Francis, Freddie

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FRANCIS, Freddie

Cinematographer and Director. Nationality: British. Born: Islington, London, 22 December 1917. Education: Studied engineering. Military Service: British Army, with duties for Army Kinetograph Services, 1939–46. Family: Married Pamela Mann, son: the production manager Kevin Francis. Career: 1936—joined Gaumont-British as clapper loader; then camera assistant at British and Dominions and at Pinewood; after military service, cameraman for London Films; 1956—first film as cinematographer, A Hill in Korea; 1962—first film as director, Two and Two Make Six; also TV director. Awards: Academy Award, for Sons and Lovers, 1960, and Glory, 1989. Agent: CCA Personal Management Ltd., 4 Court Lodge, 48 Sloane Square, London SW1W 8AT, England.

Films as Cameraman:


The Macomber Affair (Z. Korda) (2nd unit); Mine Own Executioner (Kimmins); Night Beat (Huth)


The Small Back Room (Powell and Pressburger)


Golden Salamander (Neame)


Gone to Earth (The Wild Heart) (Powell and Pressburger); The Elusive Pimpernel (Powell and Pressburger)


The Tales of Hoffman (Powell and Pressburger); Outcast of the Islands (Reed); Angels One Five (O'Ferrall)


24 Hours of a Woman's Life (Affair in Monte Carlo) (Saville); Moulin Rouge (Huston)


Rough Shoot (Shoot First) (Parrish); Twice upon a Time (Pressburger); Beat the Devil (Huston)


Monsieur Ripois (Knave of Hearts; Lovers; Happy Lovers) (Clément); Beau Brummell (Bernhardt)


The Sorcerer's Apprentice (Powell—short)


Moby Dick (Huston)

Films as Cinematographer:


A Hill in Korea (Hell in Korea) (Aymes); Moby Dick (2nd unit); Dry Rot (Elbey) (2nd unit)


Time without Pity (No Time for Pity) (Losey); The Scamp (Rilla)


Next to No Time! (Cornelius); Virgin Island (Jackson); Room at the Top (Clayton)


Battle of the Sexes (Crichton)


Never Take Sweets from a Stranger (Never Take Candy from a Stranger) (Frankel); Sons and Lovers (Cardiff); Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (Reisz)


The Innocents (Clayton); The Horsemasters (Fairchild)


Night Must Fall (Reisz)


The Elephant Man (Lynch)


The French Lieutenant's Woman (Reisz)


Memed My Hawk (Ustinov); The Jigsaw Man (Young); Dune (Lynch)


Code Name: Emerald (Sanger)


Clara's Heart (Mulligan)


Brenda Starr (Miller) (co); Dark Tower (Barnett); Glory (Zwick); Her Alibi (Beresford)


Cape Fear (Scorsese); The Man in the Moon (Mulligan)


School Ties (Mandel)


A Life in the Theater (Mosher—for TV)


Princess Caraboo (Austin)


Rainbow (Hoskins)


The Straight Story (Lynch)

Films as Director:


Two and Two Make Six (A Change of Heart; The Girl Swappers); Vengeance (The Brain); Paranoiac




The Evil of Frankenstein; Hysteria; Traitor's Gate


The Skull; The Psychopath; Dr. Terror's House of Horrors


The Deadly Bees


They Came from beyond Space; Torture Garden


Dracula Has Risen from the Grave; The Intrepid Mr. Twigg (short)


Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny, and Girly




Gebissen wird nur Nachts—Happening der Vampire (Vampire Happening)


Tales from the Crypt; The Creeping Flesh


Tales that Witness Madness; Craze


Son of Dracula (Count Downe)


The Ghoul; Legend of the Werewolf


Golden Rendezvous (co)


The Doctor and the Devils


Dark Tower


Tales from the Crypt (series for TV)


By FRANCIS: articles—

Film (Hanover, New Hampshire), August 1968.

Photon (New York), no. 22, 1972.

Little Shoppe of Horrors (Waterloo, Iowa), March 1973.

Bizarre (Asheville, North Carolina), August 1974.

Filmmaking, August and September 1978.

On The Elephant Man in Millimeter (New York), March 1981.

Eyepiece (London), July/August 1982.

Classic Images (Muscatine), October 1992.

Sight & Sound (London), November 1992.

Sight & Sound (London), September 1994.

