Ossie pictured with John Huston on 'Moby Dick' 1956
22.11.1915 - 17.03.2014
OSWALD NORMAN MORRIS OBE, DFC, AFC, BSC
One of the inaugural members of the British Society of Cinematographers, Ossie was enormously involved in the management of the Society over the years, notching up 22 years on the board between 1955-1969 and 1984 and 1992 and acting as BSC President between 1960 and 1962.
An Oscar winning cinematographer, Oswald Morris was one of the most outstanding Directors of Photography of the 20th Century, making his reputation by expanding the parameters of colour cinematography.
Born in November 1915 in Hillingdon, Middlesex, England, Ossie was educated at nearby Bishopshalt School in Hillingdon. A dedicated film fan in his teenage years, he worked as a cinema projectionist in his school holidays, before entering the industry in 1932 as a runner and clapper boy at Wembley Studios, a month short of his 17th birthday. The studio churned out quota quickies [a requirement for British cinemas to show a quota of British films, for a duration of 10 years – 1927 – 1937, to counter Hollywood's perceived economic and cultural dominance] making a movie a week with a budget of one pound per foot of film [16 frames or roughly 40 seconds of 35mm four sprocket film]. He left the studio in the spring of 1933 to work at British International Pictures (B.I.P.) based at Elstree Studios, but after it was taken over by Fox, he soon returned to Wembley, as a camera assistant.
By 1938 he had graduated to camera operator at Wembley Studios but with the outbreak of World War II the following year, his career was curtailed and he enlisted into the RAF serving as bomber pilot. His services earned him a Distinguished Flying Cross, flying missions over France and Germany before being transferred to transport planes.
After demobilization, Ossie joined Independent Producers at Pinewood Studios in January 1946 and was engaged as camera operator on three notable productions; Green for Danger (1947) Launder and Gilliat’s comedy-thriller, photographed by Wilkie Cooper BSC, concerning a series of murders at a wartime emergency hospital; Captain Boycott, a 1947 historical drama, again produced by Launder and Gilliat and photographed by Wilkie Cooper BSC and Oliver Twist (1947), David Lean’s stunning adaptation of the classic novel by Charles Dickens photographed by Guy Green BSC.
In 1949, Ossie gained his first screen credit as Director of Photography on Golden Salamander directed by Ronald Neame, starring Trevor Howard as an Englishman in Tunis who defeats a gang of gunrunners.
After photographing half a dozen more pictures including Jacques Tourneur’s Circle of Danger (1951) and Ronald Neame’s The Card’(1952) as well as two in colour, Ossie was recruited as the cinematographer for John Huston’s latest project Moulin Rouge (1952). Notable in many respects, this film marked the beginning of a long and fruitful collaboration between the director and his cameraman and allowed Ossie the chance to really experiment with his technical work. John Huston had asked Ossie to render the color scheme of the film to look "as if Toulouse-Lautrec had directed it". Shooting in 3-strip Technicolor, Ossie asked the laboratory for a subdued palette rather than the mostly primary colours symptomatic of the process. Technicolor was reluctant to do this and so Ossie took to using fog filters and ambient smoke to achieve the effect he wanted.
The story goes that Technicolor confronted Huston and Morris with a set of dailies saying the material was faulty and not “up to Technicolor standards”. Huston and Morris watched it in the theatre at which point Huston allegedly turned to Ossie and said, “What do you think, Os?” To which Ossie replied, “Exactly as I wanted it.” Huston replied, “Me too.” Then turned to the Technicolor management with, “Gentlemen, thank you and f**k you!”
On its release, Moulin Rouge became a favourite of Technicolor’s CEO, Dr. Herbert Kalmus and the British Society of Cinematographers awarded him its Best Cinematography Award.
Ossie has always considered that he had two mentors during his long career. Firstly the distinguished Cinematographer, then Producer, then Director, Ronald Neame for whom he photographed six pictures. Secondly the tremendously talented Cinematographer, then Director, Guy Green for whom he was Camera Operator on three pictures.
Throughout the fifties, he continued to experiment. With his work on John Huston’s Moby Dick, made at Elstree in 1955, he employed an extreme process combining desaturated colour images with a black and white image, which cleverly reduced the intensity of the colour and gave the film the texture of an old Victorian print. In addition to working with Huston on ‘Moby Dick, Beat The Devil (1953) and Heaven Knows Mr. Allison (1957, he also served as cinematographer for Rene Clement’s Knave of Hearts (1954), Carol Reed’s The Key (1958) and Our Man in Havana (1959) and Tony Richardson’s Look Back In Anger (1959) and The Entertainer (1960).
Having thus established a reputation as one of the world’s leading cinematographers, throughout the sixties, Oswald was constantly in demand and indeed brought his talents to bear on many fine productions. They included: The Guns Of Navarrone, a 1961 screen version of Alastair Maclean’s book directed by Carl Foreman; Lolita, Stanley Kubrick’s 1962 interpretation of the notorious Nabokov novel; The Pumpkin Eater, for which Ossie received the 1964 British Academy Award; The Hill, the 1965 film directed by Sidney Lumet for which Oswald won another British Academy Award; The Spy That Came in From The Cold (1966), which earned him his third consecutive BAFTA Award; Oliver the Carol Reed 1968 film musical for which Ossie won a first Oscar nomination for his colour photography and Goodbye Mr. Chips (1969).
During the seventies Oswald Morris photographed a string of major productions and indeed one of these Fiddler On The Roof (1971) directed by Norman Jewison, filmed on location in Yugoslavia, earned him his American Academy Award (Oscar) in 1971. Between 1970 and 1978 he shot eleven pictures and in the process worked with such leading directors as Joe Mankiewicz on Sleuth, John Huston on The Mackintosh Man and The Man Who Would be King and Sidney Lumet on Equus (1977) and The Wiz (1978). After photographing two more pictures in 1980/81, Ossie gained his final credit with The Dark Chrystal directed by Frank Oz, having photographed 58 features.
In addition to his American Academy Oscar and three nominations, and 3 BAFTA Cinematography Awards, he was awarded a fellowship of BAFTA in 1997 and was honoured with the International Award by the American Society of Cinematographers in 2000 and the British Society of Cinematographers Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003; to add to his 4 BSC Cinematography Awards for Fiddler, Taming of the Shrew, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold and Moulin Rouge.
Ossie was named an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1998, for services to Cinematography and the Film Industry. Along with his BAFTA Fellowship he was a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society and the National Television School and an Honorary Fellow of The Arts Institute at Bournemouth and the British Kinematograph Sound and Television Society. In June 2009, the new building incorporating the theatre at the National Film School in Beaconsfield was named in his honour. He published his memoirs, Huston, We Have a Problem: A Kaleidoscope of Filmmaking Memories (ISBN 978-0810857063), in 2006 and is featured in the book ‘Conversations with Cinematographers’ by David A. Ellis, published by Scarecrow Press.