GREAT CINEMATOGRAPHERS


#1: 2011

 

   


CHRISTOPHER CHALLIS

 

Born: 18 March 1919, Kensington, London, UK, as Christopher George Joseph Challis.

Died: 31 May 2012, Bristol, UK.

Education: King's College School, Wimbledon.

Career: With an introduction to Leonard Castleton Knight [1894-1970], producer at Gaumont British News, he gained employment as an asst in the camera department. With the advent of color, he moved to Technicolor Ltd. on 'Wings of the Morning' [1936] and remained with them as the first British trainee during the building of the plant at Harmondsworth [Hillingdon, London] and the setting up of the camera department. First location picture as trainee was 'The Drum' with Osmond Borradaile in India. Became asst on all 'World Window' travelogues ph by Jack Cardiff and other prod. Joined the Royal Air Force at the outbreak of WW2 and worked as a cameraman in the Film Production Unit in North Africa, France, Holland, Germany and The Azores [1941-45]. Returned to civilian life as c.op. Joined Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's prod company 'The Archers' as doph on 'The End of the River' on location in Brazil and at Pinewood studios.

Ph commercials dir by Richard Lester, a.o.

Was a founding member [later honorary member] and president [1962-64] of the BSC. Was a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society [FRPS].

On 21 November 2011, BAFTA in London hosted a special tribute to Christopher Challis and awarded him a 'Special Award'.

Wrote the book 'Are They Really So Awful? A Cameraman's Chronicle' [1995].

His daughter Sarah is a novelist ['Killing Helen', a.o.].

Interviewee in the doc's 'The Making of an Englishman' [1995, Kevin Macdonald], 'A Profile of 'The Red Shoes'' [2000; ph: Ric Clark & Nish Patel], 'An Interview with Christopher Challis BSC' [2001, Ross Bradley; prod Media Republic] & 'Behind the Camera: Christopher Challis' [2011; dir/ph: Richard Blanshard; 52m; see below for a clip].

Awards: BAFTA Film Award nom [1963; b&w] for 'The Victors'; BAFTA Film Award nom [1965; color] for 'Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines'; BAFTA Film Award [1966; color] for 'Arabesque'; BAFTA Film Award nom [1978] for 'The Deep'; BAFTA 'Special Award' [2011].



Watch the complete [53m] documentary ['Behind the Camera: Christopher Challis' dir by Richard Blanshard]

Go to BSC Entertainment on Vimeo [opens in a new window].


Obituary: Christopher Challis joined The Royal Photographic Society in 1936, gaining his Associateship in 1945 and Fellowship in 1948. He remained a member until his death. He was a respected cinematographer and an accomplished photographer working on more than seventy feature films since the 1940s.

Challis was using a stills camera while he was still in single figures after his father gave him an early fixed lens Leica camera. He took stills on some of his early movies most notably 'The Drum' where he filmed in Chitral, India, high in the Himalayas. On 'The End of the River' he photographed then unknown tribes people deep in the Amazon jungle, after three months travel from Belém, mainly in canoes. Many of his stills photographs were published. He catalogued most of his film work on stills but as he grew as a cinematographer his stills work became less significant. He used his Leica as his preferred tool until his later years with people being his chosen subject and, unlike many of his contemporaries, he adored black and white film for both stills and moving pictures.

The London-born Challis was in his teens when he worked as a camera assistant for Gaumont British News and became an apprentice technician at the Technicolor laboratory in the 1930s. He was then taken on as a technician on early British Technicolor movies such as 'The Drum' and served as a cameraman for the RAF during the second world war.

After working as camera operator on a number of films for Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, he made his debut as director of photography on 'The End of the River' in 1947. After this he returned to work as a camera operator under Jack Cardiff on 'The Red Shoes' taking the demotion so that he could work with Cardiff on the film.

He then returned as director of photography where he was cinematographer on most of Powell and Pressburger's later films. His expertise in color cinematography made him a popular choice for British films of the 1950s, and he made a number of successful comedies. He continued actively working until the mid-1980s.

