[Left] with Clint Eastwood - "Firefox" [1981]

               

 BRUCE SURTEES

Born: 3 August 1937, Los Angeles, Calif., USA, as Bruce Mohr Powell Surtees, son of doph Robert L. Surtees [1906-1985].

Died: 23 February 2012, Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif., USA.

Education: Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, Calif., USA.

Career: Joined Disney as a technician. Was c.op [usually for his father].

He was nicknamed 'The Prince of Darkness' because of his low-key lighting.

Awards: 'Oscar' AA nom [1974] for 'Lenny'; 'Emmy' Award nom [1999] for 'Dash and Lilly'.


Don Siegel on 'The Beguiled': 'I remember one thing I wanted to do is get a shot in darkness illuminated by a single candle. The old way to get a picture of someone walking with a candle was to set up a complicated series of controlled lights, dimmers, clicking on, synchronized to the step of the person with the candle. [...] I didn't want that kind of thing again. So I picked young Bruce Surtees, and said, "You've got to do it without dimmers." If I'd said that to an old-timer, he would have said goodbye. But Bruce would try to find a way to do anything I asked him. For that candle scene, he put a little bulb in the base of the candleholder and we shot. It took guts. We realized we might get nothing, and we knew we would have to intensify it, send it through a special lab. When we saw the film, most of the screen was black except for a circle of light showing the girl's face. We didn't care that it was black, that it wouldn't show up on a television screen when the studio sold the picture to some network in a couple of years. Screw them. We liked it. It was exciting.' [From 'Don Siegel: Director' by Stuart M. Kaminsky, 1974.]

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Obituary: Bruce Surtees, an Oscar-nominated cinematographer known as the 'Prince of Darkness' for his skill at summoning sharply etched figures from the inky depths of prisons, nightclubs and other inhospitably lighted places, died on Thursday in Carmel, Calif. He was 74.

The cause was complications of diabetes, his wife, Carol, said.

Known in particular for his long association with Clint Eastwood, Mr. Surtees [pronounced sur-TEEZ] shot more than a dozen films in which Mr. Eastwood starred. Many of these were also directed by Mr. Eastwood.

Mr. Surtees dealt in shadows. Through his nuanced, often minimal use of lighting on the set, he meticulously conjured the stark contrast of lights and darks on the screen that he and his directors often sought.

'He was fearless,' Mr. Eastwood said in a telephone interview on Tuesday. 'He wasn't afraid to give you sketchy lighting if you asked for it. He didn't believe in flat light or just bright, 'Rexall drugstore' lighting, which a lot of times you can get if you get somebody that isn't very imaginative.'

Mr. Surtees's earliest work as a cinematographer was for director Don Siegel, for whom he shot 'Dirty Harry' and 'Escape from Alcatraz', both starring Mr. Eastwood, and 'The Shootist', starring John Wayne.

Mr. Surtees earned an Academy Award nomination for his work on 'Lenny', a biopic about Lenny Bruce starring Dustin Hoffman that was shot in black-and-white at the request of its director, Bob Fosse. In Mr. Surtees's hands, the finished film looked like a living photograph by Weegee.

Cinematography was part of Mr. Surtees's genetic endowment. His father, Robert Surtees, was a cinematographer who won [several] Oscars. The younger Mr. Surtees, born in Los Angeles on Aug. 3, 1937, was named Bruce Mohr Powell Surtees in honor of his father's mentor Hal Mohr, also an esteemed cinematographer.

Mr. Surtees's first marriage, to Judy Rucker, as she is now known, ended in divorce. Besides his wife, the former Carol Buby, whom he married in 1979 in Seoul while on location for 'Inchon', he is survived by a daughter from his first marriage, Suzanne Surtees; a brother, Tom; and a sister, Nancy.

Mr. Surtees, who lived in Carmel, was also the cinematographer for 'White Dog', Samuel Fuller's controversial film about a dog trained to attack black people. Made in 1981, it was not officially released - on DVD - until 2008 because of the studio's fears that it was inflammatory. [The film, which stars Kristy McNichol, Paul Winfield and Burl Ives, is ardently anti-racist.]

In the 1990s and afterward Mr. Surtees shot several television movies, including 'Dash and Lilly', starring Sam Shepard and Judy Davis as Dashiell Hammett and Lillian Hellman, for which he received an 'Emmy' nomination.

Mr. Surtees brought to his work not only an impeccable eye but also something directors found just as valuable: a gift for frugal improvisation.

'He was perfect for me, because we didn't have very big budgets in those days,' Mr. Eastwood said on Tuesday, recalling his early directorial outings. 'He'd make dollies by towing a blanket across the floor with the cameraman sitting on it.' Mr. Surtees's jury-rigged dollies worked spectacularly well, Mr. Eastwood said, provided the floor was smooth enough. [Margalit Fox in 'The New York Times', 28 February 2012.]

