#1: From the doc 'Behind the Camera' [1999]

 

   


  ALEX THOMSON

 

Born: 12 January 1929, London, UK, as Alexander Thomson.

Died: 14 June 2007, St. Peter's Hospital, Chertsey, Surrey, UK.

Career: Broke into motion pictures with the help of his father, a tailor who was making clothes for Sir Anthony Havelock-Allan, one of the partners in Cineguild Productions. He was introduced to Bert Easey, head of the camera department of Denham Studios. Informed that there were no vacancies at that time he was advised to telephone the following week. He took the hint and, after calling every week for nearly two years he was told to report for work. That was in 1946. His first film as clapper boy was 'So Well Remembered'. He stayed at Denham under the aegis of some of the best cinematographers in the industry such as Robert Krasker, Jack Hildyard and Desmond Dickinson until the studios closed in 1951. He then moved to the camera department of Technicolor on 3-strip cameras, working on such diverse films as 'Moulin Rouge' and 'Richard III'. He left Technicolor in 1955 when the 3-strip system became obsolete and began as a freelance c.op, forming a long association with doph Nicolas Roeg. His career suffered a hiatus in the mid 1970s when he was injured after falling off a camera rostrum on the set of 'Jesus Christ Superstar'.

Retired in 2002.

Was a member and president [1981-82] of the BSC.

Appeared in the doc's 'Wiecej swiatla. Festiwal Operatorów Filmowych Camerimage '97' [1997, Piotr Lazarkiewicz; ph: Adam Sikora; 54m] & 'Behind the Camera' [1999; dir/ph: Richard Blanshard; 11m; for BBC-tv].

Awards: 'Emmy' Award [1979/80] for 'The Gold Bug'; BSC Award nom [1981] & 'Oscar' AA nom [1982] for 'Excalibur'; BSC Award nom [1983] for 'Eureka'; BSC Award [1985] for 'Legend'; BSC 'John Alcott Memorial Award' [1996]; BSC Award [1997], Madridimagen 'Special Jury Prize' [1997], Camerimage 'Golden Frog' nom [1997] & Golden Satellite Award nom [1997] for 'Hamlet'; BSC Lifetime Achievement Award [2002].


 

Obituary: Alex Thomson, who died on June 14 aged 78, was a much admired cinematographer who worked extensively in this country with Nicolas Roeg and in Hollywood with Michael Cimino.

In early years he was Roeg's camera operator, but he graduated to the more prestigious title of director of photography, which involves artistic choices taken in conjunction with the director to establish tone and mood.

He was born in London on January 12, 1929, the son of the head cutter at the Old Bond Street tailors Sulka. His father, Bruce Thomson, who could cut the cloth without even taking measurements, made suits for the filmmaker Anthony Havelock-Allan. Alex had a difficult childhood, his progress at a private school in north London being impeded by a mastoid problem which required surgery and left him permanently deaf in one ear; given this disability, it was surprising that he was invited to do his National Service in the Royal Corps of Signals.

Thomson's ambitions, however, lay in the film world. He applied for an interview at the former Denham Studios but there was no vacancy at the time. Undeterred, Thomson kept trying, phoning every week for two years until he eventually landed a job in 1946.

He began as a clapper boy on the film 'So Well Remembered', then being shot by the future Oscar-winner Freddie Young, and remained at Denham until it closed in 1951. During this time he gained valuable experience working alongside some of the best cinematographers of the time, including Robert Krasker.

He then moved to Technicolor, working on the original expensive color system involving the marriage of three different strips of colour film. 'Moulin Rouge', John Huston's biography of Toulouse Lautrec, and Laurence Olivier's 'Richard III' were among the films Thomson was associated with in the early 1950s.

When the system became obsolete, upstaged by its cheaper rival, Eastman Color, Thomson became a freelance camera operator on 'A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum', 'Far from the Madding Crowd', and François Truffaut's only English film, 'Fahrenheit 451'.

Thomson's first film as director of photography was 'Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush' [1967], and over the next 33 years he was involved in 53 more until his retirement in 2001.