Martin Scorsese said of him: 'It is not possible even to begin to take the full measure of the greatness of British filmmaking without thinking of Chris Challis' adding 'Chris Challis brought a vibrancy to the celluloid palette that was entirely his own, and which helped make Britain a leader in that long, glorious period of classic world cinema.'

The actress Jenny Agutter recalled working on 'The Riddle of the Sands': 'Chris looked on, pipe in mouth very much the sailor at ease in his surroundings. His quiet sense of humor and the enjoyment he found in his work made filming great fun. The result on screen was always stunning'. [From article by Dr. Michael Pritchard on the website of The Royal Photographic Society.]

 

#1: In the Royal Air Force [1940s]

 

Obituary: Although the cinematographer Christopher Challis was an essential member of The Archers production company of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, he joined them as director of photography at the time of their decline. However, he worked on more of the great British writing-directing team's films than any other cinematographer. These eccentric, extravagant, intelligent and witty fantasies went against the British realist tradition, allowing more scope for a creative cinematographer such as Challis. The sensuous use of Technicolor and flamboyant sets and designs made them closer to the MGM world of Vincente Minnelli and of Stanley Donen, who used Challis on six of his films.

Perhaps Challis's finest achievement was on Powell and Pressburger's 'The Tales of Hoffmann' which, as he explained, had 'no optical effects or tricks. It was all edited in the camera with the use of gauzes, back lighting, jump and flash cuts.' All of the sound of Jacques Offenbach's opera was post-synchronized and the feature was shot like a silent film, which liberated the camera, enabling it to roam at will through the extraordinary sets [designed by Hein Heckroth].

'The Small Back Room' was the first true Powell-Pressburger film on which Challis was principal cinematographer. Again shooting in monochrome, Challis was this time able to realize his potential. This tale of an alcoholic bomb-disposal expert [David Farrar] was full of low-key expressionist and surreal touches, chiaroscuro lighting, claustrophobic interiors and a dazzling beach climax. Powell had requested 'Caligari lighting', typical of 1920s German cinema, for the celebrated sequence where Farrar imagines himself crushed by a giant whisky bottle.

'Oh... Rosalinda!!', Powell and Pressburger's fey updating of 'Die Fledermaus', was shot in a studio with Challis and art director Heckroth making extensive use of the wide horizontal frame, breaking it up with blocks of color to compensate for the lack of deep focus of CinemaScope.

Challis was used almost as much by Stanley Donen as by Powell and Pressburger during Donen's British period in the 1960s, the two best films being 'Arabesque', full of shifts of focus and disorientating camera angles as part of the mystery tale, and 'Two for the Road', lusciously capturing the south of France locations.

On Billy Wilder's 'The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes', Challis clashed with the production designer Alexandre Trauner, claiming that Trauner built his intricate sets without regard to the practicalities of film-making. He also complained that Wilder showed little interest in the visual aspects of the film, being too preoccupied with the script and the performances. Yet the film contains some striking location photography in Scotland. [From article by Ronald Bergan in The Guardian, 8 June 2012.]


 

 FILMS

1942

The Big Pack [Pat Moyna & John Shearman] b&w; doc/4 & 6 reels; cph: J.D. Hill, William B. Pollard, Alf Hicks & D. Towler; prod Royal Air Force Film Production Unit; filmed April 1942-February 1943

1944

Night Flight [Peter Baylis] b&w; doc/2 reels (22m) & 4 reels; training film prod by the Royal Air Force Film Production Unit

1945

Men of Arnhem/Theirs Is the Glory [Brian Desmond Hurst & Terence Young] b&w; dram doc/82m; cph: C.M. Pennington-Richards

1945

A Matter of Life and Death/Stairway to Heaven [Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger] b&w-c; uncred 2uc (+ 2nd c.asst & c.op); ph: Jack Cardiff

1947

The End of the River [Derek Twist] b&w; + assoc dir

1948

The Small Back Room/Hour of Glory [Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger] b&w

1949

The Elusive Pimpernel/The Fighting Pimpernel [Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger] c; spec pfx: W. Percy Day

1949

Gone to Earth [Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger] c; 106m & 110m; process ph: W. Percy Day; restored in 1985; released in the USA as 'The Wild Heart/Gypsy Blood' (1952; 82m): the film was cut from 110 minutes and several new scenes, dir by Rouben Mamoulian and ph by Challis, were added; Challis: 'Tremendous arguments about the script caused a lot of reshooting - pretty well the whole of the end sequence and additional scenes too.'

