Morris, Oswald


Morris, Oswald
(b. 1915)
   The cinematographer of LOLITA, Oswald Morris, was born November 22, 1915, in Ruislip, England. He worked as a projectionist while in high school and dropped out of school at age 16 to become an apprentice in the film industry. By 1935 he was an assistant cameraman and by 1938 a camera operator on low-budget British movies. Morris served as a bomber pilot in the Royal Air Force during World War II, and after the war assumed the duties of a camera operator once more. He worked on such films as David Lean’s film of Dickens’s Oliver Twist (1948). He then became a director of photography in 1951, photographing such distinguished movies as John Huston’s Moulin Rouge (1952), the fictionalized biography of French painter Toulouse-Lautrec, and John Huston’s Moby Dick (1956). He also filmed Carol Reed’s The Key (1958) and Our Man in Havana (1959), from the Graham Greene novel, before beginning work on STANLEY KUBRICK’s LOLITA (1962). While the movie was being shot at Associated British Studios, outside of London, Morris realized that Kubrick was a perfectionist: he took his time in coaching the cast during rehearsals, especially paying attention to SUE LYON, who was making her screen debut as the nymphet Lolita in Kubrick’s film of the VLADIMIR NABOKOV novel. Still, because of his long experience as a lighting cameraman, Morris was sometimes nettled by the way that Kubrick personally supervised the cinematographer’s work, since many directors left the lighting of a scene to the cameraman.
   Morris recalls in Richard Corliss’s book on Lolita that Kubrick would say,“Now I want the scene lit as though there’s just one lightbulb in the middle of the set. ” Fifteen minutes later, he would come back and say, “What are all those lights? I told you just one light bulb. ” Morris would reply, “It’s basically and faithfully lit as if with one lightbulb. ” Morris concludes, “So we used to fight, you see. . . . It all got a bit boring, inquest after inquest about the lighting. ” The scene Morris refers to is the one in which Clare Quilty (PETER SELLERS) wants to win the succulent nymphet Lolita away from her stepfather, Humbert Humbert (JAMES MASON), who, like Quilty, is sexually drawn to her. In an effort to come between Humbert and Lolita, Quilty shows up at Humbert’s home wearing thick glasses and a fake mustache, impersonating a school psychologist. He questions Humbert about the propriety of his relationship with his lovely young stepdaughter. He sits in Humbert’s shadowy living room, where only a slim shaft of light illuminates the scene. Kubrick’s concern about seeing to it that the scene was dimly lit, as if by a single lightbulb, was to make it credible for the viewer that Humbert would not see past Quilty’s disguise and recognize Quilty, whom he had encountered before. Despite his differences with Kubrick, Morris’s atmospheric lighting in this and other scenes in Lolita was a hallmark of the film’s technical quality.
   Writer Anwar Brett points out that Morris maintained his status as a freelance cinematographer throughout his career. His reputation was such that he did not have the need to work under contract with any one studio in order to assure himself steady work. “His overwhelming talent seems to have been his ability to work with some of the more demanding directors of the period” such as Stanley Kubrick, Brett writes. “Matched with his professional competence and adaptability, his solid and unostentatious work lent character and depth to a wide variety of films. He provided vivid and provocative images” in Martin Ritt’s The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1966); Carol Reed’s Oliver! (1968), the musical version of the Dickens story he had photographed for David Lean as a straight drama; Norman Jewison’s Fiddler on the Roof (1971), for which he received an Academy Award; and The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1976), in which Sherlock Holmes meets Sigmund Freud. His last film was The Dark Crystal (1982), featuring Jim Henson’s Muppets in a dazzling fairy tale.
   “No matter how fearsome the reputation of those with whom he worked,” Brett concludes, “Morris discharged his duties with quiet authority, proving himself to be unflashy but thoroughly dependable. ”
   References
   ■ Brett, Anwar, “Oswald Morris,” in International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers:Writers and Production Artists, rev. ed. , vol. 4, ed. Grace Jeromski (Detroit: St. James Press, 1997), 596+;
   ■ Corliss, Richard, Lolita (London: British Film Institute, 1994).

The Encyclopedia of Stanley Kubrick. . 2002.

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