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American Cinematographer (1941) - George Barnes Wins 1940 Academy Award




To George S. Barnes, A.S.C., goes the distinction of having been selected by his fellow members of the camera profession as the foremost director of photography for 1940. At the Thirteenth Annual Awards Banquet of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Barnes was proclaimed the winner of the 1940 Academy Award for the year's best black-and-white cinematography, in recognition of his skill in filming "Rebecca."' Premiere honors in the color division went to Georges Perinal, Europe's foremost cinematographer, for "The Thief of Bagdad."

Voting on these Awards was, as usual, confined to members of the camera profession. Competition was, if possible, even more hotly contested than in previous years, ten final nominations being selected in the monochrome division, and six in color, from a field open to every feature production released during 1940.

A welcome departure from the previous tradition of having these Awards bestowed by a disinterested and usually more or less inarticulate technician or executive was the Academy Committee's decision to entrust the presentation of the Cinematography Awards to one who from personal experience could speak feelingly of the true value of a great cinematographer's mastery of the art and science of cinematography — an actress — and no one could have more graciously represented her profession than did the lovely Rosalind Russell.

In presenting the Cinematography Awards, Miss Russell charmingly summarized the players' appreciation of the cinematographer when she said, "I feel honored indeed in being permitted to present the next two Awards. They are a happy composite of the Arts and Sciences, and every actress appreciates their importance, for without these artists no picture could be made, regardless of the cast, the director, writer or producers.

"It is only fitting that I tell you that our cinematographers are among the greatest artists of the screen. Their sensitive feeling, sense of composition, and their uncanny skill in arranging lighting effects help every artist to give a better performance and to look, as we ourselves know all too well, like in real life we don't. The technical skill of these gentlemen is positively uncanny, and their ingenuity in placing their cameras and keeping them participating in the action of various scenes is likewise worthy of commendation.

"There are two Awards for Cinematography with which I am concerned tonight. One is for black-and-white, the other for color. The Cinematographers' branch of the Academy has viewed many, many pictures in selecting its nominees. The following Awards have taken weeks of viewing for nomination and selection, which at the hands of rival — if friendly — camera artists speaks in glowing terms of the outstanding attainments of the ten men nominated for this year's honors and especially for those who receive the two Awards."

Barnes' victory is richly deserved, and unquestionably popular with his fellow cinematographers. A member of the American Society of Cinematographers almost since its inception, Barnes, despite his youth, has for more than two decades been one of the industry's outstanding camera-artists, with an imposing array of notable cinematographic achievements to his credit. In "Rebecca" he had the acknowledged advantage of being associated with a picture which was more than ordinarily distinguished in every department: — it received Award nominations in no less than nine other categories, being adjudged the year's outstanding production, and receiving nomination as well for actor performance, actress performance, supporting actress performance, direction, screenplay-writing, film editing, black-and-white art direction, and original musical scoring — but it was Barnes' own brilliance which gained him the Award for the year's best cinematography.

Camerawork of true Academy Award calibre demands perfection in not merely one phase of cinematography, but in every one of the many factors which go to make up a well-photographed production. It must begin with outstanding mastery of photographic technique and lighting, and a technical and artistic consistency which is difficult, indeed to obtain amid the complexities of modern production. The players must be presented favorably. Pictorial composition must achieve and maintain outstanding heights of artistry. And throughout all this, the visual mood of the production as a whole and of each sequence and scene must be perfectly attuned to the dramatic and emotional mood of the production itself.

All of this George Barnes did in photographing "Rebecca." On the strictly technical side, the production showed unusual technical skill under a remarkably wide range of conditions, ranging from high-key exteriors and interiors to the most sombrely dramatic of low-key interiors and night-effects, with fog sequences and a spectacularly-handled fire sequence for added measure. Yet despite the great range of visual keys and effects, "Rebecca's" camerawork evidenced a smooth consistency which was exceptional, even when considered in comparison with the other notable films with which it competed. Such details as source-lighting, continuity of diffusion, camera-movement and the associated details of operative camerawork were handled in exemplary fashion.

The players — as is usual with Barnes at the camera — were exceptionally well photographed. In his treatment of Joan Fontaine, he faced a problem which could very easily have been mishandled to the detriment of her outstanding performance. At the start of the picture, she was introduced as an ingenuous young girl. There followed courtship, marriage, introduction into new and unaccustomedly splendid surroundings, succeeded by morbid persecution which drove her to the verge of insanity. Such a part is obviously exacting, and one which can be greatly aided by delicately attuned camerawork; yet at the same time, such treatment overdone could shackle the finest performance. Barnes' sympathetic camera-treatment unquestionably aided Miss Fontaine in the many delicately-shaded emotional transitions of her role which won for her nomination among the year's outstanding actresses.

Barnes' camerawork was beautifully pictorial throughout almost every scene in "Rebecca." Regardless of setting or dramatic mood, there seemed scarcely an inch of film in the production which was not a well-nigh flawless example of composition and pictorial lighting. The majority of the settings were large and impressively sumptuous. Brought to the screen through Barnes' lens and lighting, they gained in richness.

