Image Makers: The Adventures of America's Pioneer Cinematographers
A Film by Daniel Raim
2019, 91 minutes
Watch The Film: TCM
The epic tale we tell in Image Makers: The Adventures of America's Pioneer Cinematographers is the origin story of American movies.
It’s rooted in the fearless personalities of camera-cranking visionaries who saw possibilities for the art form that couldn’t be contained in Thomas A. Edison’s peepshows. Edison patented everything about movies, including the sprocket holes in the celluloid. But a hardy bunch of photographic adventurers and innovators battled their way out of his control. They went West to film one- and two-reelers in locations that to the rest of the globe looked like a brave new world. Because of them, it was. When Edison sent armed thugs to shoot holes in their cameras, they fought back. By the time the dust settled a new show business was born. Against the dynamic backdrop of the California land boom, two world wars, and one Great Depression, pioneer cinematographers spring to life in Image Makers. Using every means at hand, including archival images and sound as well as new interviews with family members, collaborators, and creative heirs—especially great contemporary cinematographers—we bring texture and shadow to our portraits of virtuosos like Charles Rosher, Karl Struss, and William Daniels.
We see them empower studios by mastering artificial illumination—and then help studios create stars by lighting magical performers like Greta Garbo with passion and ingenuity. Used to swapping stories in order to learn everything from creating dissolves in the camera to employing mattes for special effects, they establish the first and still the most active and congenial professional club in Hollywood—the American Society of Cinematographers, or the ASC as it is known among friends, a true fraternity of light.
We see the studios strive to enlarge and keep their audience while our heroes bring the silent camera to a peak of fluidity, then free the sound camera from the tyranny of the microphone and make it a tool of personal expression (Citizen Kane).
Snatches of classic American cinema make our points viscerally, like the switch from black and white to color in The Wizard of Oz and from silence to sound in Singin’ in the Rain. We see James Wong Howe smash racial barriers with his brilliance. Careers such as Howe’s span Tinseltown history from frontier days shooting Zane Grey Westerns to “the New Hollywood” of Hud.
In his previous feature, Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story, Oscar-nominated director, Daniel Raim proved his ability to convey emotion and character in the documentary form. In Image Makers he tops himself as he gives movie-lovers a new appreciation of cinematographers as master craftsmen, outsize personalities, and improbable poets.
CRITIC'S PICK! History, even film history, has rarely been so gorgeous.
– Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times
Image Makers brings such historical bullet points to vivid life. It's a spirited and well-crafted tribute to movie craftsmanship.
– Sheri Linden, Hollywood Reporter
The film, written by former San Francisco Examiner film critic Michael Sragow, traces the creation of a new language — the language of cinema — by pioneers whose influence endures to this day. Raim and Sragow focus mainly on Billy Bitzer, D.W. Griffith’s master cinematographer on “Intolerance” and many other classics; Rollie Totheroh, whose understanding of teamwork and athletics made him indispensable to Chaplin; Charles Rosher and William Daniels, the personal cameramen for Mary Pickford and Garbo, respectively; German-American expressionist Karl Struss; and groundbreaking artists James Wong Howe and Gregg Toland (“Citizen Kane”).
– G. Allen Johnson, SF Chronicle
The best time I’ve had at the movies so far this year was watching Image Makers: The Adventures of America’s Pioneer Cinematographers, which TCM ran over the weekend. It’s catnip for film buffs. Written by film critic Michael Sragow and directed and edited by Daniel Raim, Image Makers zeroes in on seven groundbreaking artists – Billy Bitzer, Rollie Totheroh, Charles Rosher, William Daniels, Karl Struss, Gregg Toland and James Wong Howe. It combines historical and biographical material; precise, razor-sharp film analysis; interviews with a crew of extraordinarily knowledgeable scholars, a few contemporary DPs and a couple of relations; invaluable voice interviews conducted at the American Society of Cinematographers while Rosher and Daniels were still alive; brightly-colored comic-strip frames (by Patrick Mate) to illustrate some of the stories; and, naturally, clips from these men’s movies and in some cases the ones that influenced them.
