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A Pointed Nose Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

27 March 2014

Reading obituaries is not for the young invincibles. But it's another kind of insurance worth investing in. It gives you a certain perspective on life you might otherwise miss.


Today's New York Times obituary for the cinematographer Oswald Morris notes he made over 60 films, attributing his output to "a certain knack for people."

His friendship with the director John Huston is one example, but it was his handling of the actors themselves that made him invaluable. He explains:

"I would chat them up before filming started and ask if they had any hang-ups. You bypass the director and form a relationship with them. Sophia Loren was as nervous as a kitten when I worked with her in 1957."

She told him she didn't look good in profile. "I have a pointed nose," she pointed out. So he would make a face to tip her off when she was about to go into profile.

All noses are pointed but Morris empathized with the actress. And today when Sophia Loren's name comes up, no one talks about her nose.


Morris's life has a few more lessons for photographers. His use of color when color was a new technology is one of them.

In 1952 he shot Moulin Rouge for John Huston in Technicolor. Huston wanted the film to look as if the painter Toulouse-Latrec himself had directed it. So Morris used "very strong, light-scattering filters on the camera, which had never been used before, and we also filmed every set full of smoke so that the actors always stood out from the background," according to his obit in the Los Angeles Times.

But Technicolor executives in London "hated it." They insisted on the Technicolor standard of saturated color. "They did everything they could to get me off the picture," Morris continued. "Everyone was against me, but John backed me all the way."

His innovative use of color in the box-office success was praised by the critics. The head of Technicolor in the United States wrote to Technicolor in London congratulating them on the "wonderful colors in the film."

Nobody mentioned Morris but they didn't have to. His "reputation was secured," as the New York Times put it.

Morris won the Oscar for Fiddler on the Roof, in which he used silk stockings over the lens to warm up some scenes. The Norman Jewison production was his favorite. The Los Angeles Times obit quotes him:

"In the seasons we have winter with rain, winter with dull weather, winter with snow. We have dawns, sunrises, hot summer days, cold winter days, sunsets and nights," he said. "Now I can't think of anything, except possibly a storm, that one couldn't have put in this film from a photographic point of view."

Sunrise ... sunset, as someone once sang, putting it all in perspective.

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