The profession of a cameraman and, moreover, a newsreel cameraman has been clearly unlucky with its representation in fiction films.
In addition to famous films like “The Cameraman” by Buster Keaton, it is worth remembering the comedy by Robert Reynolds “The Bald One Is a Cameraman” (1916), “On the Roads of War” (1958) by Leon Saakov, dedicated to the frontline cameramen, “Two Comrades Served” (1968) by Evgeniy Karelov, “Newsfront” (1978) by Phillip Noyce, “Too Hot to Handle” (1938) by Jack Conway, which is featured in our program, and, of course, Michael Powell’s film “Peeping Tom” (1960).
Documentary cinema, however, have been much more favorable to cinematographers and newsreel cameramen. Throughout the 20th century, a large number of films have been released dedicated to their work (“The Man with a Movie Camera” by Dziga Vertov (1929), “Frontline Cameraman” by Maria Slavinskaya (1946), “The Oldest Cameraman A. A. Levitsky” by Aleksandr Shchekutyev (1958), “Next to the Soldier” by Igor Gelein (1975), and in 1992, the film “Visions of Light” by Arnold Glassman and Todd McCarthy appeared - the main and, unfortunately, the only film that tries to cover all the work done by cameramen over the past century. The beginning of the 21st century pays tribute to all the great cameramen: one after another, films about Georgiy Rerberg, Jack Cardiff, Sven Nykvest, Vilmos Zsigmond and many others are released.
Charles Ford’s “Camera Thrills” is a pure attraction that demands the attention of the viewers, striving to conquer them with an endless succession of shots containing disasters, natural phenomena, and races. After its release, the film was described as a spectacle with mind-boggling plots full of mortal danger that make one breathless (viewers were even offered to take a cardiograph test during the screening to “measure” their emotions). In order to attract the public, large posters with photomontages consisting of shots of various incidents were displayed on film theaters and the newspapers published the most exciting shots: a cameraman with his head in the mouth of a lion, at the top of a skyscraper still being built, on the wing of an airplane, in the trenches of Manchuria. The film itself is primarily about the cameramen who filmed these shots, while themselves being in great danger. The narration is provided by the famous radio commentator Graham McNamee. In fact, the film is a kind of glorification of these brave souls. A reporter for the newspaper “Universal Weekly”, in particular, writes about their heroism:
“It took many months of work to create this picture. Cinematographers from all over the world have been hired to film the stunning footage. In an attempt to create the most sensational film in the history of the film industry, hundreds of thousands of feet of negative film have been collected. The film includes only the most exciting scenes from all received.
“Camera Thrills” can be called a heroic poem about a cameraman, because there is not a single story in it where the viewer would not be oppressed by the feeling of danger and risk that the cameraman was exposed to when filming exciting and exhilarating scenes. The viewer sees how the cameramen work: among crumbling walls, in the way of cars leaving the road, on airplanes, under bullets and shells, and in other dangerous situations.
Wherever a person risks his life, wherever people find themselves in trouble, there will always be a cameraman who often puts his life in danger in order to capture this event. McNamee pays tribute to the Tripod Knights, whose courage and disdain for danger helped bring this breathtaking footage to the public”. (World’s Greatest Thrills // Universal Weekly. 1935. 3. P. 24).
After its release, “Camera Thrills” quickly became a hit, and a year later, the picture was nominated for an Oscar in the category “Best Short Subject (Novelty)”.
Andrey Ikko, Denis Fedorin