked together on “2001: A Space Odyssey”; their partnership then continued over Kubrick’s next three films, “A Clockwork Orange,” “Barry Lyndon,” and “The Shining.”
Thanks to YouTuber J Willoughby, we have access to a nearly half-hour-long documentary on the incredible Alcott. “Six Kinds Of Light (Masters Of Cinematography)” originally aired on PBS in 1986 (the year of Alcott’s death) and turned its attention on a half dozen cinematographers then working in the industry. The half hour dedicated to Alcott offers incredible insight into how detail-oriented, professional, and attentive he was. He was known for taking extensive time to study the ways light fell into different rooms on set, a fastidiousness which resulted in the appearance of natural light in every shot he oversaw. This dedication to his craft earned Alcott an Oscar in 1976 for his work on “Barry Lyndon.”
In the documentary, Alcott reminisces about how he was promoted to lighting cameraman during production on ‘2001’ when Geoffrey Unsworth became unable to see the film through to completion. More interesting perhaps, though, are the sections of the video in which Alcott analyzes natural, meteorological lighting effects (at 14:08, for example). Listening to him speak, it’s evident how keen an eye he had for light and achieving as realistic and gorgeous a look as possible. Alcott’s peers, including cast and crew members, are also captured in the doc, talking about Alcott’s professionalism and what it was like to work with him on a daily basis. According to them, he was quiet and soft-spoken, a very kind-hearted man. It is doubtlessly due in part to these characteristics — in addition to his technical abilities — that the British Society of Cinematographers created the BSC John Alcott ARRI Award in his honor after he passed.
Watch the entire documentary below. [via Cinephilia & Beyond]