Conrad Hall was born on June 21st, 1926 in Papeete, Tahiti, and French Polynesia. His father, James Norman Hall, author of “Mutiny on the Bounty”, named him after two writers, Joseph Conrad and Lafcadio Hearn. (1) Conrad Hall went to The University of South Carolina (USC), where he studied filmmaking. Along with two classmates, he formed a production company in which they produced and sold a project to a local television station. Their company moved into making commercials for television, industrial films and shooting location footage for feature films, including a 1953 Disney film, The Living Desert. (1) After working as a camera assistant on a few feature films in the early 1960’s, Hall became a camera operator. Though he had been a cinematographer for television series and movies, he got his first cinematography credit for a theatrical released film in 1965. In 1967, Hall was praised for his rich and complex composition as he was the director of photography for two modern classic films, Cool Hand Luke and In Cold Blood. In 1969 he won his first Academy Award for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. (1)Hall won two more academy awards with his last two films, American Beauty (1999) and Road to Perdition (2002), both of which he teamed up with director Sam Mendez.
On January 4, 2003 at the age of 76, Hall died from complications with bladder cancer. (8)With over 40 cinematography credits to his name, besides the films previously listed, he is best known for his work on Morituri (1965), The Professionals (1966), The Day of the Locust (1975), Tequila Sunrise (1988), Searching for Bobby Fischer (1993), and A Civil Action (1998).
Sam Mendez, director of Road to Perdition (2002), dedicated the film to Conrad Hall in loving
memory of the cinematographer. “I’m devastated,” director Sam Mendez says referring to the death of his good friend, "Conrad was not only one of the greatest cinematographers who ever lived but was also a wonderful man who touched everyone he worked with. I will miss him more
than I can say, both as a collaborator and as a friend." (8)
In Cool Hand Luke (1967), one of Hall’s first hit films, he dared to experiment with the art of imperfection. "In the pioneering days of cinematography, the idea was to strive for a kind of visual perfection, a beauty that came from an almost surreal perfection – skin that glowed, focus that enhanced the romantic senses, lighting that was always beauteous," Hall said.
"Then things began to change. I was part of both eras." (9) Hall uses techniques that had previously been seen as mistakes or as inappropriate moves, such as a flare in the camera lens, to beautiful effect. (7, 9) Indications of this daring revolutionary strategy appear in Cool Hand Luke many times, particularly during scenes of the prisoners slaving under the blazing sun; Hall allowed the sun's rays to ricochet off the inner lenses of his zoom, creating "zingers" of flare that underscored the misery of the midday heat. (9)Also while out in the heat, there are many wide shot of the chained workers slaving away while the guards, trees, or the sunlight are in the background perfectly arranged in well composed images. From the get go of his career, Hall has had an eye for reflection shots. Most of his films contain multiple reflective shots of all sorts of variations. In Cool Hand Luke he most notably uses the reflections in the sunglasses of the chief officer. There are more than five shots seen through the reflection of this officer’s glasses, in which many different things are shown, including Luke himself. This character does not talk much, but the cinematography used when he is in the scene is executed well, showing his best personal. In the scene where Luke is eating the eggs there is a unique rack focus shot where Luke is moving up and down in and out of frame. As he moves up into frame he comes into focus and as he goes down and out of frame, the spectators and...
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