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Obituary: The American cinematographer Bruce Surtees, who has died aged 74, became known as 'the prince of darkness' for his muted and often lugubrious style of lighting. However, while Surtees was well-suited to the nocturnal street scenes of 'Dirty Harry', the Rembrandt-esque arrangements of 'The Beguiled' and the claustrophobic interiors of 'Escape from Alcatraz', all directed by Don Siegel, he was also at home with the wide open spaces of the western 'Joe Kidd' and the surfing movie 'Big Wednesday'.

His deceptively simple black-and-white scheme for 'Lenny', Bob Fosse's semi-documentary biopic of the comedian Lenny Bruce, earned Surtees an 'Oscar' nomination. The film's compelling stand-up sequences owe almost as much to the expert lighting of the nightclub as they do to Dustin Hoffman's performance. As Hoffman paces the stage, chased by his own shadow, the light captures wisps of cigarette smoke and almost carries the smell of bourbon.

Cinematography was the Surtees family trade. Bruce was born in Los Angeles, where his father, Robert, was starting out as a camera assistant and operator. Robert had worked regularly with the acclaimed cinematographer Hal Mohr, and chose Mohr for one of Bruce's middle names.

Bruce attended the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, gained experience as a technician for Disney and assisted his father on films including 'The Hallelujah Trail'. He had proved to be a reliable camera operator - memorably capturing a motorcycle chase in 'Coogan's Bluff' - and Siegel gave him the chance to graduate to the role of cinematographer on his US civil war film 'The Beguiled'. In his autobiography, 'A Siegel Film', the director remembered Surtees's response to this offer: 'Bruce's face became flushed, his breathing heavy... Tears appeared in his eyes and he spoke with great difficulty.'

While many mainstream cinematographers employ three or more principal sources of light in a set-up, Surtees experimented with fewer and used them at lower levels. He achieved increased depth and contrast in the process, as well as creating stronger shadows. For one sequence in 'The Beguiled', he relied on a solitary bulb to replicate candlelight.

Surtees's drab palette complemented 'The Beguiled''s gothic tone, Louisiana locations and the montage of sepia war photographs used in its title sequence. The film was a box-office disappointment but ensured his lengthy collaboration with Siegel and Eastwood. In 'Dirty Harry', a deserted sports stadium was eerily lit and shrouded in mist for the scene in which Eastwood's cop confronts the serial killer Scorpio. Eastwood's directorial debut, 'Play Misty for Me', was shot around Carmel, California, where the star later became mayor [1986-88] and Surtees's own family also settled. His breezy location photography - including scenes at the Monterey jazz festival - matched the star's freewheeling role as Dave, a late-night DJ, but he introduced heavier shadows as Dave is threatened by his jilted lover. The film was made for a modest cost with a small crew and Surtees's efficiency was valued by Eastwood, who has always prided himself on bringing in films on time and under budget.

For Eastwood's 'High Plains Drifter', influenced by the star's spaghetti westerns, Surtees favored a wide aperture to ensure as much light as possible was captured in the Eastern Sierra setting of California. In the opening and closing sequences, he achieved a spectral light as Eastwood's mysterious stranger appears and disappears amid the shimmering desert haze. Eastwood's later westerns 'The Outlaw Josey Wales' and 'Pale Rider' were shot in autumn, with Surtees exploiting the softer light and low sun. On 'Escape from Alcatraz', his last film with Siegel, the minimal lighting matched the gray and blue prison uniforms. After 'Pale Rider', he was replaced as Eastwood's regular cinematographer by his former camera operator Jack Green.

Major actors were not always pleased with the prospect of languishing in Surtees's signature shadows, but the glossy, bright lighting he provided for 'Risky Business' and 'Beverly Hills Cop' enhanced two of the decade's biggest box-office stars, Tom Cruise and Eddie Murphy.

Surtees is survived by his wife, Carol, and a daughter, Suzanne, from his first marriage. [Chris Wiegand in The Guardian, 28 February 2012.]



