"Road to Perdition" [2001]

1990

               

CONRAD L. HALL

Born: 21 June 1926, Papeete, Tahiti, as Conrad Lafcadio Hall, son of 'Mutiny on the Bounty' co-author James Norman Hall [1887-1951].

Died: 4 January 2003, Santa Monica, Calif., USA.

Education: Cinema Department of the University of Southern California [USC] [graduated in 1949].

Career: Formed Canyon Films with his USC classmates Marvin R. Weinstein and Jack C. Couffer. They prod 'Sea Theme' [1949], a USC class project, which was cut down to 15 minutes and sold to tv. The film won the First Prize in the USC amateur filmmaker contest. Won the ASC Student Scholarship in 1950. In 1956 Canyon Films produced the feature film 'My Brother Down There/Running Target', which was ph and co-written by Hall. Canyon Films was dissolved in 1957. Co-operated with doph Richard Moore [also a student of USC] in Arriflex Imports. [Moore: 'We didn't sell a single camera. The heads of the studio camera departments thought they were too noisy, and couldn't conceive of using a handheld camera.'] Joined the International Photographers Guild and became c.asst and c.op. Became doph for producer-director Leslie Stevens on the tv-series 'Stoney Burke' - working with ph Ted McCord on 'Private Property', Hall got to know writer-director Leslie Stevens, who went on to do the television series 'Stoney Burke'. McCord didn't want to do episodic television, even though it was shot on film, but ABC-tv wouldn't go for camera operator Hall. For Hall's sake, McCord agreed to do the first six episodes while Hall did 2u photography, which gained him first cameraman status and ABC's respect. After six shows, Hall would become the main man. Unfortunately, McCord became ill on the fifth episode, although it ultimately benefited Hall - and 'The Outer Limits'. In the mid-1970s he formed, together with doph Haskell Wexler, Wexler-Hall Inc. for the production of commercials, which were often dir by CH. He didn't ph feature films for almost 11 years [1975-86].

Was member of the ASC since 1967.

Was married to actress Katharine Ross [1969-75].

Was honored with the 2,224th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on 28 April 2003. His son Conrad W. Hall is a doph.

Appeared in the doc's 'The Making of "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"' [1970, Robert L. Crawford; ph: Ronald Priessman], 'Visions of Light: The Art of Cinematography' [1991], 'American Beauty: Look Closer...' [2000, Barbara Toennies] & 'The Making of "Road to Perdition"' [2002, Danny Miller; ph: Sovonto Green].

Awards: 'Oscar' AA nom [1965; b&w] for 'Morituri'; 'Oscar' AA nom [1966; color] for 'The Professionals'; 'Oscar' AA nom [1967] for 'In Cold Blood'; 'Oscar' AA [1969] & BAFTA Film Award [1971] for 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid'; 'Oscar' AA nom [1975] for 'The Day of the Locust'; BSC Award nom [1976] for 'Marathon Man'; ASC Award [1989] & 'Oscar' AA nom [1989] for 'Tequila Sunrise'; ASC Award [1994], Camerimage 'Bronze Frog' Award [1994] & 'Oscar' AA nom [1994] for 'Searching for Bobby Fischer'; ASC Lifetime Achievement Award [1994]; Camerimage Lifetime Achievement Award [1995]; ASC Award nom [1995] for 'Love Affair'; 'Oscar' AA nom [1999] for 'A Civil Action'; 'Oscar' AA Award [2000], BAFTA Film Award [2000], ASC Award [2000] & BSC Award [2000] for 'American Beauty'; National Board of Review, USA, 'Career Achievement Award' [2002]; Camerimage 'Golden Frog' Award [2002], 'Oscar' AA [2003], ASC Award [2003] & BAFTA Film Award [2003] for 'Road to Perdition'.



Obituary: The period from the late 1960s to the mid-1970s was a particularly rich time for American cinematographers, who were called upon to help a new generation of directors explore different ways of visualizing film genres. Among the most prestigious who emerged during that era was Conrad Hall, who has died aged 76.

"Cinematography is just the language of storytelling; it's not academics, it's not literature, it's just pictures," he once explained. "Of course, it's a very complex language. The piano has only 88 keys, but just think about what they can do. Likewise, the few things that cinematographers have to work with can create nuances in the story that are infinite and just as complex as music."

Hall was once asked how he knew where to point his camera. "I point it at the story," he replied. "I'm not trying to characterize the people in the film; the actors do that. I'm trying to frame them in an appropriate emotional context for the scenes."

