Best Cinematography 1976

1927/28 through 1997

Which of the films nominated for Best Cinematography of 1976 was the best in that category?

Bound for Glory (Haskell Wexler)
15
88%
King Kong (Richard H. Kline)
0
No votes
Logan's Run (Ernest Laszlo)
1
6%
Network (Owen Roizman)
1
6%
A Star Is Born (Robert Surtees)
0
No votes
 
Total votes: 17

Mister Tee
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Re: Best Cinematography 1976

Postby Mister Tee » Sat Aug 19, 2017 2:35 pm

I only just saw this post, and a few comments

The Original BJ wrote:Watching this version of King Kong last week, I found myself wondering, what is it about this material that has continued to excite filmmakers so much? It's not like the various incarnations provide much in the way of fresh takes, though at least Peter Jackson's was a genuine technical wow. Maybe the '76 film was in its time, but I have my doubts -- there's certainly nothing about the photography that's impressive on a craft level aside from scope.


Answer: no, the film was not seen as impressive, even technically. Its few Oscar nods were due to its positioning as a pre-sold blockbuster -- really the first of those we'd ever seen. And, even though the film wasn't even as big a commercial deal as anticipated, it got support from those parts of the Academy used to propping up the white elephants from the early 60s on.

The Original BJ wrote:It's also worth noting that Wexler pioneered a rather groundbreaking photographic technique with this film, and that's the use of Steadicam, which allowed the camera to weave gracefully through its environments, giving us a sense we were casually observing the film's downtrodden characters in a manner that cinema hadn't really given us before.


The Steadicam was at that point a very new invention, and one that I welcomed with huge relief. In the years just prior, many directors had found traditional studio cameras too confining/stultifying, and we'd begun to see significant use of hand-held cameras in an attempt to create greater verisimilitude. The problem was, often the hand-held-shot scenes made one dizzy (as many complained they did, years later, in the early scenes of Husbands and Wives). The Steadicam was a glorious compromise -- enabling the freedom of the hand-held with the stability of the studio machines. The tracking shot as we have come to know and love it in the decades since would not have been possible without this invention (which was the recipient of a Scientific/Technical Oscar -- one of the most visible ever given in that category).

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Re: Best Cinematography 1976

Postby The Original BJ » Wed Aug 09, 2017 3:41 pm

As usual in this era, a bunch of movies that otherwise got major Oscar attention were perplexingly overlooked here: Taxi Driver's evocative lensing of New York grime, All the President's Men's exacting newsroom compositions, Seven Beauties's colorful elegance. And, of course, Carrie's supernaturally-tinged prom.

Watching this version of King Kong last week, I found myself wondering, what is it about this material that has continued to excite filmmakers so much? It's not like the various incarnations provide much in the way of fresh takes, though at least Peter Jackson's was a genuine technical wow. Maybe the '76 film was in its time, but I have my doubts -- there's certainly nothing about the photography that's impressive on a craft level aside from scope.

A Star is Born is another totally pointless nominee. Much about the photography simply seems to flatter Barbra Streisand's ego -- I remember one musical number where the camera just sits on a close-up of her face for about seven minutes. I guess it made sure we were laser focused on Babs's vocal technique; I would have preferred musical numbers with more imaginative filmmaking to them.

Seen today, the look of Logan's Run comes off pretty kitschy. Some of the colorful lighting feels dated in the way that a lot of hallucinogenic-inspired cinema from the era does, and for a film that ostensibly transports us to a new world, much of the compositions are really flat. It's more imaginative than some of the nominees, but clearly pales in comparison to the twin sci-fi smashes just around the corner.

The first time I saw Network, this nomination puzzled me -- the movie just didn't seem traditionally beautiful enough to qualify in this category. But my film professor had an interesting take on the photography that had me re-evaluate my initial reaction. He noted that much of the scenes of corporate mundanity are filmed like bland television, in his view ON PURPOSE, in order to contrast with the more stylized, garishly lit sequences (the actual television programs, Ned Beatty's outburst), which contain most of the moments of outrageous satire. I still don't think the film is so visually eye-catching that I'd want to make it the winner, but I now have more appreciation for how the movie's visual scheme works effectively to tell its story.

