Douglas Slocombe

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22 Nov 1988
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Interview notes

BEHP 0068 S Douglas Slocombe Summary

[extracted from logsheet]



Side 1: Born in London 1913, went to St Pauls Primary school. At age 12 went to Paris (father Paris correspondent for Daily Herald newspaper) – educated in French schools, whilst at school ran the film club; was interested in photography and journalism, tried to get a job in France – met Korda – then tried to get into the Bush training school, no luck so went to Fleet Street where he joined British United Press as a “sub” responsible for French news. Also wrote the BUP Paris Newsletter for an extra 25 shillings a week. There is a most amusing story of him meeting James Robertson Justice. After 3 years he gave in his notice and started freelancing as a photographer and journalist. Picture Post, Lilliput, Illustrated etc,. took his pictures – also worked as an advert photographer. Saw headline “Danzig Danger Point of Europe”, so he went with his Leica and typewriter and saw the Nazi machine at work; came back after 3 weeks. Picture Post and Illustrated used his photos, and he received a call from Herbert Kline who wanted him to go back to Danzig with a 35mm [Bell & Howell} Eyemo [camera]. In Danzig he photographed the burning of a synagogue, and then Goebbels addressing a Nazi meeting. Got his film out via the Polish diplomatic bag. Returned to UK, then went out again with Kline to Warsaw – bombed out – to Latvia, then to Sweden. Lord Vansittart suggested he join the Ministry of Information as a cameraman. Cavalcanti wanted his material for his films from Ealing – became war correspondent.

Side 2: Filmed in the Maginot Line – then to Holland; bombed; returned; then with Atlantic convoys for three years. At Ealing he filmed Painted Boats, For Those in Peril; also second unit cameraman for Thorold Dickinson’s Next of Kin. Back at Ealing he worked on Dead of Night, using a Mitchell camera for the first time. One and only film as cameraman was Cavalcanti’s Champagne Charlie, lighting cameraman Willie Copper. Amusing story here. The there is some technical talk about cameras, meters etc, and colour.

Side 3: talking about the use of zoom lenses. After filming Saraband for Dead Lovers he did Kind Hearts and Coronets, Man in the White Suit, Lavender Hill Mob, Hue and Cry. Talks about the wonderful spirit at Ealing, all being in one family. After the sale of Ealing he went with Balcon to MGM, but the feeling wasn’t so good. He talks about Balcon, about Cavalcanti. Would he like to direct? He wonders if he would be happy. He talks about cameramen who became directors. After leaving Ealing(MGM) he went to Germany to film {The Mad King of Bavaria {Ludwig II: Glanz und ende eines konigs]– he talks about working on Huston’s Freud. Huston was “the perfect actor at all times” could be lazy, always had to have a whipping boy.  Various experiences meeting Jack Hawkins etc.

Side 4: The Mark, The Boy Who Stole a Million, The Young Ones (a musical), The L Shaped Room. He talks about Bryan Forbes “a literate man”. The about Joe Losey filming The Servant in black and white and got a BFTA award for that. 1964, 20th Century Fox offered him a 3-year contract, amongst his films: High Wind in Jamaica. Talks about Sandy [Alexander] McKendrick, about smallness of budgets, Dance of The Vampires – he says that Polanski is a brilliant and inventive director, who would improvise the script on the spot. He then talks about shooting The Blue Max, when he is hit by an aeroplane (interesting story). Talks about The Lion in Winter with Peter O’Toole and Katherine Hepburn. Ken Russell’s Music Lovers is amusing about Russell.

Side 5: talks about Glenda Jackson and Katherine Hepburn, and then about the filming of Murphy’s War – an amusing story here – Went on recce with George Cukor, K Hepburn for locations on Travels With My Aunt, but Maggie Smith replaced Hepburn. His first US Oscar nomination. Worked with Norman Jewison on Jesus Christ, Superstar, his first American musical, taking over from someone else, a thing he never liked to do. Interesting talk about Jackie Clayton’s The Great Gatsby, another BFTA award. Amusing story about The Maids (Genet) directed by Christopher Miles. Love Among the Ruins. George Cukor with Katherine Hepburn and Larry Olivier; Rollerball, Norman Jewison the problems of huge sets with not many lights.

Side 6: Enjoyed working with Vanessa Redgrave and Jane Fonda on Julia directed by Fred Zinnemann, got a BFTA award and an Oscar nomination. Talks about making of Caravans in Iran with the equipment bought brand new by the Shah, then talks about working with Spielberg.

[End of notes]

[Editing by David Sharp].



b.London1913    d. London   2016



Shot newsreels and propaganda films during WW2 then to Ealing Studios. Constantly employed on major films until mid 1980s.

London-born Douglas Slocombe has long been regarded as one of the film industry's premiere cinematographers, but he began his career as a photojournalist for Life magazine and the Paris-Match newspaper before World War II. During the war he became a newsreel cameraman, and at war's end he went to work for Ealing Studios as a camera operator, making his debut as a full-fledged cinematographer on Ealing's Dead of Night (1945). Slocombe is credited with giving Ealing's films the unique, realistic look it was famous for. He left Ealing and went freelance, not wanting to be tied down to a single studio, and divided his time between England and America. He won the BAFTA--the British equivalent of the Oscar--three times, for The Servant (1963), The Great Gatsby (1974) and Julia (1977). A favorite of director Steven Spielberg, he was noted for never having used a light meter while shooting Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), an almost indispensable tool for most cinematographers.

- IMDb Mini Biography