Daniel Raim2011-2020DocumentaryUSA

Daniel Raim – Image Makers: The Adventures of America’s Pioneer Cinematographers (2019)

TCM production exploring the invented, and inventive, techniques of early cinematographers, and their impact on filmmaking from the earliest films to those of present day.

An Interview with Daniel Raim, director of IMAGE MAKERS by Raquel Stecher

IMAGE MAKERS: THE ADVENTURES OF AMERICA’S PIONEER CINEMATOGRAPHERS is a new original TCM documentary that celebrates the early visionaries who shaped and molded an art form into what it is today. The film focuses on seven early cinematographers who developed their craft through invention, practice and collaboration. These include Billy Bitzer (Intolerance [1916′], Way Down East [1920]), Charles Rosher (Sunrise [1927], The Yearling [1946]), Rollie Totheroh (City Lights [1931], The Gold Rush [1925]), William H. Daniels (Flesh and the Devil [1926], Anna Christie [1930]), Karl Struss (Sunrise [1927], Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde [31]), Gregg Toland (Citizen Kane [41], The Grapes of Wrath [40]) and James Wong Howe (The Thin Man [34], Hud [1963]). I had the pleasure of chatting with director Daniel Raim, who has directed the critically acclaimed Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story (2015) and Something’s Gonna Live (2010), about his new documentary.

Raquel Stecher: Congratulations on IMAGE MAKERS. Can you tell me a little bit about how this project started?

Daniel Raim: I had met up with James Harmon Brown, who’s the grandson of Harry Stradling, Sr., ASC (Pygmalion [1938], My Fair Lady [1964]) and James Harmon Brown’s close friend Curtis Clark, ASC. They had explained to me that 2019 will be the 100th anniversary of the ASC (The American Society of Cinematographers), and they’d love to produce a documentary honoring the generation of cinematographers, the early cinematographers like Jim’s grandfather. I was immediately engaged by this subject matter and knowing that there was a documentary made in ’92 called Visions of Light, I wanted to do something very different from that and start from the very beginning and kind of make a documentary that, like most of my other films, sort of puts the audience in the shoes of these pioneer master craftsmen and craftswomen.

I said, “Let’s find out what archival materials we have access to.” Because you need to tell this kind of story in the way I like to tell them. I want to bring them to live in their own words. That’s the most important thing for me.

From the very beginning, I partnered with Michael Sragow, who is a film critic and an author who I’d come to work with at The Criterion Collection, and I brought him in… he championed Charles Rosher. Just about everyone else I had [worked with had a] kind of a personal connection to through my own sort of experience as a film viewer, just as a film lover. It’s important for me to have a personal connection. It was a process of discovery, but the criteria was it’s vital that we have access to their own words.

Stecher: How did you select the seven cinematographers to be profiled in the movie?

Raim: Out of the seven that we picked, we had access to archival materials. Billy Bitzer wrote an autobiography. Gregg Toland was never interviewed because he died at the age of 44–he was quite young–from heart disease, but he left behind a substantial amount of archival print interviews. In the early stages, I learned that his daughter, Lothian Toland, is still alive and well. And I said, “Lothian, I’d love to interview you about your dad… we’ll come out to Palm Springs and interview you.” She said, “No, no. I’ll come. I’ll drive out to the ASC clubhouse because I want to be next to my dad’s camera.” … I really want the audience to feel Gregg Toland through the presence of his camera sitting next to his daughter.

David Totheroh, the grandson of Rollie Totheroh, also came to the ASC clubhouse. This was in the very beginning of the documentary making. I had no idea that this guy’s a walking encyclopedia of his grandfather… Rollie Totheroh was one of those fascinating stories about a third baseman baseball player, who out of nowhere is thrust into the middle of some of the most important moments in cinema history… and would become Charlie Chaplin’s closest collaborator.

The ASC had this incredible archive of audio recordings done by Kemp Niver, ASC. Dating back to the ’60s and ’70s, he did these audio recordings. Our archival producer, Martha Winterhalter, was the publisher of American Cinematographer magazine for 30 years. During that time, she had digitized these recordings.

Stecher: What do you think are some misconceptions about the cinematographer’s contribution to the filmmaking process and the director’s contribution?

