Friday, March 23, 2007

Freddie Francis, R.I.P.

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Freddie Francis, 89; cinematographer
The two-time Oscar winner was best known for his exquisite black-and-white camera work in British films of the '50s and '60s.
From Times Staff and Wire Reports
March 23, 2007

Freddie Francis, a British cinematographer who won Academy Awards for "Sons and Lovers" (1960) and "Glory" (1989), died Saturday in London, British media reported. He was 89 and had suffered a stroke in December.

Known for his exquisite black-and-white photography in such British films of the 1950s and '60s as "Room at the Top" (1958) and "Saturday Night and Sunday Morning" (1960), as well as "Sons and Lovers," Francis finally got a chance to direct.

After his 1962 debut, "Two and Two Make Six," he quickly made several films in succession that established his credentials as a director. But they were all horror movies, and he found himself typecast.

"I realized I was becoming a cult figure in horror films," he told Daily Variety in 1998, "and nobody would back me to direct anything else."

Some of the more than two dozen films he directed became cult classics, including "Paranoiac," "Dr. Terror's House of Horrors" and "Tales from the Crypt."

But he grew dissatisfied and returned to cinematography when David Lynch hired him to photograph "The Elephant Man" in 1980. The success of that project led to jobs with other prominent directors, including Karel Reisz for "The French Lieutenant's Woman" in 1981 and Martin Scorsese for "Cape Fear" in 1991.

He was director of photography for Lynch two more times, in 1984 for "Dune" and in 1999 for "The Straight Story."

The American Society of Cinematographers honored him with its International Achievement Award in 1997.

Born in London in 1917, Francis got his first job as an apprentice to a feature stills photographer. He joined the British army when World War II broke out and worked as a cameraman and director making training films.

After the war he worked as a camera operator for John Huston on "Moulin Rouge" (1952), "Beat the Devil" (1953) and "Moby Dick" (1956) and for other directors before becoming a full-fledged director of photography on "A Hill in Korea" (1956).

Among Francis' survivors are his second wife, Pamela Mann, and their two children, Suzanna and Gareth, and another son, Kevin Francis, from his marriage to Gladys Dorrell, which ended in divorce.

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