1950

The Tales of Hoffmann [Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger] c

1952

24 Hours of a Woman's Life/Affair in Monte Carlo [Victor Saville] c

1952

Angels One Five [George More O'Ferrall] b&w; cph: Stanley Grant

1952

The Story of Gilbert and Sullivan/The Great Gilbert and Sullivan [Sidney Gilliat] c; ph 'A' unit; ph 'B' unit: Edward Scaife

 

 

1952

Genevieve [Henry Cornelius] c

1953

Twice Upon a Time [Emeric Pressburger] b&w

1953

Saadia [Albert Lewin] c

1954

Flame and the Flesh [Richard Brooks] c

1954

Malaga/Fire Over Africa [Richard Sale] c

1955

The Sorcerer's Apprentice [Michael Powell] cs/c; dance short/13m

1955

Oh... Rosalinda!!/Fledermaus '55 [Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger] cs/c

1955

Raising a Riot [Wendy Toye] c

 

 

1955

Footsteps in the Fog [Arthur Lubin] c

1955

The Adventures of Quentin Durward/Quentin Durward [Richard Thorpe] cs/c; uncred cph: Desmond Dickinson; pfx: Tom Howard

1956

The Battle of the River Plate/Pursuit of the Graf Spee [Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger] vv/c

1956

The Spanish Gardener [Philip Leacock] vv/c

1956

Ill Met by Moonlight/Night Ambush [Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger] vv/b&w

1957

Miracle in Soho [Julian Amyes] c

1957

Rooney [George Pollock] b&w

1957

Windom's Way [Ronald Neame] c

1958

Floods of Fear [Charles Crichton] b&w

1958

The Captain's Table [Jack Lee] c

1959

Blind Date/Chance Meeting [Joseph Losey] b&w

1959

Sink the Bismarck! [Lewis Gilbert] cs/b&w; sfx unit ph: Skeets Kelly

1959

Surprise Package [Stanley Donen] b&w

1960

Never Let Go [John Guillermin] b&w

1960

The Grass Is Greener [Stanley Donen] tr/c

1961

Five Golden Hours/Cinque ore in contanti [Mario Zampi] b&w; cph: Fulvio Testi

1961

Flame in the Streets [Roy Ward Baker] cs/c

1962

Lawrence of Arabia [David Lean] was asked to ph the prod, but declined for personal reasons; film was ph by Freddie Young

1962

H.M.S. Defiant/Damn the Defiant! [Lewis Gilbert] cs/c

1963

An Evening with the Royal Ballet [Anthony Havelock-Allan (seg #1 & #3) & Anthony Asquith (#2 & #4] c; ballet film/85m/4 seg; ph seg #2 'Les Sylphides'; other ph: Geoffrey Unsworth

 

With dir Carl Foreman [left] - "The Victors"

 

1963

The Victors [Carl Foreman] p/b&w

1963

The Long Ships [Jack Cardiff] str70/c

1963

The Americanization of Emily/Emily [Arthur Hiller] b&w; addph; ph: Philip Lathrop

 

 

1964

A Shot in the Dark [Blake Edwards] p/c

1964

Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines or How I Flew from London to Paris in 25 Hours 11 Minutes [Ken Annakin] tao/c; 2uc: Skeets Kelly

1965

Return from the Ashes [J. Lee Thompson] p/b&w

 

 

1965

Arabesque [Stanley Donen] p/c

1966

Kaleidoscope/The Bank Breaker [Jack Smight] c

 

Albert Finney - Stanley Donen - Audrey Hepburn - CC - "Two for the Road"

Photo Thys Ockersen Archive

 

