I've known only one great cameraman: Gregg Toland, who photographed Citizen Kane.
—Orson Welles, 1967
Photographing Citizen Kane was indeed the most exciting professional adventure of my career.
Given the fact that Citizen Kane has long been considered the greatest film ever made, here is a wonderful piece about the cinematography for Kane, written only a few months after it premiered by Gregg Toland, for the September, 1941 issue of Theater Arts magazine.
In this piece, Toland predicts the upcoming fad for 3-D photography (which wouldn't become wide spread until five years after Toland had died, in 1948). He also predicts, incorrectly, that color photography would never replace black and white cinematography. However, in retrospect, I wonder if Toland's thoughts might not have influenced Welles, who only embraced color shooting very late in his career. Welles first finished color film was not until 1968 for The Immortal Story. And during his lifetime, Welles would only see one other of his films released in color, F For Fake. Which is yet another reason why The Other Side of The Wind needs to be completed and shown. It's not only a very rare example of Welles using his mastery of the art of color cinematography, but also the first time he was able to use erotic scenes in a film. And having just looked at the some of the erotic scenes from The Other Side of the Wind, and then watched Bertolucci's The Last Tango in Paris for the first time since 1975, I wonder what Pauline Kael would have said about OSOTW? Would she think it altered the face of an art form? Probably not, but if The Other Side of the Wind had been released in 1974, it seems likely that it would have been X-rated and certainly seen as far more inovative today than Last Tango in Paris.
In his article, Toland also notes that a cameraman is the only one on a set who is never at rest, and also must be very quick about his his duties, a fact that Welles would later lament when he had "the criminally slow Stanley Cortez" as his cameraman on his next RKO picture, The Magnificent Ambersons.
In retrospect, it's too bad Welles didn't get Floyd Crosby, who at the time was actually working for him indirectly, under the direction of Norman Foster in Mexico, for It's All True. If Floyd Crosby had shot Ambersons it certainly wouldn't have been delayed by the time-consuming lighting set-ups that Cortez seems to have caused.
Floyd Crosby was also extremely left-wing, to the point of being blacklisted during the McCarthy era in Hollywood, so there seems to be no doubt that Crosby and Welles would have gotten along famously if they had actually worked together on a movie.
Floyd Crosby had worked in documentaries under Pare Lorentz and Robert Flaherty, winning an Academy Award for Flaherty and Murnau's Tabu in 1931. Crosby was not only very fast, but extremely good at lighting, so he ended up becoming Roger Corman's chief cameraman from 1955 onwards, when he couldn't get any work at the major studios. Crosby came into his own when he had the chance to show his beautifully stylish color cinematography on Corman's Freudian widescreen Poe movies made in the sixties, starting with The House of Usher in 1960 and ending with The Haunted Palace in 1963. Amazingly, all of the Crosby, Corman-Poe movies were shot in only three weeks.
Here is what Roger Corman had to say about using Floyd Crosby when he began his career in 1955:
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Floyd Crosby was having trouble getting jobs when you hired him, because he had been a liberal New Deal Democrat, who suddenly became suspect during the McCarthy witch-hunts of the fifties.
ROGER CORMAN: Well, Floyd was certainly not a communist, but during the fifties, some studios did not like him. However, that meant nothing to me. I used him simply because he was a good cameraman. I remember Floyd talking about that, and saying it was somewhat ironic that his patriotism should come under questioning, after he had served in the Army air core command during World War II as a Captain, working with Pare Lorentz on combat documentaries and winning citations for bravery. Floyd was really a great gentlemen and a brilliant cameraman. I went on to use him for my first film as a director, Five Guns West, and he was probably the best cameraman I ever worked with. He was quick, efficient and gave me the kind of quality that you would normally associate with much bigger studio films. We got along very well, and although he was somewhat older than I was, we became very good friends and I had great respect for him and for his work. It's not that difficult to get a good cameraman if the cameraman has hours to set up each shot. It's not difficult to get a cameraman who works quickly. He just sets up a few lights, and says he's ready to shoot. But to get somebody to work quickly and does fine work is very unusual.