London-born cinematographer Anthony (Tony) Richmond, BSC, ASC, was 16 years old when he landed his first job – as a messenger boy - in the film industry. He worked his way up from clapper boy to focus puller to camera operator to director of photography. Now, nearly 60 years later, Richmond is still shooting movies, but he also serves as the Faculty Chair in the Cinematography Department at New York Film Academy, Los Angeles.
Richmond has more than 80 feature and documentary film credits, although he is probably best known for his stunning work on director Nicolas Roeg’s haunting 1973 film Don’t Look Now, in which the dark, somber tones of a wintry Venice yield a dream-like atmosphere of both menace and melancholy. With its fragmented images and non-linear structure, it’s a study of grief, a portrait of a marriage, a supernatural thriller, and a horror film all in one. Richmond received the BAFTA Award for Best Cinematography for the film.
Richmond would shoot four more projects for Roeg, including The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), starring an ethereal David Bowie in the title role, and Bad Timing (1980). Richmond’s other credits include a wide array of dramas and comedies, including Legally Blonde, Agnes Browne, Ravenous, Bastard Out of Carolina, The Sandlot, The Indian Runner, Candyman, Stardust, and, most famously, a string of British rock-and-roll documentaries: Let it Be, Sympathy for the Devil, The Rock-and-Roll Circus, The Kids are Alright, and Glastonbury Fayre.
Richmond knew he wanted to work in the film business from a young age.
“I loved movies as a kid and I really liked photography. I took loads of photos and processed them in a dark room in my bathroom. I loved the photography of movies, but didn’t know anything about it. I managed to get a job as a messenger boy at Pathé News when I was 16. Pathé was the news division of Associated British Cinema and we were responsible for putting out two newsreels a week."
Richmond was promoted to the position of clapper boy in the camera department. He remembers, “I would often help the news cameraman if it was a big story, like the Queen’s birthday or the Liverpool Grand National. The news cameraman was a one-man band and I would help carry his gear. They always had to be in place three or four hours before the event so I’d watch the equipment while the cameraman went to the pub. He invariably come back drunk and I often got to shoot for him.
"I went to Danziger Studios, a small outfit with two stages, when I was 17. I was in the feature film unit. We would make one feature film every six or seven days. They were absolute rubbish, but it was great experience. I was still a clapper boy. I went to Hammer Studios and worked on four or five of those wonderful old Hammer horror films, then I did the James Bond film To Russia With Love and, after that, went to Israel on a huge American movie called Judith. That’s where I met Nicolas Roeg, who was second unit cinematographer on the film. I gravitated toward Nic and his crew because they were much more fun than the crew I was with. They were party animals. In fact, that’s where I learned how to drink.
"Nic took me with him when he was hired as director of photography on Dr. Zhivago. He was fired after a month but he told me I had to stay on for my career. I was petrified to meet the new cinematographer, Freddie Young, because I had long hair in the days when nobody else did. They made me go meet Freddie at the airport and he came straight up to me, looked at my hair and said, 'well, we are going to get rid of that, son.' It was a joke; they had set me up. Freddie was wonderful. I loved him.
"I didn’t like David Lean, however, and he found out I didn’t like him and, surprisingly, he went out of his way to take me under his wing. We only did three or four shots a day and I would sit by Lean’s chair and we’d talk -- and he was wonderful. I was on that film for a full year. About two weeks before shooting ended I was running an errand for Freddie in Madrid, where we were shooting at that point and I heard 'beep, beep, beep.' It was Nic Roeg. He wanted me to work with him. David Lean was furious. They made me fly out another bloke to finish as clapper boy for two weeks.
"Nic was about to start shooting A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and it looked like I might get a chance to pull focus. After that, Nic and I did Fahrenheit 451, Casino Royale, and Far from the Madding Crowd. I became very friendly with that film’s director, John Schlesinger. There were three or four days of exterior work that John needed and he asked me to shoot them. And, you know, the footage looked rather good.
"One of the things about the movie business is that there has to be an element of luck. You have to be at the right place at the right time and that’s usually pure luck. Terence Stamp, whom I had met on Far from the Madding Crowd, had become my best mate. Terence was asked to do a Vogue shoot and I was asked to shoot the stills. A man came in, who turned out to be Basil Dearden, a big-time British director. The tailor was his brother-in-law!
