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Seitz, John F.

SEITZ, John F.



Cinematographer. Nationality: American. Born: Chicago, Illinois, 23 June 1893. Family: Brother of the director George B. Seitz. Married; two children. Career: 1909—worked for St. Louis Motion Picture Company as laboratory technician; 1913—first film as photographer; 1916—joined Metro Pictures; many technical innovations: invented the matte shot (prephotographed backgrounds with action foregrounds), and held 18 patents on photographic inventions; 1920—first of many films for Rex Ingram; 1929–30—President, American Society of Cinematographers; 1960—retired. Died: In Woodland Hills, California, 27 February 1979.


Films as Cinematographer:

1913

Ranger of Lonesome Gulf ; The Quagmire

1915

Edged Tools

1917

Souls in Pawn (H. King); Whose Wife? (Sturgeon)

1918

Beauty and the Rogue (H. King); Powers That Prey (H. King)

1919

The Westerners (Sloman)

1920

The Sagebrusher (Sloman); Hearts Are Trumps (Ingram); Shore Acres (Ingram)

1921

The Conquering Power (Ingram); The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Ingram); Uncharted Seas (Ruggles)

1922

The Prisoner of Zenda (Ingram); Trifling Women (Ingram); Turn to the Right (Ingram)

1923

Scaramouche (Ingram); Where the Pavement Ends (Ingram)

1924

The Price of a Party (Giblyn); The Arab (Ingram); Classmates (Robertson) (co)

1926

The Magician (Ingram); Mare Nostrum (Ingram)

1927

The Fair Co-ed (Wood)

1928

Across to Singapore (Nigh); Adoration (Lloyd); Outcast (Seiter); The Patsy (K. Vidor)

1929

The Divine Lady (Lloyd); Careers (Dillon); Hard to Get (Beaudine); Her Private Life (A. Korda); A Most Immoral Lady (Wray); The Painted Angel (Webb); Saturday's Children (La Cava); The Squall (A. Korda); The Trail of '98 (Brown)

1930

Back Pay (Sieter); The Bad Man (Badger); In the Next Room (Cline); Kismet (Dillon); Murder Will Out (Badger); Road to Paradise (Beaudine); Sweethearts and Wives (Badger); Misbehaving Ladies (Beaudine)

1931

East Lynne (Lloyd); Young Sinners (Blystone); Hush Money (Lanfield); Men of the Sky (Green); Merely Mary Ann (H. King); Age for Love (Lloyd) (co); Over the Hill (H. King)

1932

She Wanted a Millionaire (Blystone); Careless Lady (MacKenna); Woman in Room 13 (H. King); Passport to Hell (Lloyd); Six Hours to Live (Dieterle)

1933

Dangerously Yours (Tuttle); Ladies They Talk About (Bretherton and Keighley); Adorable (Keighley); Paddy, the Next Best Thing (Lachman); Mr. Skitch (Cruze)

1934

Coming Out Party (Blystone); All Men Are Enemies (Fitzmaurice); Springtime for Henry (Tuttle); Marie Galante (H. King)

1935

Helldorado (Cruze); One More Spring (H. King); Our Little Girl (Robertson); Curly Top (Cummings); Beauty's Daughter (Dwan) (co); The Littlest Rebel (Butler)

1936

The Country Doctor (H. King) (co); Captain January (Butler); Poor Little Rich Girl (Cummings); Fifteen Maiden Lane (Dwan)

1937

Between Two Women (G. Seitz); Madame X (Wood); Navy Blue and Gold (Wood)

1938

Love Is a Headache (Thorpe); Lord Jeff (Wood); Young Dr. Kildare (Bucquet); Stablemates (Wood); The Crowd Roars (Thorpe)

1939

Huckleberry Finn (Thorpe); Sergeant Madden (von Sternberg); Six Thousand Enemies (G. Seitz); Thunder Afloat (G. Seitz); Bad Little Angel (Thiele)