His association with Nicolas Roeg began in 1961. They worked together several times, and when Roeg became a director himself he asked Thomson to be his eyes on 'Eureka' [1982] and 'Track 29' [1987]. 'Eureka' began with a sequence so spectacularly conceived and filmed it was as if the Wagner of the Ring cycle had been reborn for the screen.

Thomson's flair soon caught Hollywood's eye. He was chosen by Michael Cimino to film 'Year of the Dragon' and 'The Sicilian'. His ability to match Hollywood film noir in the former, and the appearance of Visconti's 'The Leopard' in the latter, won him many friends in Hollywood. His versatility was further confirmed by 'Alien³' in 1991, a film set largely on a remote planet.

Towards the end of his career Thomson struck up a productive relationship with Kenneth Branagh. Their 1996 adaptation of 'Hamlet' was a masterly grasp of the potential of the widescreen [70mm] format, while 'Love's Labour's Lost' in 1999 was an original and misunderstood experiment in converting one of Shakespeare's early works into a form acceptable in the late 20th century.

Alex Thomson married, in 1963, Diana Golding; she survives him with their daughter, Chyna, who worked for many years as her father's assistant and is married to the [asst] director Stephen Woolfenden.' [From obituary on the Telegraph.co.uk website.]


 

 FILMS

1966

Ervinka [Ephraim Kishon] b&w; as Alexander Thompson

1967

Just Routine [Jeff Inman] c; comm doc/30m; for Ministry of Defence

1967

Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush [Clive Donner] c

1968

The Strange Affair [David Greene] ts/c

1968

Alfred the Great [Clive Donner] p/c; 2uc: Jack Atcheler

1968

The Best House in London [Philip Saville] c

1969

I Start Counting [David Greene] c

1970

The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer [Kevin Billington] c

1970

The Night Digger/The Road Builder [Alastair Reid] c

1971

LHR [Michael Fox] c; doc/27m; extra ph: Harvey Harrison; a musical and lyrical look at London Heathrow Airport

1971

Dr. Phibes Rises Again [Robert Fuest] c

1972

Death Line/Raw Meat [Gary Sherman] c

1972

Fear Is the Key [Michael Tuchner] p/c; 2uc: K.C. Jones

1973

Jesus Christ Superstar [Norman Jewison] replaced (due to a fall during prod) by Douglas Slocombe

1975

The Man Who Would Be King [John Huston] p/c; 2uc; ph: Oswald Morris

1975

The Motorway File [Ferdinand Fairfax] c; comm doc/33m; cph: Ronnie Maasz; for Central Office of Information, Department of the Environment

1975

This Is 'The Place' [Peter Selby] c; comm doc/39m; cph: Ronnie Maasz; for the London Contemporary Dance Trust

1976

The Seven-Per-Cent Solution [Herbert Ross] p/c; 2uc; ph: Oswald Morris

1976

The Cat and the Canary [Radley Metzger] c

1977

Superman [Richard Donner] p/c; co-addph; ph: Geoffrey Unsworth

1977

Rosie Dixon - Night Nurse [Justin Cartwright] c

1977

The Class of Miss MacMichael [Silvio Narizzano] c

1978

A Game for Vultures [James Fargo] c

1979

Follow That Rainbow/Runaway Melody [Louis Burke] c

1980

Excalibur [John Boorman] c; 2uc: Peter MacDonald; replaced ph Tony Pierce-Roberts, who started the film

1981

The Last of Linda Cleer [Bob Mahoney] c; short/33m

1982

Eureka [Nicolas Roeg] c

1982

The Keep [Michael Mann] J-D-C Scope/c; 2uc: Arthur Lavis; vfx: Wally Veevers & Robin Browne; matte ph: Ron Crees & John Palmer

1983

Bullshot/Bullshot Crummond [Dick Clement] c

1983

Electric Dreams [Steve Barron] c; 2uc: Stephen Lighthill

1984

Year of the Dragon [Michael Cimino] J-D-C Scope/c; 2uc: Francis Grumman

1985

Legend [Ridley Scott] J-D-C Scope/c; addph: Max Mowdray & Harry Oakes; uwph: Jordan Klein, a.o.

