March 21, 2007

Freddie Francis, 1917 - 2007.

Freddie Francis
Freddie Francis, who died on Saturday aged 89, was one of Britain's leading cinematographers, whose credits behind the camera included Sons and Lovers (1960), for which he won an Oscar; he also directed more than 25 feature films, including several horror cult classics.

"I don't know where this cinematographer Freddie Francis sprang from," wrote the American film critic Pauline Kael in the late 1950s. "You may recall that in the last year just about every time a British movie is something to look at, it turns out to be his [work] in each case, with a different director." Summing up his own professional philosophy, Francis noted that "there is good photography, bad photography and then there is the right photography."

The Telegraph.

Updated through 3/23.

Francis's achievements as a director, variable as they were, did not go unnoticed by his peers: Scorsese is quoted as saying that he wanted him to photograph Cape Fear because "the main thing was Freddie's understanding of the concept of the gothic atmosphere." ... As a photographer, Francis considered he had three mentors - the great cameraman Freddie Young, John Huston and Michael Powell.

Sheila Whitaker in the Guardian.

See also: The Wikipedia entry - and thanks for the photo, Jerry!


Francis was the absolute master of one of cinema's most beautiful and seldom used palettes: black-and-white CinemaScope. He loved the scope ratio and delighted in experimenting with it, in the form of split-diopter shots (that would bring foregrounds and backgrounds in identical focus to jarring effect) and special filters that enabled him to manipulate the gray scale of black-and-white. For The Innocents, he worked with a special lens filter that framed the action inside an opaque iris, accentuating the vintage of the storyline while also relegating some of the image into a hazy periphery where ghosts might legitimately dwell.... By virtue of having Freddie Francis in control of its look, The Elephant Man 0 though written, directed and produced by Americans - became inextricably bound to the blood and sinew of classic British cinema, not only in terms of its look but its heart.

Tim Lucas.

"The Straight Story is remarkable not only for the pastoral serenity of its visuals, but because it featured an octogenarian leading man (former stuntman Richard Farnsworth) and was photographed by the octogenarian Francis (his last film), a striking exception to Hollywood's usual ageism," writes C Jerry Kutner at Bright Lights After Dark.

Update, 3/22: Robert Cashill: "John Simon once carped, 'the esteemed cinematographer, Freddie Francis, has lately taken to directing Tales from the Crypt, Tales That Witness Madness, and other tales told by an idiot." But with two enduring careers to his credit Francis was no dummy, and like the late Richard Fleischer, I spent many happy hours in his cinematic care."

Update, 3/23: "His second Oscar win was for the great look of 1989's Glory, prompted Haskell Wexler, a fellow 1989 Oscar nominee for Blaze to tell me in a 1990 interview that he was "so relieved that Freddie won,'" writes Edward Copeland.

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Posted by dwhudson at March 21, 2007 4:15 AM


Tim Lucas also published a good OBIT at

Posted by: c. jerry kutner at March 21, 2007 11:48 AM

Many thanks!

Posted by: David Hudson at March 21, 2007 12:03 PM

I really like what Tim Lucas had to say, but so many of the commentaries on Francis read a litle bit like backhanded complements, which is a shame. His contribution to British horror cinema as a filmmaker should be applauded just as loudly as his cinematography.

Posted by: Kimberly at March 22, 2007 10:07 AM

Freddie, my dearest friend,
Rest in peace.
I would like to tell that everywhere around the World Freddie's work was and is appreciated deeply, even in such a small country as Macedonia is, where he was presented with and an award for lifetime achievements back in 2000 at cimenatographers' festival Manaki Brothers. But, I will always remeber him as a wonderful person, and it is a privilage for me that I met he and his dear wife and spent some time in their company. Thank you, Freddie and Pam. You will be always in my heart

Posted by: Natasha at March 24, 2007 7:07 AM