With his Camerimage 'Golden Frog - Lifetime Achievement Award'

               

DAVID WATKIN

Born: 23 March 1925, Margate, Kent, UK, as Francis David Watkin, son of lawyer John Wilfrid Watkin.

Died: 19 February 2008, Brighton, East Sussex, UK.

Career: Was born into an upper middle-class and illustrious railway family. Joined the British Army in February 1944 and was released in October 1947. Joined the Southern Railway Film Unit in January 1948. Shot his first piece of film on April 13th, but the negative was destroyed. In 1949 he became a messenger boy and c.asst at British Transport Films [BTF], which was set up in May 1949 with the intention of making doc's about transport and travelogues promoting holiday destinations. Became doph in 1955. Left BTF in 1962.

Ph commercials dir by Richard Lester, Jean-Paul Rappeneau, Adrian Lyne, David Ashwell, Ross Cramer, Daniel Bergman, a.o.

Was a member [later honorary member] of the BSC.

Wrote the books 'Why Is There Only One  Word for Thesaurus?: Being an Autobiography of David Watkin' [1998; 'This book is not about the film industry but about a man who works in films and has a life beyond it. Music is a theme through David's life from childhood recollections of Sergent Deller to filming Mozart Concertos with Daniel Barenboim.'] & 'Was Clara Schumann a Fag Hag?' [2008].

Appeared in the doc 'Exposure - An Interview with David Watkin' [2001].

Awards: BAFTA Film Award nom [1965] for 'The Knack' & 'Help!'; BAFTA Film Award nom [1967] for 'Mademoiselle'; BAFTA Film Award nom [1968] for 'The Charge of the Light Brigade'; BAFTA Film Award nom [1970] for 'Catch-22'; BAFTA Film Award nom [1974] for 'The Three Musketeers'; NYFCC Award [1981], BSC Award nom [1981] & BAFTA Film Award nom [1982] for 'Chariots of Fire'; NYFCC Award [1985], LAFCA Award [1985], BSC Award [1986], 'Oscar' AA [1986] & BAFTA Film Award [1986] for 'Out of Africa'; BSC Award nom [1990] for 'Memphis Belle'; Camerimage 'Lifetime Achievement Award' [2004]; BSC Lifetime Achievement Award [2004].

Website: David Watkin



From obituary in 'The Times', February 21, 2008: 'David Watkin was one of British cinema's top cameramen and greatest characters. He would have liked to have been a musician, but his musical ambitions got no support from his family, which had long connections with the railways. He was related to Sir Edward Watkin, the Victorian railway man who built and managed railways around the globe. His father was a lawyer, working for the railways.

Watkin served in the Army during the Second World War and then followed in the tracks of his antecedents. He worked for the newly nationalized British Railways, drifted into film-making as a messenger and camera assistant in its film section and eventually went on to win an Oscar for 'Out of Africa'.

The cinematography on 'Out of Africa', with its wide panoramas and warm, nostalgic interiors, was not particularly typical of his work. But then his no-nonsense approach proved extremely adaptable in a career that included such classic films as 'The Knack', 'Help!', 'The Charge of the Light Brigade', 'The Devils', 'Chariots of Fire', 'Yentl', 'Moonstruck' and 'Hamlet'.

He was so relaxed on set that he was famous within the industry for his habit of taking a nap between shots. Despite his lack of pretensions or any great artistic claims, he was an important innovator, well known for his technique of accentuating whites by reflecting light off sheets of polystyrene. He used the technique on the likes of 'Help!' and 'The Devils', but it was actually developed to accentuate the whiteness of clothes in washing powder commercials that he did with director Richard Lester.

Naturalism was key to Watkin's work. He often arranged his light to come through windows, prompting one critic to compare him to Vermeer, and he developed a new lighting system for shooting at night. It employed about 200 bulbs in a unit suspended from a crane some distance from the action. It served as a single, powerful light source and solved the problem of fluctuating light when characters walk through a night scene. His system of lights for night shooting became known as the 'Wendy Light', because he was gay and known to technicians as 'Wendy'.

During the 1960s he shot television commercials with several directors who would go on to achieve distinction in the field of feature films. He disliked commercials, but they were comparatively well paid.

His first full feature film was the comedy 'The Knack', which was directed by Richard Lester and is one of the films that best capture a certain zany, spontaneous, perhaps imaginary quality of the Swinging Sixties.

When Watkin found a director he liked he would frequently accept repeat engagements. He made six features with Tony Richardson. His work with Franco Zeffirelli stretched from 1976 to 1998. He got on well with Barbra Streisand, the notoriously difficult producer, director and star of 'Yentl', though he hated her music. She tried to get him to go to her concerts, but he refused. His passion was classical music. He recently completed and self-published a second volume of memoirs, entitled 'Was Clara Schumann a Fag Hag?' The title has nothing to do with his own life, except that it reflects his love of classical music and gossip and his perverse sense of humor.'

