- Unsworth, Geoffrey
- (1913–1978)The cinematographer of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, Unsworth began as a camera assistant in British films in 1932 and became a camera operator by 1937. He was promoted to the post of director of photography in 1946,working on Scott of the Antarctic (1949); A Night to Remember (1958), about the Titanic disaster; and Beckett (1964). Unsworth was noted for his color cinematography on such films as Scott and Beckett, a costume drama, and LAURENCE OLIVIER’s Othello (1968). Hence he was called upon by STANLEY KUBRICK to photograph 2001:A Space Odyssey (1968). A giant centrifuge serves as the main compartment of the spaceship Discovery, which is voyaging to Jupiter in the central segment of the film; the centrifuge posed technical problems for Kubrick and Unsworth. Herb Lightman describes the centrifuge as a rotating “Ferris wheel,” which had built into it consoles, desks, and bunks for the astronauts, David Bowman (KEIR DULLEA) and Frank Poole (GARY LOCKWOOD). Kubrick directed the scenes taking place in the centrifuge by watching a closed-circuit TV monitor, which relayed to him and Unsworth the shots being photographed inside the centrifuge set, while they watched outside the set. “It took a lot of careful pre-planning with the lighting cameraman, Geoffrey Unsworth,” Kubrick told Lightman, “to devise lighting that would look natural and, at the same time, do the job photographically. All of the lighting for the scenes inside the centrifuge” came from lights concealed along its walls, so that the filmgoer would not see them. In filming the sequences aboard the Discovery spacecraft, Kubrick and Unsworth employed a Polaroid camera loaded with monochrome film (because the color emulsion was not consistent) in order to make still photos of each new camera setup, prior to photographing a given scene. They found this a rapid and effective way to check for the correct exposure and the proper light balance of each shot. After taking a photo of each camera setup for a scene, they would mount the photographs on a board and study the lighting and composition of each one, before finally shooting the scene later in the day. Kubrick and Unsworth took some 10,000 Polaroid shots in the course of filming, and they were all filed for ready reference throughout production. As PIERS BIZONY points out, today’s cinematographers “regard instant film as a standard tool for checking camera setups. ” As often happened, Kubrick, who had been using a Polaroid camera on the set of a film as early as SPARTACUS (1960), was ahead of his contemporaries in utilizing inventive techniques while filming a motion picture. It was unusual, however, for a director to collaborate so closely with a cinematographer in setting up shots, since many directors simply issued general instructions to the director of photography about the lighting of a set and let the lighting cameraman take it from there. When Jeremy Bernstein noticed Kubrick personally checking lighting effects with Unsworth, he asked Kubrick if it was customary for movie directors to participate in the photographing of a motion picture in such a “hands on” fashion. Kubrick replied succinctly that he “never watched any other movie director work. ”Kubrick not only conferred with Unsworth about camera setups and lighting, but also operated the handheld camera himself in all of the sequences in which the handheld camera was called for. “I find it difficult to explain what you want in a handheld shot to even the most talented and sensitive camera operator,” he explained to Philip Strick and Penelope Houston.Still, Unsworth’s relationship with Kubrick was cordial, and he never thought of Kubrick as trespassing on his turf—as cinematographer RUSSELL METTY complained while photographing Spartacus for Kubrick. Unsworth respected Kubrick’s encyclopedic knowledge of cameras, lenses, and lighting and hence accepted his collaboration. Unsworth had been shooting 2001 since December 29, 1965; by the end of June 1966, he had to move on to another commitment, since 2001 was considerably behind schedule. He was replaced by JOHN ALCOTT, his first assistant cameraman, who would then serve as director of photography on the next three Kubrick films. Unsworth won a British Academy Award for 2001, an Oscar for Cabaret (1972), and both a British Academy Award and an Oscar for Roman Polanski’s Tess (1978), from the Thomas Hardy novel. He also worked on Superman (1978), but died before its release. Superman was dedicated to his memory.References■ Bernstein, Jeremy, “Profile: Stanley Kubrick,” in Stanley Kubrick: Interviews, ed. Gene Phillips (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2001), pp. 21+;■ Bizony, Piers, 2001: Filming the Future (London: Aurum Press, 2000);■ Lightman, Herb, “Filming 2001: A Space Odyssey,” in The Making of 2001: A Space Odyssey, ed. Stephanie Schwam (New York: Modern Library, 2000), pp. 94+;■ Strick, Philip, and Penelope Houston, “Modern Times: An Interview with Stanley Kubrick,” in Stanley Kubrick: Interviews, ed. Gene Phillips (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2001), pp. 126+.
The Encyclopedia of Stanley Kubrick. Gene D. Phillips Rodney Hill. 2002.
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