Yet in no instance was mere pictorial effect permitted to interfere with the dramatic requirements of the story. As has already been indicated, the action covered a wide range of moods: but from the opening shot, a sense of subtle foreboding dominated, even in the lightest and most highly-keyed of the introductory sequences. This visual overtone of impending tragedy was subtly — almost imperceptibly — built up scene by scene until the climatic action was portrayed in a virtual crescendo of dramatic photography. Director Alfred Hitchcock — deservedly one of the nominees for the directorial award — has an international reputation for his skill in painting dramatic moods and building them suspensefully up to tremendous climaxes. No more thorough tribute to Barnes' skill could be paid than to say that his visual interpretation of "Rebecca's" interlaced basic and transitory moods not merely kept pace with Hitchcock's directorial interpretation of dramatic moods, but in many ways enhanced it.

In short, Barnes' photographic interpretation of "Rebecca" is the sort of thing to which his fellow cinematographers may point, as indeed they did in bestowing upon it the industry's premiere Award, as a complete example of what truly great camerawork can mean to a production.

The achievement of Georges Perinal in capturing the Color Award is unique in many ways. While Academy Awards for acting, art-direction, and the like have previously crossed the Atlantic, this is the first time in the thirteen-year history of these Awards that a European cinematographer has in open competition with American directors of photography, by their own choice, been adjudged to merit premiere honors. It seems singularly fitting, too, that the choice should fall on Perinal, who has long been rated Europe's top master of the camera, and who photographed "The Private Life of King Henry VIII," the film which marked Britain's rebirth as a major film-producing centre. It seems significant, too, of the ties of professional fellowship which bind the cinematographers of the world together, that the cinematographers of a democratic America should send this Award to a colleague who is reported now serving with the armed forces of Britain.

In "The Thief of Bagdad," Perinal had rare opportunities to exhibit the sheer beauty of which modern color cinematography is capable: but he also had a tremendous handicap — the memories many of us cherish of the superb beauty of the original Douglas Fairbanks production of "The Thief of Bagdad," photographed in 1924 by Arthur Edeson, A.S.C. That Perinal succeeded in capturing the Award is a high tribute to his skill, and to the magic of Technicolor in the hands of an artist. Certainly few productions in recent years have exceeded this in pictorial beauty and imagination. It points the way, too, toward the heights of cinematic pictorialism which can be reached when the artistic resources of color are turned imaginatively in the direction of fantasy.

This year, the Academy drastically altered its former policy of naming the runners-up for the various Awards. In the photographic Awards, this is certainly a fortunate move, for the various nominees were so closely matched, and of such a uniformly high order, that it would be most unfair to single out any one or two as second and third best. In the monochrome division, the nominees included James Wong Howe, A.S.C, for "Abe Lincoln in Illinois;" Ernest Haller, A.S.C, for "All This and Heaven, Too;" Charles B. Lang, Jr., A.S.C, for "Arise, My Love;" Hal Rosson, A.S.C, for "Boom Town;" Rudy Mate, A.S.C, for "Foreign Correspondent;" Tony Gaudio, A.S.C, for "The Letter;" Gregg Toland, A.S.C, for "The Long Voyage Home;" Joseph Valentine, A.S.C, for "Spring Parade;" and Joseph Ruttenberg, A.S.C, for "Waterloo Bridge." Nominees in the color group included Oliver T. Marsh, A.S.C, and Allen Davey, A.S.C, for "Bitter Sweet;" Arthur Miller, A.S.C. and Ray Rennahan, A.S.C, for "The Blue Bird;" Leon Shamroy, A.S.C. and Ray Rennahan, A.S.C, for "Down Argentine Way;" Victor Milner, A.S.C. and W. Howard Green, A.S.C, for "Northwest Mounted Police;" and Sidney Wagner, A.S.C, and William V. Skall, A.S.C, for Northwest Passage."

For only the fifth time in the thirteen-year history of the Academy Awards, the Academy's most jealously-guarded award for Scientific or Technical Achievement, was bestowed. This Award, which may be granted or withheld at the option of the Committee, was given jointly to Grover Laube, Daniel B. Clark, A.S.C, Robert W. Stevens and the late Charles Melvin Miller for their joint development of the Twentieth Century Silenced Camera (see AMERICAN CINEMATOGRAPHER for September, 1940) which, as the Academy citation stated, is "a completely new development in motion picture camera engineering, and gives motion picture production the flexibility and freedom of operation enjoyed prior to the advent of sound." A Certificate of Honorable Mention in this same classification was also issued to Anton F. Grot and the Warner Brothers Art Department for the design and perfection of the Warner Brothers Water Ripple and Wave Illusion Machine which " — is a mechanical device for creating the illusion of rippling water, permitting wide latitude in the production of marine scenes and water effects within limited confines of any stage, thereby securing natural results under controlled conditions."