From obituary by Dennis Hevesi in 'The New York Times', February 28, 2008: David Watkin, a British cinematographer best known for the scenic splendor he framed for 'Out of Africa' and for capturing the loping strides of runners on the beach in 'Chariots of Fire', set to the symphonic score by Vangelis, died on Feb. 19 at his home in Brighton, England. He was 82. The cause was cancer, his friend Chris Mullen announced.

Mr. Watkin, who over a 50-year career worked on more than 60 films, received the 1985 Academy Award for best cinematography for his work on Sydney Pollack's 'Out of Africa'. His camerawork brought a soft, romantic aura to the scenes depicting Isak Dinesen’s memoir about European settlers and tribesmen in the bush country of Kenya in the early 20th century. In his acceptance speech, Mr. Watkin credited the second unit - the camera crew that went out without the actors to film the captivating landscape - for earning the 'Oscar'.

'His work was the antithesis of the stuck, theatrical style,' Todd McCarthy, the chief film critic for 'Variety' and a co-director of the 1992 documentary 'Visions of Light: The Art of Cinematography', said in an interview this week. 'What set Watkin apart was a natural-light look and a freewheeling style; the camera was liberated.'

It was liberated in Mr. Watkin's work for 'The Charge of the Light Brigade', the 1968 movie recounting the disastrous cavalry attack led by Lord Cardigan during the 1854 Battle of Balaclava in the Crimean War. 'It was beautiful, but had a gritty vitality to it that was different from the more studied, painterly look that was the norm for the epic film,' Mr. McCarthy said.

For 'Catch-22', Mike Nichols's 1970 adaptation of Joseph Heller's satirical novel about World War II, Mr. Watkin set up long takes to capture the choreography of rising aircraft and actors on the ground.

It was on 'The Knack', a British comedy directed by Richard Lester about sexual competition among three roommates, that Mr. Watkin got his big break into feature films. He had been filming documentaries and commercials since the mid-1950s and was on a set in the early '60s when he met Mr. Lester, who had just finished directing the Beatles in 'A Hard Day’s Night'. Mr. Lester hired him to film 'The Knack', the first of six movies they would work on together.

Born in Margate, England, on March 23, 1925, Mr. Watkin was the fourth and youngest son of a lawyer and a homemaker. He is survived by his partner, Nick Hand, according to 'The Times' of London.

Mr. McCarthy, of 'Variety', said that Mr. Watkin was known in the business as a 'bit of an oddball'. 'Once he would light a set he would fall asleep,' Mr. McCarthy said, adding, 'He always said that what he really wanted to be was a classical musician.'



 FILMS

1949

Floods in the North [?] 16mm/b&w; doc/20m; title background ph; ph: ?; prod British Transport Films (BTF)

1956

Long Night Haul [James Ritchie] b&w; doc/19m; prod BTF

1956

The England of Elizabeth [John Taylor] b&w/c; doc/27m; cph: James Ritchie; prod BTF

1956

Men on the Mend [Kenneth Fairbairn] b&w; doc/13m; cph: Ronald Craigen; a 25m version is titled 'Rehabilitation at Swindon'; prod BTF

1957

Lancashire Coast [John Taylor] 16mm/c; doc/18m; prod BTF

1957

Holiday [John Taylor] c; doc/17m; compiled by editor Ralph Sheldon from outtakes from 'Lancashire Coast'; prod BTF

1957

Service for Southend [Leslie Shepard] b&w; doc/9m50s; cph: John Reid & Ken Reeves; prod BTF

1958

Groundwork for Progress [Bill Mason] b&w; doc/27m54s; cph: Ron Bicker; prod BTF

1958

[Maurice Denham tells you about] A Desperate Case [Ken Fairbairn] b&w; short/10m; prod BTF

1958

Scotland for Sport [Kenneth Fairbairn] c; doc/25m; prod BTF

1958

The Coasts of Clyde [James Ritchie] c; doc/20m; prod BTF

1958

Under Night Streets [Ralph Keene] b&w; doc/20m; prod BTF

1959

Diesel Train Ride [James Ritchie] c; doc/10m17s; cph: Ron Bicker; prod BTF

1959

The Diesel Train Driver [James Ritchie] b&w; 4-part training doc ('An Introduction to the Diesel Train' (7m20s), 'Driving the Train' (18m33s), 'Dealing with Faults' (35m51s) & 'Operational Requirements' (17m12s); prod BTF

1959

Under the River [R.K. Neilson Baxter] b&w; doc/21m; cph: Ron Bicker & Trevor Roe; prod BTF

1959

Care of St. Christophers/The Happy Place [James Ritchie] b&w; doc/16m; prod BTF

"Blue Pullman"

