1931 – 28.7.1986
'Six Kinds of Light': Rare Documentary Illuminates Stanley Kubrick's Legendary DP
Click here to watch this documentary on John Alcott
JOHN ALCOTT BSC
John Alcott, the Oscar-winning cinematographer best known for his collaboration with director Stanley Kubrick, was born in 1931, in Isleworth, England, the son of movie executive Arthur Alcott, who would become the production controller at Gainsborough Studios during the 1940s.
Alcott began his film career as a clapper boy, but by the early 1960s he had worked his way up to focus puller (1st AC). By the mid-'60s Alcott was a member of the camera team of master cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth BSC, working on Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). When Unsworth had to leave the project during its two-year-long shoot to meet other commitments, Alcott was promoted to photographing the opening 'Dawn of Man' section. Thus began a collaboration that would reach its zenith a decade later with Barry Lyndon (1975 – Oscar win). His association with Kubrick propelled him to the top of his craft, in terms of both style and in pushing the technical aspects of the discipline.
Alcott preferred lighting that appeared natural and did not draw attention to itself. His ideas meshed perfectly with those of Kubrick, and the two developed their ideas about "natural" lighting in two landmark films, A Clockwork Orange (1971) and Barry Lyndon, which incorporated scenes shot entirely by candlelight.
Alcott won an Academy Award for his work on Barry Lyndon, which is considered one of the most visually beautiful movies ever made. (Three of Alcott's movies were ranked in the top 20 of "Best Shot" movies in the period after 1950-97 by the American Society of Cinematographers: "2001" at #3, "Barry Lyndon" at #16, and "A Clockwork Orange", for which he won the British Academy Award, at #19.) Alcott realized Kubrick's vision by evoking the paintings of Corot, Gainsborough, and Watteau, creating gorgeous tableaux. It was the aesthetic opposite of the cubism evoked by "A Clockwork Orange",
His non-Kubrick projects as a cinematographer included three films with director Stuart Cooper [Little Malcolm and his Struggle Against the Eunuchs (1974), Overlord (1975) and The Disappearance (1977). Alcott, who shot films and TV commercials for other directors in the UK, moved to the US in 1981 in order to obtain more steady work than was possible in the ailing British film industry and shot two films with Roger Spottiswoode [Terror Train (1980) and Under Fire (1983)].
Alcott could not shoot Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket (1987), which commenced shooting in 1985 and -- like any Kubrick shoot -- would involved a substantial commitment of time, as Alcott was committed to other projects (Kubrick hired Douglas Milsome BSC, who had been Alcott's focus puller on "Barry Lyndon" and "The Shining", to shoot "Jacket").
His non-Kubrick oeuvre was eccentric, but he was able to bring his outstanding visual quality to such movies as Fort Apache the Bronx (1981 Directed by Daniel Petrie), The Beastmaster (1982 Directed by Don Cascarelli) and Hugh Hudson's Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984).
Alcott suffered a massive heart attack and died on July 28, 1986, in Cannes, France. At the time of his death he was considered one of the film industry's great artist-technicians, someone who through his ability to push back the boundaries of what was technically possible, linked technology to aesthetic needs and contributed to the development of cinema as an art form. His last film, No Way Out (1987 directed by Roger Donaldson), was dedicated to his memory. The British Society of Cinematographers named one of its awards the "BSC John Alcott ARRI Award" in his honour to commemorate his role as a lighting cameraman in the development of film as an art form.
Jon C. Hopwood (IMDb)/P.M.