Raim: To a large degree, there’s very little study on the contribution of the early pioneer cinematographers until recently. We need to understand the directors and who they are, the artistic vision of the director. What we learn in IMAGE MAKERS is the pioneering cinematographers invented the language that became film grammar. That was an essential question I had when I first started working on this, where does the grammar of cinema come from? I certainly agree that a general audience is aware there’s a continuity. IMAGE MAKERS offers sort of a look at the puzzle…

You learn that Billy Bitzer taught D.W. Griffith about the components of storytelling. There’s action and comedy, and here are the genres. Here’s how we show it visually. Bitzer kind of invented the medium with Griffith. We don’t know anything about Bitzer or what he did. Then Griffith came into his own and was clearly a master visual artist in his own right.

Charles Rosher of all people, who [was] Mary Pickford’s cameraman, is invited to UFA to show how he lights Pickford. Two years later, he comes back to Hollywood with Murnau and they do Sunrise (1927) together. Sunrise is one of those films I saw at film school that just blew my mind.

Then [there’s] James Wong Howe… a Chinese-American cameraman. Now suddenly you realize that this guy has an amazing sense of humor and artistry and an enormous respect from directors like Martin Ritt and impacts the ending of what John Bailey in our film calls the most important climax to any film… Hud (1963).

Stecher: IMAGE MAKERS includes illustrations by Patrick Mate, which help visualize some of the behind-the-scenes actions. Can you tell me about how you worked with Mate and why it was important to incorporate these illustrations in your film?

Raim: I’m having lunch with Patrick Mate and [writer] Michael Sragow. Mike tells us the story of Karl Brown remembering Fireworks Wilson… he was the special effects supervisor on Intolerance (1916). He had a stump for an arm and basically deals with explosives and helped Billy Bitzer light. There [are] no photographs of Fireworks Wilson. I thought there’s nobody better on planet Earth to draw and depict Fireworks Wilson than Patrick Mate, to bring to life this kind of extraordinary character who basically helped Billy Bitzer light the Intolerance night scene with those magnesium flare torches.

Patrick has this uncanny ability to inject kind of drama and humor and personality into kind of a historical depiction of an event and bring it to life on multiple levels. And certainly that began in our collaboration with Harold and Lillian. In this case, we decided to go for a period look that sort of is born out of the cartoon magazine illustrations of the time and looking at the cartoon of the Pathe Brothers from 1910… I thought it was important to use art. The criteria is I would only use an original artwork by Patrick if there were no historical photographs.

Stecher: Can you tell me about working with Kevin Brownlow and Leonard Maltin, two celebrated film historians featured in the documentary, as well as actor Michael McKean who narrated?

Raim: Working with Michael McKean with the narration [was] really great… first of all he’s a TCM nut… He is one of the great American actors who brought a deep affection, knowledge and love of film history. He’s so dynamic at drama and comedy. And he did all the voices as well as the narration of the different interviews. He did the voice of Billy Bitzer and William Daniels.

And then there’s Kevin Brownlow… [with] his wealth of knowledge about silent film. I didn’t want to interview Kevin Brownlow as a talking head. I wanted to interview Kevin Brownlow, someone who can share with us their passion and their insight and how they got there too. I’m interested in Kevin Brownlow as a character, not as an interview subject. I hope the film gives Kevin Brownlow the breathing space to really… connect with him as a character, and so I really try to make him comfortable to really be who he is and not edit around him but let him breathe, let the film really see him and spend time with him and not make it into sound bites. But, boy, can he talk about William Daniels.

Then of course, Leonard Maltin’s interesting because when he was 24 he came out to Hollywood for the first time to write a book that was published called The Art of the Cinematographer. I loved how just eloquent Leonard was bringing to life the contributions of Billy Bitzer, specifically, and Charles Rosher and spoke eloquently to the transition. He brought his own personality into it. I love the moment where he says, “The transition from silent to sound was like a sledgehammer on an art form.” For me, that’s just so much the essence of what I also want to communicate in IMAGE MAKERS, that the passion that people like Kevin Brownlow and Leonard have for silent filmmaking.

Stecher: What do you hope viewers take away from Image Makers?

Raim: The one thing that I hope is that when audiences watch the film, as they continue to watch classic Hollywood movies on TCM, in this case, that they’ll be looking at the scenes with new eyes and going, “who is the cinematographer and what is the continuity of style? And how did he light this scene?” Then getting a sense of the kind of incredible contribution of the motion picture cinematographer, as well as sort of an appreciation of the art and the technology that enabled them to do what they did.

1.47GB | 1h 30m | 720×480 | mkv



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