1960

Blue Pullman [James Ritchie] c; doc/25m; cph: Jack West; prod BTF

1960

Ferry Load [R.K. Neilson Baxter] c; doc/33m; prod BTF

1960

They Take the High Road [James Ritchie] c; doc/24m; prod BTF

1961

The Travolators [Tony Thompson (?)] b&w; doc/9m10s; cph: Jack West (?); as David Watkins; prod BTF

1962

All That Mighty Heart [R.K. Neilson Baxter] c; doc/24m; prod BTF

1962

On Wheels and Waves [David Watkin] c; doc/6m; prod BTF

1963

The Launching [Michael Birkett] c; comm short/30m; for Stock Exchange

1963

A... Is for Apple [John Burrows & Hugh Hudson] c; comm doc/11m; for Fruit Producers Council

1963

Shopping Day [Don Higgins] 16mm/c; comm doc/25m; for Sainsbury

1963

The Six-Sided Triangle [Christopher Miles] b&w; short/29m

1963

Central Sterile Supply Department [Guy Fergusson] c; doc/25m

1963

The Scheme [Don Higgins] c; comm doc/35m

1964

Food Preservation [Hugh Hudson] c; comm doc/16m; for Unilever

1964

Lila [Hugh Raggett] b&w; doc/?m; cph: Walter Lassally & Rose Parsons

1964

Debate [Don Higgins] b&w; comm doc/26m

1964

Goldfinger [Guy Hamilton] c; uncred title seq ph; ph: Ted Moore

1964

Birth of a Twin [Hugh Hudson] b&w; comm doc/30m; for Frigidaire

"Rhythm 'n' Greens"

1964

Rhythm 'n' Greens [Christopher Miles] c; short/32m; 'I'll never forget the first day of shooting. We were a small unit, but only I knew where the rather secret private beach was situated, so in my old Mini I had to lead 'The Shadows' in their 4 Rolls-Royces followed by Cliff Richard in his Cadillac - and I lost the way. The second day the camera broke down and a new one had to be sent from London, and the fourth day the stills man broke his tendon and had to go to hospital - but we finished in the 10 day schedule allowed. The film was to have been titled 'A Look at Rubbish' as in the sixties the cinema going public had to sit through dreadfully banal supporting short films called 'A Look at Life' and the not so bad 'Pathé Pictorial'. However, they wanted the title changed to 'Rhythm 'n' Greens'.' [Christopher Miles]

1964

The Knack - And How to Get It [Richard Lester] b&w

1965

Help! [Richard Lester] c

1965

Mademoiselle/Summer Fires [Tony Richardson] b&w

1966

Ride of the Valkyrie [Peter Brook] b&w; short/15m; planned as seg of 'Red White and Zero' (3 seg; unreleased)

1966

The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade/Marat-Sade [Peter Brook] c

1966

How I Won the War [Richard Lester] c

1967

The Charge of the Light Brigade [Tony Richardson] p/c; 2uc: Peter Suschitzky; tests were shot in July 1966 & January 1967

1968

The Bed-Sitting Room [Richard Lester] c

[Left] with dir Mike Nichols [right] - "Catch-22"

1969

Catch-22 [Mike Nichols] p/c; 2uc: Harold Wellman; hph: Nelson Tyler

1970

The Devils/The Devils of Loudon [Ken Russell] p/c

1971

The Boy Friend [Ken Russell] p/c

1972

Yellow Dog/Secret Mission London [Terence Donovan] p/c

1972

A Delicate Balance [Tony Richardson] c; part of 'American Film Theatre'-series

1973

The Homecoming [Peter Hall] c; part of 'American Film Theatre'-series

1973

The Three Musketeers [: The Queen's Diamonds] [Richard Lester] c

1973

The Four Musketeers [: Milady's Revenge]/The Revenge of Milady [Richard Lester] c; addph: Paul Wilson

1974

Mahogany [Berry Gordy] p/c

1975

Robin and Marian [Richard Lester] c; 2uc: Paul Wilson

1975

To the Devil a Daughter/Child of Satan [Peter Sykes] c

1976

Joseph Andrews [Tony Richardson] c; 2uc: Paul Wilson

1978

Hanover Street [Peter Hyams] c

1978

That Summer! [Harley Cokliss] c

1978

Cuba [Richard Lester] c

"Chariots of Fire"

1980

Chariots of Fire [Hugh Hudson] c

1980

Endless Love [Franco Zeffirelli] c

1981

The Desert King [Michael Darlow] scheduled for March start; unrealized

1981

La Cenerentola/Cinderella [Jean-Pierre Ponnelle] c; opera film/152m

1982

Yentl [Barbra Streisand] c; 2uc: Gordon Hayman & Doug Milsome

1982

Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes [Hugh Hudson] s35/c; uncred cph; ph: John Alcott; David Watkin was asked by dir Hugh Hudson to shoot the film, but he turned it down because of the African locations and its large amount of spiders which he had a great fear of. John Alcott was then employed, but couldn't start when the production started at Elstree due to prior commitments so Watkin agreed to do the studio scenes.