 

With actress Julie Andrews and Andrei Konchalovsky [center]

"Duet for One"

 

1986

Duet for One [Andrei Konchalovsky] c

1986

Labyrinth [Jim Henson] J-D-C Scope (+ 70bu)/c; 2uc: Peter MacDonald; 3uc: Jimmy Devis; model unit ph: Paul Wilson

1986

Raw Deal/Triple Identity [John Irvin] J-D-C Scope/c; 2uc: Daniele Nannuzzi

1987

Date with an Angel [Tom McLoughlin] c

1987

The Sicilian [Michael Cimino] J-D-C Scope/c; 2uc: Francis Grumman

1987

Track 29 [Nicolas Roeg] c; uwph: Mike Valentine; high speed ph: Bill Haebler

1987

High Spirits [Neil Jordan] c

 

[Left] with George P. Cosmatos

 

1988

Leviathan [George P. Cosmatos] J-D-C Scope/c; addph: Giuseppe Maccari; uwph: Mike Valentine & Ramon Bravo; optical ph: David S. Williams Jr. & Robert Habros

1988

The Rachel Papers [Damian Harris] c; 2uc: Tony Spratling; sfx ph: Miles Cook

1989

Wings of Fame [Otakar Votocek] c; 2uc: Michel Baudour

1989

The Krays [Peter Medak] c; aph: Peter Allwork

1990

Mr. Destiny [James Orr] c

1990

Nostromo [David Lean] prod abandoned after the death (16 April 1991) of David Lean

1991

Alien³ [David Fincher (replaced Vincent Ward)] p (+ 70bu)/c; replaced Jordan Cronenweth (who had to retire because of his slow shooting pace due to Parkinson's disease) after 10 days into production; addph: Mark Plummer & Gary B. Kibbe; 2uc: Nic Morris & Paul Beeson; 2u action seq: Tony Spratling; miniature ph: David Stewart; alien puppet ph: Rick Fichter

1992

Cliffhanger [Renny Harlin] p/c; 2uc: Philip Pfeiffer & Nicola Pecorini; uwph: Wayne Baker; aph: Adam Dale; vfx ph: Neil Krepela; mountain climbing ph: David Breashears

1993

Demolition Man [Marco Brambilla] p/c; addph: Matthew F. Leonetti & Gary Kibbe; 2uc: John J. Connor

1993

Black Beauty [Caroline Thompson] c; 2uc: David Feig & Tony Spratling

1994

The Scarlet Letter [Roland Joffé] J-D-C Scope/c; 2uc: Michael A. Benson; replaced scheduled ph Janusz Kaminski

1995

Executive Decision/Critical Decision [Stuart Baird] p/c; addph: Don Burgess; aph: Frank Holgate

1996

Hamlet [Kenneth Branagh] p70/c; model unit ph: Nigel Stone

1996

The Saint [Phillip Noyce] p/c; addph; ph: Philip Méheux

1998

The Man Who Couldn't Open Doors [Paul Arden] c; short/13m

1998

Lights [Marcus Dillistone] 16mm & 35mm/c; 4 seg; cph: Sue Gibson, Robin Vidgeon & John Rosenberg; demo film for Fuji F500 film stock

1999

The Troop [Marcus Dillistone] p/c; doc/15m

1999

Love's Labour's Lost [Kenneth Branagh] p/c; uwph: Mike Valentine; efx ph: Rick Mietkowski

1999

A Shot at Glory/Road to Glory/The Cup [Michael Corrente] p/c

2000

New York City Ballet Workout [Richard Blanshard] 16mm+dv-to-DVD & VHS/c

2002

Listening [Kenneth Branagh] c; short/23m

2003

Der letzte Flug [Roger Mönch] cs/c; short/10m

 

 TELEVISION

1971

The Going Up of David Lev [James F. Collier] tvm

1979

The Gold Bug [Robert Fuest] 2-part ABC-tv 'Weekend Special'