"Dearden called me one night and said ‘I’m about to start shooting this huge movie.’ I thought he was asking me to be the camera operator. I asked him, ‘who is going to be the DP?’ and he said, ‘You are. Do you want to do it or not?’ I said, ‘well, I’d like to, but I’ve never done it before’ and he said, ‘Well, would you like to have a go at it?’ Of course, I said yes. The movie was Only When I Larf. I was 24 years old and it was my first credit as a director of photography. Back then, 24 was very young to be a DP; nowadays it isn’t."
According to Richmond, his work shooting a series of seminal British rock-and-roll documentaries also came about by chance.
“At the end of Only When I Larf, they brought in a title company to do the main titles and the company decided they should use the DP who had shot the movie, which was me. Michael Lindsay-Hogg was a hot new director who was hired for three days to direct. We hit it off right away and he asked me to shoot something with him the next weekend: the Rolling Stones, singing 'Jumping Jack Flash' for a film called The Rolling Stones' Rock-and-Roll Circus, which Mick Jagger was producing and financing. The documentary included performances by Jethro Tull, Taj Mahal. Marianne Faithful, The Who, and a jam session with Eric Clapton and John Lennon.
"We shot The Rock-and-Roll Circus in 1968 but it wasn’t released until 1996! We shot it in an old television studio in London. We found a really bad, small circus and they built their tent in the studio. The lady riding the horse kept falling off; the man who flung tomahawks into a spinning wheel kept missing and the tomahawks were flying everywhere. It wasn’t on purpose; they just weren’t very good.
"Hundreds of school kids served as extras – sitting on the circus benches as the audience. We dressed them all in ponchos and felt hats because we had to keep changing them because, as kids, they could only work so many hours. We had to bus the extras in and out, but the kids didn’t want to go and would jump off the buses and come running back. And the police were coming and parents were calling that they had lost their kids. We started setting up at about 8am on Saturday morning; got the first shot by mid-day and worked through until 4am next morning. We had more fun than any grown human being should have.
"We shot the movie on film, but we shot it like a live TV show, and the editor had a rough-cut by the end of the day. Mick saw it and didn’t like the Stones’ performance. They were great, but he wasn’t happy with it and wanted to re-shoot it, but they were busy and couldn’t do it straight away. We would have to wait until the band was available.
"By then Brian Jones, the Stones’ former manager, had died and the project never got done. Nobody knew where all the footage ended up; it just sort of disappeared. But it transpired that a bit of the footage was lent to The Who to use in their movie The Kids Are Alright. In 1994 or 1995, one of the Stones’ road managers died and his wife called Allen Klein of ABKCO Music and Records, who managed the Stones. ‘There are a lot of cans of old film reels here; what should I do with them?' She sent them to Allen and it turned out to be all the missing footage!!
"Allen got his daughter involved; they cut the footage together and Allen called me out of the blue one day in 1996, as I was shooting a film in Houston, and he said 'you must come up for the movie’s premiere at the New York Film Festival.'
"Going back to 1967, however, … After shooting The Circus, Michael Lindsay-Hogg said he was going to do a TV special for the Beatles and would I shoot it? I asked if he intended to shoot on film or tape and when he said ‘on tape,’ I said I wasn’t interested. At around the same time, a mate of mine, Denis O’Dell, was running Apple Films for the Beatles. And Denis said, ‘the Beatles are coming here to rehearse for a TV special (the very one Michael was going to direct). Why don’t you get a couple of 16mm cameras and a couple of guys and come down and shoot some stuff and we can make a kind of documentary of them rehearsing.’
"We shot thousands and thousands of feet of 16mm footage. There was a discussion about where they would shoot the actual TV special. Each Beatle wanted a different place. A few days later they still couldn’t make up their minds and John said to me, ‘What’s all the shit you’ve been shooting?’ He liked the dailies and said, ‘We don’t have to do anything else; we’ll just use this and do a free concert on a roof somewhere. Let’s do it tomorrow night.’ And that became Let It Be. It’s as simple as that!
"It was released as a film. Since then, we remastered it for DVD and there were so many outtakes that weren’t used in the film that really show the acrimony between all of the Beatles. But that’s still being held up by George Harrison’s estate and his wife and Yoko Ono because they don’t want the acrimony shown."
How did Richmond survive the rock-and-roll scene?
"I drank a lot; that helped. I didn’t like pot; I didn’t see the point of it. It made you sit in a corner and giggle and I wanted to be alert and chase the girls. I was a drinker. But I haven’t had a drink in 28 years. If I had kept drinking I’d probably be dead by now. Most of my contemporaries are dead. I went to a couple of treatment centers to help me stop. One was the Betty Ford Center and I was in there with one of my great drinking buddies, Robert Mitchum. We had a ball!
