movies: the african queen

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Cinematography by Jack Cardiff.

Black Narcissus (1946), The Red Shoes (1948), The African Queen (1951).

What I had picked up from painting was that light was the most important thing. The lighting played an important part. So it’s easy enough to analyse it and work out what looked good or what worked and so on. The only difference was I realised early on that because film was a transparency, and the Hollywood photographers used to use a lot of back-light because it made everything look crisper and glamorous. I realised that back-light and I relied very much on what I had picked up from paintings – a simplicity of lighting. Mind you, I recognised that painting’s a still picture where it’s easy enough to have a lighting effect, and on film where the actor gets up and walks around the room, you had to bear that in mind. But I still felt then, and still do, that you stick to a simple form of lighting.

[…]My original love in painting was Rembrandt, Caravaggio, people like that – but then I fell in love with the Impressionists. The Impressionists exaggerated everything. If someone is sitting on the grass, they would reflect the green light on their face. I sometimes used subtle green filters that probably one in fifty would notice but I got satisfaction out of it. That was the great thing. I used to use on the spot rails – in those days we used lots of arcs and arc-lights – when light was apparently coming from the sky. I used to use a faint blue filter so that it’s cold, and I used to use their methods by exaggerating the colour. I was always fighting with Technicolour because they wanted complete realism, whatever that was.

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I think he had an absolutely perfect personality. And I miss him very much. 
- Katharine Hepburn, 1986

Despite their lifelong friendship and their status as legendary screen stars, Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart were united in only one picture: “The African Queen”, which remains one of the best movies ever made. When Bogart died in 1957, Katharine Hepburn wore a skirt for the first time in almost thirty years. She wanted to let him know, wherever he was, that she was not herself without him. 

I don’t think you understand how much I love The African Queen

I don’t think you understand how much I love Rose Sayer

This is going to be a lot of rambling but I just want to get my thoughts out. I’ve been thinking lately about why I love Rose so much and I’ve realized that it’s because she’s a strong, complex female character.

Her character development begins the moment she loses Samuel. Now she is forced to make the kinds of decisions she has never had to make before. Instead of giving up she takes a risk, and once she’s on The African Queen she becomes focused, driven by the task at hand, and nothing is going to stand in her way. She becomes passionate about life when they go down the rapids, wanting to learn how to steer down them, doing things without hesitation. She comes up with solutions to problems, she’s smart as all get out. And an important point: Her love for Charlie does not make her a weaker figure. Yes suddenly she is changed, but this is essentially a woman experiencing her first love. It is obvious even from the start that she has always wanted to be loved, and she is finally getting her chance. She opens up to Charlie, she allows herself to be comforted, something that she would not have done before. This is wonderful character development. Her love for him does not get in the way of her plans. She doesn’t allow him to just put her off on the shore, she commands his attention and makes him listen.  She is determined to do what she can. She is brave, she stands up to the German officers, she faces death without a moment of regret. She gets her happy ending, but she worked at it, and I can honestly say that she is perhaps my favorite female character of all time.

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On the making of The African Queen:

The food was so awful we had to drink scotch most of the time, and Katie… kept saying wouldn’t it be mahvelous if we could all stay there forever

-H.B.

The work was very slow, the sun very hot.

-L.B

Come hell or high water
Through thick and through thin
For better and for worse
But not quite until death did we part- 
It was great fun

-K.H.

Cinematographers You Should Know: 1/∞

Jack Cardiff, BSC (9/18/1914 - 4/22/2009)

“The cinematographer is engaged to photograph a film, but he certainly doesn’t decide what to shoot; that is decided by the director, who has already worked it out from the script. The cinematographer then works with the director to achieve an atmosphere. It is up to the cinematographer to use his skills to produce that result. The closer the cameraman works with the director, the better the results will be. There has to be mutual trust and cooperation.”

Known For: The Red ShoesBlack NarcissusThe African Queen