1980

A Family of Strangers [Robert Fuest] tvm/46m/16mm; an ABC-tv 'Afterschool Special'

1980

Skokie/Once They Marched Through a Thousand Towns [Herbert Wise] tvm

 

 FILMS AS CAMERA ASSISTANT/OPERATOR

1946

So Well Remembered [Edward Dmytryk] clapper boy; ph: Freddie Young

1947

The Mark of Cain [Brian Desmond Hurst] co-clapper-loader; ph: Erwin Hillier

1948

Martha [?] 2nd c.asst; ph: ?; filmed in May

1948

The Trial of Madame X/Jacqueline [Paul England; 54m] clapper-loader; ph: Ernest Palmer or Hone Glendinning

1948

Cardboard Cavalier [Walter Forde] clapper-loader; ph: Jack Hildyard

1949

The Perfect Woman [Bernard Knowles] clapper-loader; ph: Jack Hildyard

1949

The Rocking Horse Winner [Anthony Pelissier] clapper-loader; ph: Desmond Dickinson

1949

Morning Departure/Operation Disaster [Roy Baker] clapper-loader; ph: Desmond Dickinson

1952

Hot Ice [Kenneth Hume] clapper-loader; ph: Ted Lloyd

1952

Moulin Rouge [John Huston] co-focus puller; ph: Oswald Morris

1954

Richard III [Laurence Olivier] focus puller; ph: Otto Heller

1956

Town on Trial [John Guillermin] focus puller; ph: Basil Emmott

1960

Scent of Mystery/Holiday in Spain [Jack Cardiff] 2nd c.asst; ph: John von Kotze

1961

Information Received [Robert Lynn] c.op; ph: Nicolas Roeg

1961

Ghost Squad [ep #8 'Assassin' dir by Robert Lynn; tv-series] c.op; ph: Nicolas Roeg

1962

Berlin [Peter Bezencenet] c.op; ph: Nicolas Roeg; ep of series 'Secret Cities'

1962

Dr. Crippen [Robert Lynn] c.op; ph: Nicolas Roeg

1962

Just for Fun [Gordon Flemyng] c.op; ph: Nicolas Roeg

1962

Lawrence of Arabia [David Lean] uncred 2u c.op; 2uc: Nicolas Roeg, a.o.; ph: Freddie Young

1962

Band of Thieves [Peter Bezencenet; 69m] c.op; ph: Nicolas Roeg

1962

Postman's Knock [Robert Lynn] co-c.op; ph: Gerald Moss

1963

The Caretaker/The Guest [Clive Donner] c.op; ph: Nicolas Roeg

1963

Nothing But the Best [Clive Donner] c.op; ph: Nicolas Roeg

1964

Victim Five/Table Bay/Code 7, Victim 5! [Robert Lynn] co-c.op; ph: Nicolas Roeg

1964

Every Day's a Holiday/The Adventures of Tim/Seaside Swingers [James Hill] c.op; ph: Nicolas Roeg

 

 

1964

The Masque of the Red Death [Roger Corman] c.op; ph: Nicolas Roeg

1964

The System/The Girl-Getters [Michael Winner] c.op; ph: Nicolas Roeg

1964

Doctor Zhivago [David Lean] uncred c.op; ph: Freddie Young & (uncred; some scenes) Nicolas Roeg

1965

Judith/Conflict [Daniel Mann] c.op; ph: John Wilcox; addph: Nicolas Roeg

1965

You Must Be Joking! [Michael Winner] c.op; ph: Geoffrey Unsworth

1965

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum [Richard Lester] c.op; ph: Nicolas Roeg

 

Tony Richmond [clapper-loader] - Nicolas Roeg - Alex Thomson

Kevin Desmond [focus puller] - "Fahrenheit 451"

 

1966

Fahrenheit 451 [François Truffaut] c.op; ph: Nicolas Roeg

1966

Casino Royale [various] uncred c.op; ph: Jack Hildyard; addph: Nicolas Roeg

1967

Far from the Madding Crowd [John Schlesinger] co-c.op; ph: Nicolas Roeg