Cinematographer. Nationality: French. Born: Villefranche-sur-Saone, 1908. Military Service: 1928–30. Career: 1928—grip, Billancourt Studios; 1931–39—assistant cameraman, then cinematographer after World War II; 1948—first of many films for Georges Franju, Le Sang des bêtes; 1952—directed the film Hommes d'aujourd'hui; also worked for TV, including the series Villages de Paris, 1962, Féminin singulier, 1964–65, and others.
Films as Assistant Cameraman:
La Vagabonde (Bussi); Le Train des suicides (Gréville); Chassé-croisé (H. Diamant-Berger); Tout s'arrange (H. Diamant-Berger); Ma tante d'Honfleur (M. Diamant-Berger); Prisonnier de mon coeur (Tarride); Le Coeur de Paris (Benoît-Lévy and Epstein)
Vampyr (The Dream of Allan Gray) (Dreyer); L'Enfant du miracle (M. Diamant-Berger); La Bonne Aventure (H. Diamant-Berger); Clair de lune (H. Diamant-Berger); Les Trois Mousquetaires (H. Diamant-Berger—2 parts); L'Homme à la barbiche (Valray—short)
La Maternelle (Benoît-Lévy and Epstein); Plein aux as (Houssein); Miquette et sa mère (H. and M. Diamant-Berger)
Cartouche (Blondeau); Jeanne (Marret); Comédie Française (Perret—short); Les Deux Couverts (Perret—short); Trois cents à l'heure (Rozier)
Fanfare d'amour (Pottier); Paris, mes amours (Blondeau); Le Gagnant (Y. Allégret—short)
Arsène Lupin, détective (H. Diamant-Berger); Vous n'avez rien à déclarer? (Joannon); Les Hommes nouveaux (L'Herbier)
Double crime sur la ligne Maginot (Gandera); L'Affaire Lafarge (Chenal); L'Alibi (Chenal); La Fessée (Caron)
Tempête sur l'Asie (Oswald); Ultimatum (Wiene and Siodmak); Gibraltar (Ozep); Conflit (Moguy)
Entente cordiale (L'Herbier); Pièges (Personal Column) (Siodmak)
Farrebique (Rouquier) (+ uncredited ph)
Films as Cinematographer:
L'Oeuvre scientifique de Pasteur (Pasteur) (Rouquier and Painlevé); Le Charcutier de Machonville (Yvernel); Jeux d'enfants (Painlevé)
La Caravane de la lumière (Colson-Malleville); Les Doigts de lumière (Colson-Malleville); Le Oued, la ville aux mille coupoles (Colson-Malleville) (co)
Le Sang des b•tes (Franju); Le Chaudronnier (Rouquier)
Champions juniors (Blondy) (co); Le Sel de la terre (Rouquier); En passant par la Lorraine (Franju); A Votre santé! (Thévenard) (co); Le Barrage du Chatelot (Colson-Malleville) (co)
Une Année se meurt (Loew); Le Fleuve: Le Tarn (Les Eaux vives) (Mitry); Au pays des grandes causses (Mitry); Hôtel des Invalides (Franju); Renaissance du Havre (Camus)
L'Homme en marche (Lallier and Rivoalen); Aux confins d'une ville (Loew); Sécurité et hygiène du travail dans la fabrication du sucre et de l'alcool (Dumas); Le Lycée sur la colline (Rouquier)
Recontres sur le Rhin (Bonnière); Monsieur et Madame Curie (Franju)
La Moisson sera belle (Villet)
Le Théâtre National Populaire (Franju); Sur le pont d'Avignon (Franju)
Notre Dame, cathédrale de Paris (Franju); Le Bel Indifférent (Demy); Celle qui n'était plus (Gérard)
Le Musée Grévin (Masson and Demy)
Cités du ciel (See)
Sahara, au IV (Gérard); Le Huitième Jour (Hanoun); Pleins feux sur l'assassin (Franju)
La Chèvre (Grospierre); Le Petit Chasseur (Grospierre); Jardins de Paris (de Vaucorbeil)
Voici des fleurs (de Vaucorbeil) (co); Houat (Magrou); La Machine à parler d'amour (Japrisot)
Les Yeux d'elstir (Magrou)
Jusques au feu exclusivement (Ginsey)
Faits divers à Paris (Kirsanoff)
Vacances en enfer (Kerchbron); Le Temps du ghetto (Rossif)
Thomas l'imposteur (Thomas the Imposter) (Franju)
La Faute de l'Abbé Mouret (Franju)
La Ligne d'ombre (Franju)
Penelope, folle de son corps (Magrou)
Film as Director:
Although Marcel Fradetal is most readily identified with the director Georges Franju, his career has evolved through association with several filmmakers. In the 1930s he worked under various leading cameramen, notably Rudolph Maté on Dreyer's atmospheric Vampyr, Maurice Desfassieux on Henri Diamant-Berger's Les Trois Mousquetaires, and Ted Pahle on L'Herbier's Entente cordiale. Their influence is discernible in his work.