On FRANCIS: books—

Dixon, Wheeler Winston, The Films of Freddie Francis, Metuchen, New Jersey, 1991.

McCarty, John, The Fearmakers: The Screen's Directorial Masters of Suspense and Terror, New York, 1994.

Jensen, Paul. M., The Men Who Made the Monsters, New York, 1996.

On FRANCIS: articles—

Filmmaking, September 1971.

Monthly Film Bulletin (London), June 1973.

Nolan J. E., in Films in Review (New York), August/September 1974.

Film Review (London), August 1975.

Mandell, P., on Dune in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), December 1984.

Gentry, R., in Millimeter (New York), February 1985.

On Glory in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), November 1990.

Revue du Cinema, no. 484, July/August 1992.

Kelleher, E., "Double Oscar Winner Francis Reflects on His Two-Hatted Career," in Film Journal (New York), September 1992.

Iles, T., "Amorphic Cinematography Seminar," in Image Technology (London), July 1997.

Bradley, Matthew R., "The Good and Evil of Freddie Francis," in Filmfax (Evanston, Illinois), February-March 2000.

* * *

One of the world's most accomplished cameramen, as well as an excellent director of gothic films, Freddie Francis brings a cameraman's eye and his own uniquely despairing sensibility to his numerous cinematographic assignments, and to the many horror films he has directed in his long career.

Francis started at 17 as a clapper boy, rapidly advancing to the position of camera assistant. After service during World War II in The Royal Army Kinematographic Unit, he returned to the industry as a full-fledged camera operator, working on a number of films for maverick British director Michael Powell (The Small Back Room, The Tales of Hoffman) and maverick American director John Huston, including Moulin Rouge, Moby Dick, and Beat the Devil. Francis says his experiences on Moby Dick were what finally convinced him that he had served a long enough apprenticeship as a camera operator. "We [Huston and I] got on very well — so well he wouldn't let me advance." Francis was also somewhat miffed that he did not receive the full credit due him on the film, for in addition to doing all the "live" second-unit work for Moby Dick (which included shooting Portuguese fisherman in vulnerable longboats hunting whales with hand-hurled harpoons), he also supervised the special effects sequences in the studio; these involved constructing twenty mini-Mobys built to crunch whaling boat floors as well as bleed and roll dead out in the studio tank doubling for the ocean. "When I finished that film I said, 'Right, that's enough; now I want to do my own film as Director of Photography."' That film was A Hill in Korea, a war picture with a cast that included Robert Shaw, Stephen Boyd, and a young Michael Caine. "The cast was fantastic," he says. "They were all yet unknown. It would be hard to collect such an excellent group of players today."

However, when A Hill in Korea came out, the Suez crisis was very much in the news and war seemed imminent; because of this the film did relatively little business at the box office. But, as Francis noted, his work as director of photography got noticed and landed him work on a number of important British films of the late 1950s and early 1960s. "I became a sort of darling of the British New Wave," he says. During this period, he shot Room at the Top, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, and The Innocents, establishing himself as one of the most active and innovative British cinematographers. In 1960 he won an Academy Award for his brilliant black-and-white work on Sons and Lovers. It was during this period that the critic Pauline Kael wrote, "I don't know where this photographer Freddie Francis sprang from. You may recall that in the last year, just about every time a British movie is something to look at, it turns out to be his—in each case with a different director." Although he received many offers to direct because of his enormous success, he turned them all down because "I was quite happy at that point photographing other people's films—except that now and then there were some unexciting ones. I thought 'If I direct, then I can't stand around criticizing other people's work. If it's not exciting, it'll be my fault."'

