5.11.1913 – 15.9.2005
GUY (MERVIN CHARLES) GREEN OBE BSC
Guy Green was a remarkable cinematographer who became a less remarkable director. He will be remembered mostly for the films he shot for David Lean in the 1940s, especially the two Dickens adaptations, Great Expectations (1946 – Oscar for Best Black and White Photography) and Oliver Twist (1948). What distinguished these pictures was the superb, almost Phizz-like, chiaroscuro photography.
Green, who was born in Frome, Somerset, left school at 16 and joined a passenger liner, on which one of his jobs was to oil the film projectors. He started in the industry proper as clapper boy with a company making advertisements; then, after working as a partner in a portrait photography studio, in 1933 became an assistant cameraman at British International Pictures and Gainsborough.
During the Second World War, he was the camera operator - under director of photography Ronald Neame - on Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's One of our Aircraft is Missing and Noel Coward's In which we Serve (both 1942). The latter was co-directed by David Lean, working on his first feature. He sent Green to the south Atlantic to shoot second unit material, telling him: "When you're out on this destroyer, if you're attacked, try and get a shot of the bomb leaving the aircraft, and follow it until it explodes."
The most important year of Green's life was probably 1944. He met his future wife, Josephine, whom he married four years later, and became director of photography on Carol Reed's acclaimed The Way Ahead, a film shot in semi-documentary manner about a platoon fighting in north Africa, and on Great Expectations, he said: "What was exciting about the black and white photography was making the actors come out of it stereoscopically. I played the dark against the light all the time."
Green worked in Technicolor for the first time on Blanche Fury (1947 directed by Marc Allégret), an enjoyably lurid period melodrama featuring Valerie Hobson and Stewart Granger, but returned to monochrome on Oliver Twist (1948), which he considered his best work. "It was about grim, dirty interiors and I used a lot of diffused light, something which has become fashionable now with colour. I tried to get the effect of light coming through small dirty windows, and it had a kind of richness of its own." The camera crew on the picture had a particularly tricky time moving around on catwalks suspended from the roof, because Green aimed for some unusual angles.
He made two more Lean films, The Passionate Friends (1949) and Madeleine (1951), both starring Ann Todd, the director's wife, and both stories of adultery. For the latter, Green was influenced by Lee Garmes's low-key lighting on the Josef Von Sternberg-Marlene Dietrich films, though Todd remained stubbornly sexless. However, she remarked that "a good cameraman like Guy Green goes into you and the part you're playing. If he saw a certain expression of mine in rehearsal, he would tell David how he could bring it out by changing the camera angle or something."
After shooting a couple of colourful Hollywood action pictures in Britain, Captain Horatio Hornblower (1951 Directed by Raoul Walsh) and Rob Roy (1953 Directed by Harold French) plus I Am a Camera (1955 Directed by Henry Cornelius) – the original non-musical version of Cabaret), Green decided to take to directing. His first film was River Beat (1954 photographed by Geoffrey Faithfull BSC), shot on location on a low-budget in 17 days. It was a time when most films were moving out of the controlled atmosphere of the studios, a situation which Green relished.
He made two good-looking, sub-Hitchcock colour thrillers, House of Secrets (1956 photographed by Harry Waxman BSC) and The Snorkel (1958 photographed by Jack Asher BSC) on French locations. Sea of Sand (1958 photographed by Wilkie Cooper BSC)), a routine war drama set at El Alamein, starred Green's friend Richard Attenborough, whom he cast in his next two pictures, SOS Pacific (1959 photographed by Wilkie Cooper) and The Angry Silence (1960 photographed by Arthur Ibbetson BSC – BAFTA Nomination Best British Film).
In 1958, Green, Attenborough, Michael Relph, Basil Dearden, Jack Hawkins and Brian Forbes had founded Allied Film Makers. Green kicked off with The Angry Silence, in which Attenborough played a factory worker sent to Coventry by his mates for failing to support a strike. One of Green's two children, Marilyn Jane, also had a role. The film, part of the new British realism, was as rabble-rousing as the unions it attacked. Unfortunately, it appeared in the same year as Karel Reisz's Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (photographed by Freddie Francis BSC), a more convincing portrayal of working-class life.
Green continued to deal with social issues in his next films, though the themes were rather more interesting than the execution. The Mark (1961 photographed by Douglas Slocombe BSC) tackled paedophilia, and Light in the Piazza (1962 photographed by Otto Heller BSC) had Olivia de Havilland as a mother anxious to marry off her retarded daughter (Yvette Mimieux).
Racism was tackled in Diamond Head (1963 photographed by Sam Leavitt), a soap opera starring Charlton Heston and Mimieux, and, more effectively, in A Patch of Blue (1965 –Golden Globe Best director nomination, photographed by Robert Burks), in which blind Elizabeth Hartman falls in love with Sidney Poitier. It was also an issue in Pretty Polly (1967 photographed by Arthur Ibbetson BSC and Ron Robson), a glossy romance in which Hayley Mills had an affair with Shashi Kapoor.
The Magus (1968 photographed by Billy Williams BSC), a somewhat confused adaptation of the John Fowles' cult novel, featured Anthony Quinn and Michael Caine. Quinn co-starred with Ingrid Bergman in A Walk in the Spring Rain (1970 photographed by Charles Lang), in which Green said he was trying to re-establish the "well-made" films he had admired in the past.
His last features were Jacqueline Susann's Once is not Enough (1975 photographed by John A. Alonzo), from which a three-minute lesbian love scene was cut on release, and The Devil's Advocate (1977 photographed by Billy Williams BSC), adapted by Morris West from his novel. Green went on to make a successful living by directing television movies, such as The Incredible Journey of Doctor Meg Lavel (1978), with Jane Wyman bringing medicine to the Appalachian mountains in the 1930s.
He was presented with the American Society of Cinematographers President’s Award in 2000
Ronald Bergan – The Guardian/Edit Phil Méheux