Hall, who was named after the writer Joseph Conrad, saw himself as a storyteller, perhaps not surprising for the son of James Norman Hall, the author of 'Mutiny on the Bounty' and 'The Hurricane'. "I found that I could be a storyteller like my father, but by using visuals."

Born in Tahiti, where his father was researching his book, Hall went to live with relatives in San Diego at the age of eight after his father decided he needed a good American education. Many years later, he settled on the family estate on Tahiti. After studying journalism at the University of Southern California, he took a film course. As assistant and camera operator, he worked steadily from the mid-1950s on US television shows.

He first worked with Paul Newman on 'Harper' and 'Cool Hand Luke', and Newman was so impressed that he asked for Hall on 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid'. Katharine Ross, the film's female star, became Hall's wife.

After two films for John Schlesinger, Hall retired from big-screen work for 11 years, before working on Bob Rafelson's thriller, 'Black Widow'. In the interim, he ran a commercial production house with fellow cinematographer Haskell Wexler, and began planning to adapt and direct 'The Wild Palms', from the William Faulkner novel, the rights of which he owned. He was still trying to get the project off the ground at the time of his death. [Ronald Bergan in The Guardian, January 10, 2003.]

Obituary: 'One of the great cinematographers and a master of light.' The director of 'American Beauty', Sam Mendes, was extravagant in his praise of Conrad Hall's work and the contribution he made to the success of the film, Mendes's first. Hall photographed the second film directed by Mendes, the period gangster movie 'Road to Perdition', produced by Richard Zanuck, who said, "With 'Road to Perdition', you could virtually take every frame of his work and blow it up and hang it over your fireplace. It was like Rembrandt at work."

Hall attended the University of Southern California with the intention of taking up journalism, but, after showing little aptitude in creative writing classes, he looked for another subject. Last year he told The Los Angeles Times that he did so by flipping through the university's course catalogue: "It started with A for astronomy, B for biology and C for cinema. I thought, 'Cinema? You mean like movies? Rubbing shoulders with stars? Making all that money?' For all the wrong reasons, I signed up, and then had a love affair with the visual language and learned to tell stories like my dad." One of Hall's teachers at USC was the Yugoslavian montage expert Slavko Vorkapich.

One of the first major films on which Hall received sole credit was 'Morituri'. Directed by Bernhard Wicki, a German director working for the first time in Hollywood, the black-and-white film was poorly received, with only the cast and Hall's strikingly vivid camerawork winning praise. Another black-and-white film lauded for Hall's photography was Richard Brooks's true crime story 'In Cold Blood'. "I started off my career in a sort of naturalistic style, as opposed to an operatic style," said Hall, "and I've refined that over the years to fit the stories."

Hall preferred to work in black-and-white, but by the mid-Sixties most of Hollywood's films were being made in color, and Hall's work on 'Harper', 'The Professionals' and 'Cool Hand Luke' displayed his mastery of the form. Disliking the artificial style of Hollywood lighting, he favored a naturalistic or impressionist approach.

Able to be selective in his assignments, he liked to work on projects about "moral and ethical dilemmas". "I look for stories about humanity," he said, "about choices a person has to make. I don't like thrillers. They're not made about the human condition. They exist to torture you."

Hall was to receive nine Oscar nominations during his 50-year career [and may well receive another for 'Road to Perdition']. He won his second award for his surreal evocation of the world of a dysfunctional family in 'American Beauty'. "This was Sam Mendes's first film," he said, "but it never felt like his first film. He's actually a kind of control freak. I mean that in a good way. It's one thing to be directing. It's another to be directing and to have a vision and communicate that. Sam has vision. I helped contribute to that vision and to that wonderful screenplay." The dream-like shot of cascading rose petals featured in the film has already become an iconic image of Nineties cinema, but Hall confessed to some initial trepidation with the project. "I kept asking Sam, 'How are we going to light these people? They're all so unlikeable.'"

"Every film that he worked on was something beautiful to the eye, and very imaginative," said [producer Richard] Zanuck. "Connie was not known for his speed, but neither was Rembrandt. He was known for incredible genius." [Tom Vallance in The Independent, January 9, 2003.]



 FILMS

1949

Sea Theme [Conrad L. Hall, Jack Couffer & Marvin Weinstein] b&w; doc/15m; + co-scrpl/co-ed

1951

Nature's Half Acre [James Algar] c; doc/32m; cph: Murl Deusing, Elma & Alfred Milotte, a.o.; time-lapse ph: John Nash Ott Jr.; ep #3 of Walt Disney's 'True-Life Adventures'

1953

The Living Desert [James Algar] 16mm-35bu/c; doc/73m; uncred co-addph; ph: N. Paul Kenworthy Jr. & Robert H. Crandall

1953

Man Crazy [Irving Lerner] b&w; uncred addph; ph: ?

