Light Paintings of James Wong Howe
“Painting with light.” “A master of naturalistic black-and-white photography.” That’s how director Daniel Mann described the work of cinematographer James Wong Howe (1899-1976), who was born today in 1899. Over a 53-year career, he photographed some of Hollywood’s top stars to brilliant effect. Nominated for nine Academy Awards®, he won two for his lustrously moody black-and-white work on The Rose Tattoo (1955) (directed by Mann) and Hud (1963). But his work in color in equally impressive, and Twilight Time’s three Blu-rays showcasing Howe’s thoughtful approach and unique skill are true widescreen beauties. Consider how the sweltering heat and the sweaty unresolved passions of the characters are conveyed through his lenses on broiling Kansas locations in director Joshua Logan’s Picnic (1955, now sold out). Then saddle up for the Arizona landscapes and ideally composed interior character compositions between the conflict-ridden ensemble of Hombre (1967), reteaming Howe with Hud star Paul Newman and director Martin Ritt. Finally, there’s his last opus, Funny Lady (1975), a dazzling cavalcade of color, music and show-business glamour swirling around Barbra Streisand’s Fanny Brice. It’s a swan song (for which he was Oscar®-nominated) that’s a particularly apt summing-up of decades of shining a rare light of creativity and craftsmanship on the cinema of our screens and in our dreams. Experience the man himself, interviewed a year before his death and offering some secrets about his process, in the half-hour documentary James Wong Howe: Cinematographer, produced by the University Film and Video Foundation and available at https://vimeo.com/15815385.