Robert Parrish’s “flashback” to master cinematographer James Wong Howe, which appeared in the April 1986 American Film, begins with a reversal of fortune and ends with a revealing anecdote about the mistake of underestimating this Asian American film legend. Howe, who won Academy Awards® for THE ROSE TATTOO (1956) and HUD (1964), was nominated for seven others over a span of five decades, beginning with ALGIERS (1938) and ending with FUNNY LADY (1975), made the year before his death. “Jimmie” Howe emigrated from Guangzhou, China at age five and, as a teenager, worked as a “slate boy” for director Cecil B. DeMille. Given a chance to show his camera skills, Howe photographed silent star Mary Miles Minter, whose pale blue eyes never looked so go on film as when Howe devised a black velvet camera attachment to cast a shadow over them. Howe was elevated to the position of “lighting cameraman,” now known as Director of Photographer or DP, on Minter’s DRUMS OF FATE (1923) — the first of 139 films shot by Howe during his distinguished career. American Film Institute

This film about legendary cinematographer James Wong Howe was produced by the University Film and Video Foundation in 1990. In 2010, the UFVF Board of Trustees voted to release this film to the public on the Internet free of charge. As a Trustee of the Foundation, I am happy to do so so that we can honor such a magnificent artist. Simon Tarr

James Wong Howe, one of the outstanding cameramen of the Golden Age, talking about his career in Hollywood and taking questions from the audience at the 1974 San Francisco Film Festival following a screening of Funny Lady. Howe tells the audience anecdotes including how he became a cinematographer, his famous photograph of Mary Miles Minter in which her blue eyes were dark for the first time using orthochromatic film, how he filmed a scene in which a bird lands on Spencer Tracy’s hand in The Old Man and the Sea, and how he lit Barbara Streisand’s musical numbers in Funny Lady. In the Q&A, Howe also talks about his rocky relationship with John Frankenheimer, his reputation as a “slow” cameraman, his love of black-and-white photography, and the influence of Russian silent directors on his work, among other topics. [Internet Archive]

“Sometimes it’s not how much light you use to get an effect, it’s how
little you use and still make it work. There are a lot of rules to be
broken in photography, and you’ve got to have courage.” —James Wong Howe

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