1956

My Brother Down There/Running Target [Marvin Weinstein] c; ph the film but was cred as visual cons; cred ph: Lester Shorr

1956

Edge of Fury [Irving Lerner & Robert Gurney Jr.] b&w; cph: Jack Couffer & Marvin Weinstein

1959

Islands of the Sea [Ben Sharpsteen] 16mm-35bu/c; doc/?m; uncred addph; ph: ?

1963

Incubus [Leslie Stevens] b&w; first film in Esperanto

1964

Fargo/Wild Seed [Brian G. Hutton] b&w

1964

Morituri/The Saboteur: Code Name 'Morituri' [Bernhard Wicki] cs/b&w

1965

Harper/The Moving Target [Jack Smight] c

With dir Richard Brooks [right] - "The Professionals"

1965

The Professionals [Richard Brooks] p/c; 'I saw a lot of things I did that were offensive to me when I viewed it again. But I like it; it's not a badly photographed picture, I don't think. There are certain things though that I had a hard time dispensing with: things that came from my black-and-white days. For example liners - you have to use them very, very carefully otherwise they create unreal light... A liner is a light that comes from a reflecting angle. This highlight on my cheek right now is a liner from that window. You would use this in black-and-white in order to help separate the background from the foreground. It's a technique you don't have to use in color because color will separate itself. It's also valid to use it in color; however, you can overuse it in color.'*

1966

Divorce, American Style [Bud Yorkin] c

1966

Cool Hand Luke [Stuart Rosenberg] p/c

[Right] with Richard Brooks [c] - "In Cold Blood"

1967

In Cold Blood [Richard Brooks] p/b&w

'When you come into a darkened room, there is still some visibility there. Even with the blinds closed, you still have light seeping in from outside. So, first of all, in lighting that sort of thing, you create the visibility. You have to do that quite precisely with certain kinds of lights hidden around the room. After you've set up the amount of visibility you want, you bring the flashlight into the room and it produces a different visibility. When it produces that different visibility, it's not just where it shines that produces the visibility. When it passes across a fireplace, it's white and suddenly the illumination blooms back at you. And that bloom is occurring out of the frame but it's still having an effect on the frame. The lighting is changing every second depending on where that flashlight beam is hitting.'*

1967

Rogues' Gallery [Leonard Horn] ts/c

CH - Lee Marvin - John Boorman - ToshirĂ´ Mifune

"Hell in the Pacific"

1968

Hell in the Pacific [John Boorman] p (35mm & 70bu)/c

1968

Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here [Abraham Polonsky] p/c

1968

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid [George Roy Hill] p/c; 2uc: Harold Wellman

1969

The Happy Ending [Richard Brooks] p/c

1969

[Truman Capote's] Trilogy [seg 'A Christmas Memory' dir by Frank Perry] c; cph: Joseph Brun (seg 'Miriam' & 'Among the Paths of Eden'); 3 short tvm's re-edited for theatrical release

1971

Fat City [John Huston] c

1972

Electra Glide in Blue [James William Guercio] p/c; 2uc: Richard Kelley

1972

Catch My Soul/To Catch a Spy/Santa Fe Satan [Patrick McGoohan] c

1973

The Day of the Locust [John Schlesinger] c; 'After we had decided that the style of the film was going to be romantic rather than austere and naturalistic, I had to go about achieving that style. One of the ways is to use diffusion to change the sharpness of the image so it becomes softer-looking and somehow, more comfortable. So this technique is one way of achieving romanticism. The only difference that John Schlesinger and I had was that he didn't want it to be all golden; he wanted some contrast and I wanted it to be all golden. There is a blue scene in it. It's the one where they go to the bar and there's a female impersonator dancing; I wanted that couched in golden tones too but he wanted it blue. We disagreed but he got his way because he's the director.'*

1974

Smile [Michael Ritchie] c

1975

Marathon Man [John Schlesinger] c

1978

The Rose [Mark Rydell] c; co-addph concert; ph: Vilmos Zsigmond

1986

Black Widow [Bob Rafelson] c

1987

Scrooged [Richard Donner] scheduled as doph, but replaced by Michael Chapman

1988

Tequila Sunrise [Robert Towne] c; 2uc: Robert Seaman; replaced Jost Vacano, who was fired 10 days into filming