Finally, in 1962, he took the plunge. He credits Michael Powell and John Huston as influencing his approach to directing. "They were both great adventurers, and once they started a film, they went off into the great unknown and enjoyed everything about it," he says. "They had a cavalier attitude toward the whole thing. [Working with them] you never knew what was going to happen next. It was always a great adventure." He directed some sequences added to the science-fiction thriller The Day of the Triffids for which he received no screen credit, then made his official bow as a director with the indifferent Two and Two Make Six. "I decided to do a film with a script I didn't much like. Stupidly, I thought I could make a good movie anyway. But, of course, you can't. The result was slightly disastrous. So it seemed to me I had to follow that film with a lot of other films very quickly, simply to establish myself as a director, rather than a Director of Photography." The Brain, a British-German co-production, followed shortly thereafter (the film is yet another version of Donovan's Brain, which nevertheless strongly benefits from an excellent performance by Bernard Lee and Francis's atmospheric set-ups), and then Francis received an invitation which would forever change the course of his career. "Tony Hinds, who ran a studio called Hammer Films at that time, is a very close friend of mine, and he was going to do a psychological horror film called Paranoiac, starring a young Oliver Reed. So I did the film, and I loved making it. It was a very happy experience. And then that finished, and Tony said 'Do another, and do another,' and the next thing I knew, I was typecast. I had achieved my goal—I had directed a lot of films in a short period of time—but I was embroiled in that genre—the horror genre." By his own admission, Francis has no particular affinity for gothic cinema, unlike Hammer's house director, the gifted Terence Fisher, and he soon found he disliked being forced to work on horror films and nothing else.

Not that his films were aesthetically unsuccessful. Paranoiac, Nightmare, Dr. Terror's House of Horrors, The Skull, and perhaps Torture Garden are all accomplished pieces of work, which Francis feels "visually transcended" their source material. In many ways, he is absolutely right. Francis's horror films have been discussed at length in numerous books and magazines, the most incisive of which is undoubtedly David Pirie's excellent book, Heritage of Horror. But Francis himself is reluctant to make claims for his work, or even discuss it at length. By the time of Trog, probably Francis's worst film as director, he had clearly given up. What marked his early work was a fluid, continually dollying camera, deep compositions, and effective, low-keyed lighting. By Trog, everything is flatly lit, and routinely shot, and the film is obviously the work of a man who no longer cares about what he is doing. Tales from the Crypt (Francis's most successful film commercially) is slightly better, but still relies on zooms where before Francis had once used the more participatory tracking camera style.

After making two films with his son, Kevin Francis, Francis simply quit directing films, and went back, after a rest, to being a director of photography on David Lynch's The Elephant Man. Francis liked the script, and the lead, John Hurt (who Francis had worked with in The Ghoul in 1975), but the finished product has many shortcomings stylistically, due mostly to David Lynch's rather static use of the camera. But it put Francis back in the industry's eye as a director of photography. He won his second Oscar for his brilliant photography of the Civil War film Glory, which boasts some of the most breathtakingly colorful nighttime battle scenes ever brought to the screen. For director Martin Scorsese, he photographed the thriller Cape Fear (a remake of the 1962 film of the same title), and handled the second unit work in the film's finale where (shades of Moby Dick) a model boat is convincingly tossed about in a storm created in a studio tank. Working again with David Lynch, he shot Dune and later The Straight Story in 1999.

As a result of the success of The Elephant Man, Francis returned to directing when Mel Brooks, the executive producer of that film, agreed to back The Doctor and the Devils by Dylan Thomas, a project Francis had long wanted to make. Filming began on 17 January 1985. Despite the film's horrific content, Francis was quite determined to play the horror angle down. While acknowledging grudgingly that there was a similarity in the plot lines of the Thomas screenplay and the famous series of murders of Burke and Hare, he refused to take the matter any further.

Francis does little preplanning of shots before he gets on the set. He walks around the set with the head grip, the director of photography, and the camera operator, and "blocks" the camera setups out in a very informal manner. I was able to watch him doing this on the day before filming began, and it was impressive to watch him set up a complex dolly shot, one which introduces the set and several of the main characters, with more than 150 extras in the background, by coolly strolling about the set and saying, "Right! We start from here, to here, then turn, then end up here. Got it?" And everyone would nod yes, and that was it.

The Doctor and the Devils, unhappily, never received a very wide release, and Francis's work as a "horror specialist" continues to mitigate against most serious appreciation of his work as a director. This is unfortunate, because at his best, even though Francis seemingly disdains much of his own directorial work, his cinematic sensibility is restrained, melancholic, and altogether believable. The brooding cynicism which pervades the world of his films The Skull, Paranoiac, Hysteria, Nightmare, and others, is uniquely Francis's own, and by itself his work as a director would be a considerable achievement. But when one figures in his remarkable accomplishments as a director of photography, Francis emerges as a major figure in the history of cinema.

—Wheeler Winston Dixon, updated by John McCarty

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Francis, Freddie

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