Douglas Slocombe: A Tribute

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You can enjoy some of Douglas Slocombe’s cinematography tomorrow, February 26, when TCM airs Close Encounters of the Third Kind at 5:30 PM EST/2:30 PM PST.

Douglas Slocombe, the brilliant British cinematographer, died earlier this week at the ripe old age of 103. Slocombe’s filmography reveals that the skilled camera operator with a keen eye for composition worked on some of the best-looking films produced in the U.K. beginning in the 1940s at Ealing Studios until he retired following the completion of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in 1989. During his long and impressive career, Slocombe was nominated for numerous honors including 3 Oscars, 10 BAFTAs and was awarded 6 times by the British Society of Cinematographers. Today I thought I would take a brief look back at the man’s life and celebrate his achievements with a gallery of images that showcase his talents.

Douglas Slocombe was born in London in 1913 and raised in France where his father worked as an international correspondent for the Daily Herald. As a boy, Slocombe was given a Kodak Box Brownie camera and a French Pathé Baby, 9.5mm movie camera that sparked his interest in photography. Following his education, Slocombe expressed an interest in following in his father’s footsteps and began working as a photojournalist during WWII.

At the time, Ealing was making propaganda films for the British war effort and Slocombe provided the studio with documentary footage used as background material. This allowed him to become familiar with the business of making films and the ambitious cameraman eventually found a permanent position with Ealing Studios.

His first major film for Ealing was the classic horror anthology, Dead of Night (1945). This moody black and white thriller with its dreamlike atmosphere and off-kilter set pieces allowed the budding cinematographer to experiment with creative framing devices, different exposures and stylized lighting techniques. The film is a wonderful example of his natural talent for composition and ability to generate atmosphere by the atypical positioning of his camera. It seems evident that Slocombe’s early exposure to international cinema while living overseas, particularly the work of German Expressionists, influenced the way he interpreted images and relayed them to viewers.

Slocombe would spend the next 45 years working as a cinematographer with some of the world’s most accomplished and distinguished directors including Basil Dearden, Charles Crichton, Bryan Forbes, Joseph Losey, George Cukor, Peter Collinson, Roman Polanski, Ken Russell, Peter Yates, Jack Clayton, Norman Jewison, John Huston, Irvin Kershner, Fred Zinnemann and Steven Spielberg. He was eventually forced to retire in 1989 due to his failing eyesight following a botched eye laser procedure. The visionary camera operator who helped shape the look of many notable films eventually lost sight in both eyes but even in retirement, Slocombe continued to win praise and awards for his distinguished body of work.

Although rarely mentioned, I think it’s worth pointing out that Slocombe’s speech was impaired from a pronounced stammer throughout his life. Due to my own personal experience with a speech impediment, I know how difficult it can be to find rewarding work and overcome common prejudices as well as your own limitations when you have a disability. It’s commendable that Slocombe was able to surpass the odds stacked against him and became recognized for his exceptional talent.

What follows is a gallery of some of my favorite screen shots from Douglas Slocombe’s distinguished oeuvre. They demonstrate that the accomplished cinematographer was much more than an artless journeyman or technician who simply took orders from a director. The images I’ve gathered are linked together by a unique creative vision that spans the length of his 50-year career in film.

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Dead of Night (1945)

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It Always Rains on Sunday (1947)

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 Saraband (1948)

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Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)

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The Lavender Hill Mob (1951)

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The Man in the White Suit (1951)

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Tread Softly Stranger (1958)

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Circus of Horrors (1960)

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Scream of Fear (1961)

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The Mark (1961)

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The L-Shaped Room (1962)

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Freud (1962)

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 The Servant (1963)

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The Third Secret (1964)

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A High Wind in Jamaica (1965)

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The Blue Max (1966)

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 Fathom (1967)

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The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967)

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Boom! (1968)

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The Lion in Winter (1968)

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The Italian Job (1969)

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The Music Lovers (1970)

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Jesus Christ Superstar (1973)

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The Great Gatsby (1974)

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The Maids (1975)

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Rollerball (1975)

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The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea (1976)

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Julia (1977)

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Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
Note: Slocombe was responsible for the scenes shot in India.

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Nijinsky (1980)

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Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

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Never Say Never Again (1983)

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Lady Jane (1986)

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Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

Further reading:
- Douglas Slocombe Obituary at the Guardian
- Douglas Slocombe OBE BSC
- Overview for Douglas Slocombe at TCM.com

4 Responses Douglas Slocombe: A Tribute
Posted By AL : February 26, 2016 12:38 am

THE HAUNTED MIRROR will always haunt me…

Posted By Susan Doll : February 27, 2016 11:51 pm

High Wind in Jamaica is one of my favorite movies of all time. Such beautiful cinematography — very immersive. The film made me want to lead the pirate’s life — still do.

A nice tribute.

Posted By John Bauer : March 1, 2016 1:00 am

WOW!

Posted By swac44 : March 3, 2016 6:05 pm

Now THAT is a resume. Weirdly, just days before Slocombe passed away, I was hearing his name pop up in conversation on the terrific podcast I Was There Too hosted by comedian and movie fanatic Matt Gourley, when he talked to Spielberg’s assistant Martin Casella about the making of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

So much incredible work, but that Dead of Night dummy will haunt me to the grave.

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