1966

Two for the Road [Stanley Donen] p/c; 2uc: Austin Dempster; aph: Guy Tabary

1967

A Dandy in Aspic [Anthony Mann & Laurence Harvey (finished film after A. Mann died)] p/c

1967

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang [Ken Hughes] sp70/c; 2uc: Skeets Kelly; aph: John Jordan

1968

Staircase [Stanley Donen] p/c

1969

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes [Billy Wilder] p/c

1971

Villain [Michael Tuchner] p/c

1971

Catch Me a Spy/To Catch a Spy/Keep Your Fingers Crossed [Dick Clement] c

1971

Mary, Queen of Scots [Charles Jarrott] p/c

1971

Follow Me!/The Public Eye [Carol Reed] p/c

1972

The Boy Who Turned Yellow [Michael Powell] c; children's film/55m

1973

The Little Prince [Stanley Donen] c; 2uc: Paul Wilson

1973

You Can't Win Them All/Survival of the Fittest [Bill Young] 16mm/c; doc/27m; sponsored by British Leyland Int.

1974

Mr. Quilp/The Old Curiosity Shop [Michael Tuchner] p/c

1974

The Culcheth Job [Bill Young] 16mm/c; doc/20m; sponsored by British Leyland Int.

1975

The Incredible Sarah/Sarah [Richard Fleischer] c

1976

White Rock [Tony Maylam] p/c; doc/76m; co-cameraman; ph: Arthur Wooster

 

[Right] with actor Eli Wallach - "The Deep"

 

1976

The Deep [Peter Yates] p/c; uwph: Al Giddings & Stan Waterman; aph: Peter Lake

1977

Force 10 from Navarone [Guy Hamilton] p/c; 2uc: Fred Cooper; vfx ph: Robin Browne

1978

The Riddle of the Sands [Tony Maylam] p/c; scenic ph: Arthur Wooster

1980

The Mirror Crack'd [Guy Hamilton] c

1981

The Nightingale [Christine Edzard & Richard Goodwin] c; anim + live action/35m (or 146m)

1981

Evil Under the Sun [Guy Hamilton] c; 2uc: Robin Browne

1983

Top Secret! [Jim Abrahams & David & Jerry Zucker] c; addph: Allen Daviau

1984

Steaming [Joseph Losey] c

 

 TELEVISION

1964

The Hollow Crown [Charles S. Dubin] 2-part special/b&w; for CBS-tv

1972

A War of Children [George Schaefer] tvm

1974

In This House of Brede [George Schaefer] tvm

1979

S.O.S. Titanic [William Hale] tvm; released theatrically outside USA

1981

The Greatest Mystery [Barry Chattington] religious special/30m; hosted by Grace Kelly

1982

The Nativity [Barry Chattington] religious special/28m; cph: Franco Di Giacomo & John Priestly; hosted by Grace Kelly

1982

The Seven Last Words [Barry Chattington] religious special/29m; hosted by Grace Kelly

1982

Secrets [Gavin Millar] tvm

 

 FILMS AS CAMERA ASSISTANT/OPERATOR

1936

Wings of the Morning [Harold D. Schuster] trainee Technicolor tech; ph: Ray Rennahan

1937

The Drum/Drums [Zoltan Korda; Geoffrey Boothby (India loc)] trainee Technicolor tech (India); Indian loc ph: Osmond Borradaile; ph: Georges Périnal

 

Dir Michael Powell [bottom/center] - Jack Cardiff [bottom/right]

Geoffrey Unsworth [behind camera] - Christopher Challis [top/right]

"A Matter of Life and Death"

 

1945

A Matter of Life and Death/Stairway to Heaven [Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger] 2nd c.asst & c.op 1st unit (after G. Unsworth left) (+ uncred 2uc); ph: Jack Cardiff

1946

The Laughing Lady [Paul L. Stein] c.asst; ph: Geoffrey Unsworth

1946

Black Narcissus [Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger] co-c.op; ph: Jack Cardiff

1947

The Red Shoes [Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger] c.op (cred as Camera); ph: Jack Cardiff