But...DUH. The winner is Bound for Glory, another of the decade's most transcendently beautiful films. There are images here that are simply gorgeous -- the dust storm approaching the town, Guthrie riding on top of the train through the tunnel. It's also worth noting that Wexler pioneered a rather groundbreaking photographic technique with this film, and that's the use of Steadicam, which allowed the camera to weave gracefully through its environments, giving us a sense we were casually observing the film's downtrodden characters in a manner that cinema hadn't really given us before. This is clearly the most stunning film to look at by virtually every rubric on this ballot, and a sterling winner.

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Re: Best Cinematography 1976

Postby Reza » Wed Aug 02, 2017 2:40 pm

Big Magilla wrote:The only other nominee worthy of also-ran status is Owen Roizman's captivating work on Network.


The scenes set in the board room with Ned Beatty are beautifully lit and shot.

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Re: Best Cinematography 1976

Postby Mister Tee » Wed Aug 02, 2017 2:02 pm

As I noted under 1975, the Academy was getting on a roll of awarding the actually most outstanding cinematography -- while, however, still slating also-rans that had no business being nominated. The missing are many: Michael Chapman's work is an essential element in Taxi Driver, making sleaze look voluptuous; Gordon Willis' shadowy take on DC made All the President's Men a tense thriller; Seven Beauties was great-looking from start to finish; Carrie had images one can recall in an instant, 40 years on; and even a potboiler like Marathon Man had memorably-lit scenes like Hoffman's run along the West Side highway. All of these efforts should have been considered (though they'd all have lost in the end).

King Kong and A Star is Born were nominated for the same reason: because they were Big Boppers, and this branch still had its weakness for such films, whether they were good or bad. These two opened at Christmas-time, and the only question anyone in the press had about them was how much money they were going to make. (Dino deLaurentis, producer of Kong, famously predicted Star is Born would earn more because "your gorilla can sing.") Neither film is distinguished for cinematography or any other element.

Logan's Run looks like pretty weak sauce next to many sci-fi films that followed (including a particular one a year on), but there was some genuine enthusiasm for its look among the tech branches. Rumor was that the visual effects branch wanted it and it alone given a special award in their category, but some powers that be leaned on them to include Kong in the citation as well. I'm not saying Logan's Run belongs here; merely that it represented some popularity rather than corporate inertia.

Owen Roizman gets another nomination for his cityscapes, at a time when recognition for such work was hard to come by from those who preferred the heavy-lumber work of Kong or Star. There's not that much that jumps out at you from Network's visuals, but Roizman serves the story well, and he's not an objectionable nominee.

Bound for Glory stands out among the string of 70s winners because it doesn't appear to have been chosen for the sheer lushness of its look (which would be the basis in 1975 and 1978), but because of the specificity and texture of its visuals. You can almost feel the arid dust in the air as you watch the film -- Wexler recreates a time and place so accurately that we respond to its genuineness rather than mere gorgeousness. The plight of the film's characters is matched by this look: we sense how extra-hard they had to strive just to progress in such a debilitating environment. This is a very special achievement in cinematography, and a hands-down choice for this year's prize.

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Best Cinematography 1976

Postby Big Magilla » Wed Aug 02, 2017 1:22 am

This is an easy one. Haskell Wexler's cinematography for Hal Ashby's Bound for Glory about the early life of Woody Guthrie is so far above the competition that there is no contest.

The only other nominee worthy of also-ran status is Owen Roizman's captivating work on Network. In fact, the other Best Picture nominees, All the President's Men, Taxi Driver and Rocky as well as several films nominated in other categories, Seven Beauties, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution Carrie, The Omen, The Shootist and Voyage of the Damned would have been more acceptable than what we got.

The 1976 version of King Kong was poorly written with Charles Grodin's loud, obnoxious villain and Jessica Lange's breathy tenth-rate imitation of Marilyn Monroe making it difficult to sit through, ending in a climax in the architecturally uninteresting World Trade Center rather than the iconic Empire State Building. Planes crashing into the towers, even if they were just helicopters, makes watching it now even more soul numbing.

With Logan's Run, they were honoring the deep focus anamorphic lens which allowed the film to be shot in 35mm. and blown up to 70mm. for its theatrical presentation. The story was hokey, the sets laughable and the dystopian terrain bleak, but at least it was better than King Kong.

I suppose it was the concert scenes that got Robert Surtees another unworthy nomination for the awful 1976 version of A Star Is Born, but there was nothing in the domestic scenes particularly interesting. But wait, we have another two years of Surtees nominations to wade through, one of which I might actually vote for.
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