1940

Dr. Kildare's Strange Case (Bucquet); A Little Bit of Heaven (Marton); Dr. Kildare's Crisis (Bucquet)

1941

Sullivan's Travels (P. Sturges)

1942

Fly By Night (Siodmak); This Gun for Hire (Tuttle); The Moon and Sixpence (Lewin); Lucky Jordon (Tuttle)

1943

Five Graves to Cairo (Wilder)

1944

The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (P. Sturges); Hour Before Dawn (Tuttle); Double Indemnity (Wilder); Hail the Conquering Hero (P. Sturges); Casanova Brown (Wood)

1945

The Unseen (Allen); The Lost Weekend (Wilder)

1946

The Well Groomed Bride (Lanfield); Home Sweet Homicide (Bacon); Wild Harvest (Garnett)

1947

The Imperfect Lady (Allen); Calcutta (Farrow)

1948

Saigon (Fenton); The Big Clock (Farrow); A Miracle Can Happen (On Our Merry Way) (Fenton and K. Vidor) (co); Beyond Glory (Farrow); The Night Has a Thousand Eyes (Farrow)

1949

The Great Gatsby (Nugent); Chicago Deadline (Allen)

1950

Captain Carey, U.S.A. (Leisen); Sunset Boulevard (Wilder); The Goldbergs (Hart)

1951

Dear Brat (Seiter); Appointment with Danger (Allen); When Worlds Collide (Maté) (co)

1952

The San Francisco Story (Parrish); The Savage (Marshall); The Iron Mistress (Douglas)

1953

Desert Legion (Pevney); Invaders from Mars (Menzies); Botany Bay (Farrow)

1954

Saskatchewan (Walsh); Rocket Man (Rudolph); Rogue Cop (Rowland)

1955

Many Rivers to Cross (Rowland); The McConnell Story (Tiger in the Sky) (Douglas); Hell on Frisco Bay (Tuttle)

1956

Santiago (Douglas); A Cry in the Night (Tuttle)

1957

The Big Land (Douglas)

1958

The Deep Six (Maté); The Badlanders (Daves)

1959

Island of Lost Women (Tuttle); The Man in the Net (Curtiz)

1960

Guns of the Timberland (Webb)



Publications


On SEITZ: articles—

Lightman, Herb A., in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), September 1950.

Films in Review (New York), October 1967.

Film Comment (New York), Summer 1972.

Focus on Film (London), no. 13, 1973.

Obituary in Variety (New York), 7 March 1979.

Obituary in Ecran, 15 April 1979.

Obituary in Cinematographe, April 1979.


* * *

The development of the photographic artistry of John F. Seitz is virtually synonymous with the evolution of cinematography itself into the sophisticated form of expression it is today. At the time of his death in 1979, he held as many as 18 patents for different photographic processes and the technology to implement them. Although he was best known for the invention of the matte shot and the use of intense low-key lighting, he was instrumental in creating a distinctive visual style for a variety of landmark films spanning both the silent and sound eras.

His career began in 1909 with the St. Louis Motion Picture Company but, in 1916, he moved to Hollywood to join Metro Pictures. There, he collaborated with the director Rex Ingram in filming such classics as The Conquering Power, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, The Prisoner of Zenda, Where the Pavement Ends, and Mare Nostrum.

It was during his collaboration with Ingram that Seitz invented the matte process. In this procedure, a mask was employed to expose just one area of the film frame in a particular pattern. When the film was subsequently rewound and used to photograph live action, a unique artistic effect was achieved. Although employed at first for relatively simple maneuvers such as shots through keyholes and binocular views, the process quickly developed the ability to produce spectacular effects by combining live action with photographic images, backgrounds, and physical objects.

He is probably best known for his work during the 1940s when he collaborated principally as a lighting cameraman with such directors as Billy Wilder and Preston Sturges. His most famous works include Sullivan's Travels, The Miracle of Morgan's Creek, and Hail the Conquering Hero for Sturges as well as Double Indemnity and Sunset Boulevard for Billy Wilder.


—Stephen L. Hanson

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