With the postwar interest in documentary film, often promoted by government agencies, Fradetal was engaged by diverse directors. Initially hired by Georges Rouquier and Jean Painlevé for L'Oeuvre scientifique de Pasteur, he then contributed to Rouquier's celebrated filming of the farming year in Farrebique, his account of the coppersmith's trade in Le Chaudronnier, and his documentary about irrigation schemes in the Camargue, Le Sel de la terre. Blending lyricism with factual detail Fradetal's camera delicately captures the still unviolated peace and natural beauty of the marshes at daybreak. He worked not only for established directors such as Painlevé, Perret, and Kirsanoff but also for relative newcomers. For the film critic Jacques Loew he made the reflective Une Année se meurt; for the film theorist Jean Mitry the nature studies Le Fleuve: Le Tarn and Au pays des grandes causses; for Jacques Demy Le Bel Indifférent, adapted from a Cocteau sketch; and for Marcel Camus, his first film, Renaissance du Havre, depicting the reconstruction of the war-damaged channel port. Travelogues also formed part of Fradetal's repertoire with films for Marie-Anne Colson-Malleville, such as Le Oued, la ville aux mille coupoles. Both the range of subjects treated—science, sport, nature, history, travel—together with his widespread collaboration, confirms Fradetal's reputation in the documentary field. The 1960s brought features and television documentaries. For Marcel Hanoun he filmed Le Huitième Jour, for Frédéric Rossif the moving account of a doomed Warsaw ghetto, Le Temps du ghetto, and after several successful television documentaries for Jean Kerchbron, his feature Vacances en enfer.
It is essentially his 30-year collaboration with Georges Franju, however, that has cemented Fradetal's reputation. The association began in the 1940s with Le Sang des bêtes, and a series of documentaries, features, and eventually television films followed. Franju initially hired Fradetal because of his work with Maté whose insistence on lighting and composition corresponded to Franju's own preoccupations.
Le Sang des bêtes opens gently with images of the Parisian outskirts and a surreal wasteland in which incongruous objects are isolated by the camera: an elegant table, an ornate lamp swinging from a tree, a Renoir painting, all trappings of civilization, but, divorced from their usual contexts, they invite reappraisal. Inside the abattoir the camera calmly records every aspect of the butcher's trade unsensationally moving between medium shot and close-up to note the details. This apparently innocent eye is, however, deceptive. Startling images imprint themselves. Gray walls, an indifferent executioner, a white horse slaughtered, decapitated sheep with stumpy legs still kicking, an atmosphere thick and steamy with hot blood. Death and mutilation are again tellingly revealed in Hôtel des Invalides. The dark, cold metal of weaponry, the stunted trees and limbless victims of war expose the painful realities of the heroic ideal. Close-ups emphasize the ugly consequences of violence, oppressive lighting reinforces the far from triumphant mood, and the slow tracking shot reviewing the representation of heroically charging cavalrymen completes the subversive irony of the visual composition. Traditional tourist images are undermined in Sur le pont d'Avignon and Notre Dame, cathédrale de Paris, for which both color and CinemaScope were used. Postcard views of Avignon emphasize the tourist's limited perspective of the town while in Notre Dame aesthetic responses and religious indifference are juxtaposed through the beauty of the stained glass and rows of empty cathedral chairs. Similarly arresting images punctuate En passant par la Lorraine where the dark sky is lit by white hot metal pouring from enormous furnaces, set against nature in rich cornfields.
Fradetal's camerawork is equally vital to Franju's features. In Pleins feux sur l'assassin an eerie son-et-lumière sequence at a castle is created, and in contrast an accelerated funeral, à la Clair, irreverently conveys the joy of the dead man's beneficiaries. In Judex, a homage to Feuillade and the early serial, Fradetal brilliantly reproduces the orthochromatic tonal qualities of the silent cinema to create a visual symphony of light and dark effects as good and evil join battle. The screen version of Cocteau's Thomas l'imposteur exposing the heroic myth renders concrete the writer's imagery, such as the horse with its mane ablaze, while beautifully composed luminous shots of Belgian beaches with sea mists rolling across the trenches combine to produce a hauntingly atmospheric film about the realities and the unreality of war. For Zola's La Faute de l'Abbé Mouret, Fradetal achieved powerful, almost surrealist images such as the statue of the Virgin appearing to rise spontaneously from a packing case, but the essentially poetic quality of Zola's work is often disappointingly labored in the visual transcription.
The quality of Fradetal's camerawork ultimately resides in his experienced, sensitive, and appropriate response to his material. Where his camera is required to observe unobtrusively it does so, and where images of pristine clarity are expected then Fradetal provides them. Nevertheless, where a synthesizing image, or a telling close-up, or an atmospheric composition, or a specifically paced tracking shot is needed, he imaginatively satisfies his director's wishes. A self-effacing professional, Fradetal has left his mark both on fictional as well as documentary cinema.
—R. F. Cousins