Other of the Academy's Technical Awards included: Special Effects, to Lawrence Butler (photographic) and Jack Whiting (sound) in "The Thief of Bagdad;" Sound Recording, to Douglas Shearer, A.S.C, the special-process cinematographer who turned recording engineer, and the MGM Sound Department, for "Strike Up the Band;" Art Direction (black-and-white) to Cedric Gibbons and Paul Groesse for "Pride and Prejudice;" and a newly-created Award for Art Direction in color to Vincent Korda for "The Thief of Bagdad;" and Film Editing, to Anne Bauchens for "Northwest Mounted Police."

It may be noted, too, that the Award for the best one-reel short-subject, given to Pete Smith's "Quicker 'n a Wink," was to a picture which depended for its entire appeal upon a new development in photography. This unusual film was made to illustrate the unusual effects of super-slow-motion movies made by means of the Edgerton high-speed stroboscopic flash at camera-speeds up to 2,000 frames per second.

The non-technical Awards were: Outstanding picture, "Rebecca," David O. Selznick; Best Performance by Actor, James Stewart, "Philadelphia Story;" Actress, Ginger Rogers, "Kitty Foyle;" Supporting Actor, Walter Brennan, "The Westerner;" Supporting Actress, Jane Darwell, "The Grapes of Wrath;" Direction, John Ford, "The Grapes of Wrath;" Original story, Benjamin Glazer and John S. Toldy, "Arise, My Love;" Best Written Screenplay, Donald Ogden Stewart, "Philadelphia Story;" Best Original Screenplay, Preston Sturges, "The Great McGinty;" Best Original Score, Leigh Harline, Paul J. Smith and Ned Washington, "Pinocchio;" Best Scoring, Alfred Newman, "Tin Pan Alley;" Best Song, "When You Wish Upon a Star," Leigh Harline and Ned Washington, for "Pinocchio;" Best Cartoon, "Milky Way," Rudolph Ising, MGM; Best One-reel Short-subject, "Quicker 'n a Wink," Pete Smith-MGM; Best two-reel Short Subject, "Teddy, the Rough-rider," Warner Bros.

Special Awards were made to comedian Bob Hope for his unselfish services to the motion picture industry, and to Colonel Nathan Levinson for outstanding service to the motion picture industry and to the Army during the past nine years which made possible the present efficient mobilization of the motion picture industry facilities for the production of Army training films.

The Academy's usual special Irving Thalberg Memorial Award, given annually for the most outstanding production achievement by an individual producer, was not given this year as the Committee felt that no individual achievement was sufficiently outstanding to merit such an Award.

The Awards Banquet itself was precedent-making in that it marked the first time that the President of the United States addressed the motion picture industry. Speaking over a special radio network from the White House in Washington, D. C, President Roosevelt said:

"To my friends of the motion picture industry whose representatives are gathered from far and near for the annual awards dinner of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. In these days of anxiety and world peril our hearts and minds and all of our energies are directed toward one objective — that objective is the strengthening of our national defense. Every day that passes we realize that more and more things in our lives must be available in just such proportions as they contribute to the national defense.

"The American motion picture as a national and international force is a phenomenon of our own generation. Within living memory we have seen it born and developed. We have seen the American motion picture become foremost in all the world.

"Today our problem of national defense has become one of helping to defend the entire western hemisphere. You can no longer consider our own home problem of defense as a separate one. It involves the defense of all the democracies of the Americas and, in fact, it involves the future of democracy whenever it is imperilled by force or terror.

"An all-important factor in hemispheric defense of democracies is the Lend-Lease Bill, whose early enactment by Congress we anticipate. It is our place here and now to acknowledge the great service which the news-reels have performed in acquainting the public of America of the various legislative stages.

"The cooperation which has been shown by the three Americas in defending all the entire western hemisphere is the natural outgrowth of our own good neighbor policy, in our relations with the other American Republics. We have been seeking to affirm our faith in the western hemisphere through a wider exchange of culture and ideals, and through free expression among the various nations of this hemisphere. Your industry has utilized and is utilizing its vast resources of talent and facilities in a sincere effort to help the people of the hemisphere to come to know each other better. In carrying out the program of advancing continental defense, our government has established machinery to coordinate our growing commercial relations with the other republics.

"Our government is inviting you to do your share of the job of interpreting to the people of the western hemisphere their thoughts, to one another and all of us. All 21 republics in the Americas and Canada are grateful that your response is so immediate and so whole-hearted.

"I do not minimize the importance of the motion picture industry as the most popular medium of national entertainment. Tonight I wish to place the chief emphasis on the service you can render in promoting solidarity among all the people of the Americas.

"For all of this and for your splendid cooperation with all who are directing the expansion of our defense forces, I am glad to thank you. In the months and weeks that lie ahead, wre in Washington know that we shall have your continued aid and support."

The President's address, coupled with the presence of Major General John O. Mauborgne, Chief Signal Officer of the Army, and other high-ranking officers of the Army and Navy, gave a new and serious significance to the motion picture industry's most important function, and to the importance of that industry in the present national emergency. Possibly it was this thought, as well as the glittering assemblage of more than 1400 s directors, cinematographers, writers, executives and technicians which inspired' Academy-president Walter Wanger in his brief introductory comment when. harking back to the founding of the Academy 15 years ago, he remarked, "It just shows what a Hollywood idea can do — when it's right."