"I did a bunch of other rock and roll films. Sympathy for the Devil wasn’t actually a documentary; it was a feature film – and a very political one -- directed by Jean-Luc Godard. He called it Sympathy for the Devil or 1 + 1. They have just remastered it, a 4K restoration from the original negative. Godard was my hero; Alphaville is one of my favorite films of all time.
"The premiere of Sympathy for the Devil was held at the 1968 London Film Festival. Godard had cut the movie and I had color corrected it. He called me about a week before the premiere and asked how many passes we had done and I said five. He asked what happened to the fourth print. I said it was very good but a couple of changes apparently had been made. He asked whether I could get that fourth print? I knew the guys who ran the lab and I called and said, ‘Godard wants the fourth print,’ and they gave it to me.
"Well, that led to a huge, wonderful kerfuffle at the premiere. Two of the movie’s producers, Michael Pearson and Iain Quarrier, got up on the stage before the screening to say a few words and, suddenly, down the aisle comes this screaming man. It was Godard and he jumped up on the stage and punched Quarrier in the face. ‘This is not my film,’ declared Godard to the audience. ‘My film is being projected outside. I want you to all leave the theatre.’
"Apparently, the version shown at the premiere ends with the completed version of the song Sympathy for the Devil. It turns out that Godard didn’t want the song completed. In the movie the Stones are constantly changing things and doing and re-doing. It’s like ‘Art is never finished,’ so Jean-Luc wanted to leave the song uncompleted in the movie. The producers had changed the soundtrack between prints four and five, although I didn’t know it. It was raining and the audience stayed inside, while outside Godard projected the fourth print.
"Jumping back in time again… after shooting 1 +1, Nic called me about Walkabout (1971), which would mark his directorial debut. He had co-directed Performance, starring Mick Jagger, but Walkabout would be his first solo effort and he wanted me to work on it. He was going to be shooting and directing and I would shoot and direct the second unit. I ended up shooting quite a bit of first unit, too.
"A few years later I married Jaclyn Smith and moved to the U.S. Nic lived in the UK and we lost touch for 12 or 15 years. Around the time of Candyman (1992), I went to a party in the Hollywood Hills. When you give up drinking you realize just how boring and repetitive drunk people are. But I met a producer named Amanda DiGiulio (later, my wife), who was good friends with Roeg’s wife, actress Theresa Russell. I went to a dinner party at Amanda’s house the next week and Nic and Theresa were there! It turns out Nic had moved to the U.S. Nic walked over to me and it was as if those 12 or 15 years had melted away. We started working together again. We did Full Body Massage for Showtime; then we did Heart of Darkness.
On working with Roeg on his early films:
"We shot Don’t Look Now very quickly -- a seven-week shoot in Venice. It was very low-budget. Nic is a very organic director. We didn’t do shot lists or storyboards; he just lets it flow. He wants the actors to bring something to the table. Nic and I shared an apartment in Venice so we were always talking about the movie. He has a great sense of humor. And if things went wrong on the set, there was no screaming and shouting.
"I shot a couple of films for other directors and then Nic and I did The Man Who Fell to Earth together. We were looking for a style for the film and I love photographic books. There’s a book called Grand Illusions – the days when studios had these great photographers and did portraits of the stars. And there was a still of an actor in some movie and the sun was setting behind him as he was coming toward the camera. It was a black-and-white shot and I showed it to Nic and said, “this is how we should start the film.”
"It was a great movie but the studio didn’t like it and butchered it. I just did a restoration of the director’s cut. I cannot imagine any actor other than David Bowie playing that role. Bowie was like an alien himself. He had just come off a period of heavy drug and alcohol use and was very fragile. He was skinny, his skin was alabaster and he sort of tiptoed through the movie. Nic didn’t give him much direction. Instead, he left David to his own devices and David was wonderful.
"I have been so lucky to work with so many different sorts of directors. I like comedy and really enjoyed shooting Legally Blonde. If a script is good, I want to do it. My last film was one of the Wimpy Kid movies and it was great fun. You know, I don’t actually like talking about my own work; in all honesty, I’d like to re-shoot every single shot I have ever done! But making movies is a wonderful business and I’m very lucky. I’m 74, still shooting films, and I love working with my students at the New York Film Academy, Los Angeles.”
Jean Oppenheimer is a Los Angeles correspondent for American Cinematographer magazine, an association that began in 1991. She is also a freelance film critic and features writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times syndicate, Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, The Village Voice and WritersBloc, among other publications and on-line sites.