– Steve Vineberg, Critics At Large
Image Makers is an enlightening and informative documentary that shines a much needed spotlight on the work of early pioneers in cinematography. TCM fans, especially those who want to learn more about film history, will definitely want to check this one out.
– Raquel Stecher, Out Of The Past
Turner Classic Movies presents an ADAMA FILMS production
Produced, Edited, and Directed by DANIEL RAIM
Written by MICHAEL SRAGOW
Narrated by MICHAEL MCKEAN
Executive Producer CHARLES TABESH
Produced by CURTIS CLARKE, ASC DANIEL RAIM
Director of Photography AASULV WOLF AUSTAD, FNF
Illustrations by PATRICK MATE
Story Consultant JAMES HARMON BROWN
Original Score by DAVE LEBOLT
Co-Producers JAMES HARMON BROWN MICHAEL SRAGOW ANNIKA HYLMO
Featured cinematographers and selected filmography
Billy Bitzer (April 21, 1872 – April 29, 1944)
A Corner in Wheat (1909), The Birth of a Nation (1915), Intolerance (1916), Broken Blossoms
(1919), Way Down East (1920)
Roland Totheroh, ASC (November 29, 1890 – June 18, 1967)
The Rink (1916), The Kid (1921), A Woman of Paris (1923), The Gold Rush (1925), The Circus
(1928), City Lights (1931), Modern Times (1936), The Great Dictator (1940), Monsieur
Charles Rosher, ASC (November 17, 1885 – January 15, 1974)
Little Lord Fauntleroy (1921), Little Annie Rooney (1925), Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans
(1927), What Price Hollywood? (1932), The Yearling (1945), Annie Get Your Gun (1950)
William H. Daniels, ASC (December 1, 1901 – June 14, 1970)
Foolish Wives (1922), Greed (1924), Flesh and the Devil (1926), The Trial of Mary Dugan
(1929), Grand Hotel (1931), Queen Christina (1933), Ninotchka (1939), The Shop Around the
Corner (1940), The Naked City (1949), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), Some Came Running
(1958), Valley of the Dolls (1967)
Karl Struss, ASC (November 30, 1886 – December 15, 1981)
Ben-Hur (1925), Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927), Abraham Lincoln (1930), Dr. Jekyll
and Mr. Hyde (1931), The Sign of the Cross (1932), The Great Dictator (1940), Limelight
(1952), The Fly (1958)
James Wong Howe, ASC (August 28, 1899 – July 12, 1976)
Peter Pan (1924), Mantrap (1926), Transatlantic (1931), The Power and the Glory (1933), The
Thin Man (1934), The Prisoner of Zenda (1937), Kings Row (1942), Yankee Doodle Dandy
(1942), Air Force (1943), Body and Soul (1947), Picnic (1955), Sweet Smell of Success (1957),
Hud (1963), Seconds (1966), The Molly Maguires (1970), Funny Lady (1975)
Gregg Toland, ASC (May 29, 1904 – September 28, 1948):
Dead End (1937), Wuthering Heights (1939), Intermezzo (1939), The Grapes of Wrath (1940),
The Long Voyage Home (1940), Citizen Kane (1941), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
Featured on-camera interviews
• John Bailey, ASC
• Kevin Brownlow (film historian, filmmaker, preservationist)
• George Spiro Dibie, ASC
• Steve Gainer, ASC (Curator, ASC Camera Museum)
• Ms. Lothian Toland-Skelton (daughter of Gregg Toland, ASC)
• Leonard Maltin (author, film historian)
• Rachel Morison, ASC
• Matt Severson, director of the Margaret Herrick Library of the Academy of
Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
• David Totheroh (grandson of Rollie Totheroh, ASC)
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