Douglas Slocombe, the gifted British cinematographer whose career spanned from the classics of the Ealing Studios to the Indiana Jones movies, has died. A three-time Oscar nominee, Slocombe was a protean, old-school visual craftsman who remained prolific in (and past) the New Hollywood era of film-school-trained cinematographers. He was 103.
Born in London but raised in France, Slocombe started out as a photojournalist for Paris-Match and Life, and documented the Nazi invasion of Poland as a newsreel cameraman in 1939. In the middle of an attempted escape, Slocombe’s train was machine-gunned, forcing him to instead make his way into Latvia on horseback, from where he made his way to Sweden, and finally to the U.K.
He began working with Ealing as part of the war effort, and soon rose to become one of the iconic British studio’s premier cinematographers, lensing such classics as Dead Of Night, Kind Hearts And Coronets, The Lavender Hill Mob, and The Man In The White Suit, as well as the underrated noir It Always Rains On Sunday. He was known for his commitment to technical craft, reportedly sleeping on the set of Kind Hearts And Coronets so that he could be sure that no one had moved the camera, potentially ruining one of the tricky multiple exposures used for the movie’s special effects.
Earling went under in 1955, leaving Slocombe without a contract. He worked extensively throughout the ’60s and ’70s, though, on such films as The Italian Job, The Great Gatsby, The Lion In Winter, Rollerball, The Music Lovers, Jesus Christ Superstar, and The Fearless Vampire Killers. He earned his first Oscar nomination in 1972, for George Cukor’s Travels With My Aunt, and was later nominated for Julia and Raiders Of The Lost Ark. Slocombe would go on to shoot Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom and Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade for Steven Spielberg; the latter would be his last film.
Though he was keen to try out new techniques and occasionally experimented with extremely muted color palettes, Slocombe was known as a no-nonsense technician who didn’t use a light meter—preferring to eyeball exposure—and changed his style depending on the needs of the film. Forced to retire because of his failing eyesight, Slocombe continued to give interviews until last year.