1983

The Hotel New Hampshire [Tony Richardson] c; 2nd cam: Peter Benison

1984

Return to Oz [Walter Murch] c; uncred cph: Freddie Francis; 2uc: James Devis; matte ph: Stanley Sayer (cons) & Peter Hammond

1985

White Nights [Taylor Hackford] c; addph: John Harris & Ken Withers; aph: Frank Holgate

1985

Sky Bandits/Gunbus [Zoran Perisic] c

With Sydney Pollack [r] - "Out of Africa"

1985

Out of Africa [Sydney Pollack] tvi (35mm 1.85 & 70bu)/c; c.op 2u: Rodrigo Gutierrez; aph: Peter Allwork

1986

Journey to the Center of the Earth [Rusty Lemorande & Albert Pyun] c; cph: Tom Fraser

1987

Moonstruck [Norman Jewison] c

1987

Masquerade [Bob Swaim] c

1988

Last Rites [Donald Bellisario] c

1988

The Good Mother [Leonard Nimoy] c

1989

Memphis Belle [Michael Caton-Jones] c; 2uc: Robin Vidgeon; aph: James Devis; model unit ph: Harry Oakes

1990

Hamlet [Franco Zeffirelli] c

1991

Used People [Beeban Kidron] c

1992

This Boy's Life [: A True Story] [Michael Caton-Jones] p/c

1992

Hallo Mister God, This Is Anna [Ferdinand Fairfax] scheduled for April start; unrealized

1992

Bopha! [Morgan Freeman] c

1993

Milk Money [Richard Benjamin] c; 2uc: Robin Browne

1994

One Glorious Summer [Joseph Andaloro] c

1994

Jane Eyre [Franco Zeffirelli] c; 2uc: Derek Browne

1995

Bogus [Norman Jewison] c

1995

Obsession/Sucht/Berlin Niagara [Peter Sehr] c

1995

Night Falls on Manhattan [Sidney Lumet] c; + small part

1996

Through Roses - Backstage [Jürgen Flimm] c

1997

Critical Care [Sidney Lumet] c

1997

Gloria [Sidney Lumet] c; 2uc: Ken Ferris

1998

Tea with Mussolini [Franco Zeffirelli] c

2000

All Forgotten/Lover's Prayer [Reverge Anselmo] c


 TELEVISION

1966

One-Eyed Jacks Are Wild [prod: Herbert Brodkin & Franklin J. Schaffner] unsold pilot for ABC-tv; filmed in January

1976

Jesus of Nazareth/La vita di Gesù/Gesù di Nazareth [Franco Zeffirelli] 2-part tvm/4-part miniseries; cph: Armando Nannuzzi; also released theatrically

1988

Murder by Moonlight/Dark of the Moon/Murder on the Moon/Murder in Space [Michael Lindsay-Hogg] tvm

1990

The Object of Beauty [Michael Lindsay-Hogg] tvm; also released theatrically

1990

The Cabinet of Dr. Ramirez [Peter Sellars] tvm

1994

The Shakespeare Laboratory 2 - Peter Sellars and The Merchant of Venice [Bob Bentley] doc/60m; program in BBC2-tv season 'Bard on the Box'


 MISCELLANEOUS

1948

Services Rendered [prod: Basil Sangster; doc] small part; ph: ?; prod Southern Railway Film Unit

1949

Transport [Peter Bradford; doc] c.asst; ph: Reginald W. Cavender; prod for BTF by Associated British Pathé (BTF's first prod)

1952

Ocean Terminal [J.B. Holmes] trainee/clapper boy; ph: James Ritchie; re-ed/revised in 1961; prod BTF

1953

Cine-Gazette No. 11: School for Service [Michael Clarke; doc] c.asst; ph: Michael Currer-Briggs; prod BTF

1953

West Country Journey [Syd Sharples; doc] c.asst; ph: Ronald Craigen; prod BTF

1954

The Heart of England [Michael Clarke; doc] co-c.asst; ph: Ronald Craigen & Robert Paynter; prod BTF

1954

London's Country [Harold Lowenstein & Syd Sharples; doc] co-asst; ph: Reg Hughes & Michael Currer-Briggs; prod BTF

1954

The Lake District [Alex Strasser; doc] co-asst; ph: Ronald Craigen; prod BTF

1955

Snowdrift at Bleath Gill [Kenneth Fairbairn; doc] c.asst; ph: Robert Paynter; prod BTF