1990

Class Action [Michael Apted] c

1990

Sharkskin [Dan Perri] c; short/23m

1991

Jennifer Eight/Jennifer 8 [Bruce Robinson] c; + 2uc/2ud

1992

Searching for Bobby Fischer/Innocent Moves [Steven Zaillian] c; addph: Robert Hahn

1993

Love Affair [Glenn Gordon Caron] c; + Tahiti 2ud

1994

Faithful [Paul Mazursky] c; uncred cph; ph: Fred Murphy

1996

Without Limits [Robert Towne] s35/c; 2uc: Conrad W. Hall

1997

A Civil Action [Steven Zaillian] c

1998

Sleepy Hollow [Tim Burton] c; New York ph; ph: Emmanuel Lubezki

1998

American Beauty [Sam Mendes] s35/c; 2uc: David Golia & Conrad W. Hall

2001

Road to Perdition [Sam Mendes] s35/c; 2uc: David Golia

2003

Declaration of Independence [Arvin Brown] c; doc/15m

*From interview with Dennis Schaefer and Larry Salvato in 'Masters of Light', 1984.


 TELEVISION

1962

Stoney Burke [e.g. ep #21 'Point of Entry' dir by Leonard Horn, #22 'To Catch the Kaiser' dir by Tom Gries, #23 'Joby' dir by John Erman & #29 'A Girl Named Amy' dir by Laslo Benedek] 32-part modern-day western series/b&w, 1962-63 (ABC-tv); other ph: Ted McCord; 'I got my first chance at a union job from Leslie Stevens on the tv series 'Stoney Burke' with Jack Lord, but he was having a hard time selling me as a cinematographers. So he made me a cameraman for the second unit and I hired Bill Fraker to be my operator. I made a deal with Ted McCord that he would shoot the first six episodes and then move on. Ted didn't want to do television, he did it for me.' [Conrad Hall in 'Principal Photography - Interviews with Feature Film Cinematographers' by Vincent LoBrutto, 1999.]

1963

The Outer Limits [ep #2 'The One Hundred Days of the Dragon' dir by Byron Haskin (BH), #3 'The Architects of Fear' dir by BH, #4 'The Man with the Power' dir by Laslo Benedek, #6 'The Man Who Was Never Born' dir by Leonard Horn, #7 'O.B.I.T.' dir by Gerd Oswald (GO), #8 'The Human Factor' dir by Abe Biberman, #9 'Corpus Earthling' dir by GO, #11 'It Crawled Out of the Woodwork' dir by GO, #15 'The Mice' dir by GO, #17 'Don't Open Till Doomsday' dir by GO, #18 'Z.Z.Z.Z.Z' dir by John Brahm (JB), #19 'The Invisibles' dir by GO, #20 'The Bellero Shield' dir by JB, #22 'Specimen: Unknown' dir by GO & #32 'The Forms of Things Unknown' (served as pilot for unsold series 'The Unknown') dir by GO] 49-part science fiction anthology series/b&w, 1963-65 (ABC-tv); 1st season, 1963-64; other ph: John M. Nickolaus Jr. & Kenneth Peach; filmed June 1963-January 1964

1963

Stryker/Fanfare for a Death Scene [Leslie Stevens (replaced Walter Grauman during shooting)] unsold pilot/b&w/73m; cph: Monroe Askins (with dir W. Grauman); filmed December

1964

The Haunted [Joseph Stefano (replaced Robert Stevens)] unsold pilot/b&w/60m; a longer version was released theatrically outside the USA as 'The Ghost of Sierra de Cobra'

1966

Truman Capote's A Christmas Memory [Frank Perry] tvm/51m; cph: Jordan Cronenweth & Vincent Saizis; ep #14 of 27-part series 'ABC Stage 67', 1966-67 (see Films, 1969)

1975

It Happened One Christmas [Donald Wrye] tvm


 FILMS AS CAMERA OPERATOR

Worked as c.asst for doph Burnett Guffey, Ernest Haller, Hal Mohr & Ted McCord.

1954

East of Eden [Elia Kazan] ph: Ted McCord

1959

Private Property [Leslie Stevens] ph: Ted McCord

1960

The Gambler Wore a Gun [Edward L. Cahn] ph: Floyd Crosby

1960

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn [Michael Curtiz] ph: Ted McCord

1961

Hero's  Island/The Land We Love [Leslie Stevens] co-c.op; ph: Ted McCord

1962

Pressure Point [Hubert Cornfield] ph: Ernest Haller

1962

Mutiny on the Bounty [Lewis Milestone] ph: Robert Surtees