 FILMS

1970

The Beguiled [Don Siegel] p/c

1970

The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid [Philip Kaufman] c

1970

Play Misty for Me [Clint Eastwood] c

1971

Dirty Harry [Don Siegel] p/c

1971

Joe Kidd [John Sturges] p/c

1972

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes [J. Lee Thompson] tao/c

1972

Lost Horizon [Charles Jarrott] p/c; co-2uc; ph: Robert L. Surtees

[Left] with Clint Eastwood - "High Plains Drifter"

1972

High Plains Drifter [Clint Eastwood] p/c

1972

Blume in Love [Paul Mazursky] c

1973

The Outfit/The Good Guys Always Win [John Flynn] c

1973

Night Moves [Arthur Penn] c; uwph: Jordan Klein

1974

Lenny [Bob Fosse] b&w

1975

Leadbelly [Gordon Parks] c

1975

Sparkle [Sam O'Steen] c

1975

The Outlaw Josey Wales [Clint Eastwood (replaced Philip Kaufman)] p/c

1976

The Shootist [Don Siegel] c

1976

Three Warriors [Kieth Merrill] c; 2uc: Reed Smoot

1977

Big Wednesday/Summer of Innocence [John Milius] p/c; surf ph: Greg MacGillivray; special water ph: George Greenough & Dan Merkel

1977

Movie Movie [seg 'Baxter's Beauties of 1933' dir by Stanley Donen] b&w/c; seg 'Dynamite Hands' ph by Charles Rosher Jr.

1978

Dreamer [Noel Nosseck] c

1978

Escape from Alcatraz [Don Siegel] c

1979

Inchon [Terence Young] c; main title seq ph: William Fraker

1980

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains/All Washed Up [Lou Adler] c

1981

White Dog/Trained to Kill [Samuel Fuller] c

1981

Firefox [Clint Eastwood] p/c; anim ph: Harry Moreau & Angela Diamos; process ph: Bruce Logan

1982

Bad Boys [Rick Rosenthal] c; cph: Donald Thorin

1982

Risky Business [Paul Brickman] c; cph: Reynaldo Villalobos

1982

Honkytonk Man [Clint Eastwood] c

1983

Sudden Impact [Clint Eastwood] p/c

1984

Tightrope [Richard Tuggle] c; 2uc: Billy Bragg

1984

Beverly Hills Cop [Martin Brest] c

1984

Pale Rider [Clint Eastwood] p/c

1985

Psycho III [Anthony Perkins] c; uwph: Mike Dugan

1985

Ratboy [Sondra Locke] c

1985

The Best of Times [Roger Spottiswoode; football game d: Ron Shelton] p/c; cph: Charles F. Wheeler; 2uc: Robert Hillman

1985

Out of Bounds [Richard Tuggle] c

1987

Back to the Beach/Malibu Beach Girls [Lyndall Hobbs] c; surfing unit ph: Yuri Farrant

1987

License to Drive [Greg Beeman] c; 2uc: Buddy Botham

1988

Men Don't Leave [Paul Brickman] c; 2uc: Rexford Metz

1989

Chains of Gold [Rod Holcomb] c; cph: Dariusz Wolski (replaced by B. Surtees); premiered on cable-tv in 1991

1990

Run [Geoff Burrowes] c; 2uc: Brenton Spencer (Canada) & Frank P. Flynn

1990

The Super [Rod Daniel] c

1991

That Night/One Hot Summer [Craig Bolotin] c

1992

The Crush [Alan Shapiro] c

1993

Corrina, Corrina [Jessie Nelson] c; addph: Geary McLeod

1994

The Stars Fell on Henrietta [James Keach] p/c

1995

The Substitute [Robert Mandel] c; 2uc: Michael McGowan

1997

Just a Little Harmless Sex [Rick Rosenthal] c

2001

Joshua [Jon Purdy] c; 2uc: Eugene F. Crededio

2005

The Last Time [Michael Caleo] announced as doph, but film was ph by Timothy Suhrstedt


 TELEVISION

1993

The Birds II: Land's End [Alan Smithee (= Rick Rosenthal)] tvm

1998

Murder in a Small Town [Joyce Chopra] tvm

1998

Dash and Lilly [Kathy Bates] tvm

1999

That Championship Season [Paul Sorvino] tvm

1999

The Lady in Question [Joyce Chopra] tvm

1999

Lethal Vows [Paul Schneider] tvm

1999

[Robert B. Parker's] Thin Air/Thin Air: A Spenser Mystery [Robert Mandel] tvm; 2uc: Arthur E. Cooper

2000

American Tragedy [Lawrence Schiller] 2-part tvm

2000

And Never Let Her Go [Peter Levin] tvm


 MISCELLANEOUS

1964

The Hallelujah Trail [John Sturges] co-c.asst; ph: Robert L. Surtees

1965

Lost Command [Mark Robson] c.op; ph: Robert L. Surtees

1969

Kelly's Heroes [Brian G. Hutton] c.op; ph: Gabriel Figueroa

[Center with cam] - "Coogan's Bluff"

Photo by Glenn Beier

1969

Coogan's Bluff [Don Siegel] c.op; ph: Bud Thackery

1969

Two Mules for Sister Sara [Don Siegel] c.op; ph: Gabriel Figueroa

1970

Triangle [Bernard Glasser] c.op; ph: Jacques R. Marquette