He was the Prince of Darkness, the man who lowered the bar when it came to low-key lighting. Most cinematographers fear “losing the light” come sundown. Bruce Surtees’ motto was lose the light.
Bruce Mohr Powell Surtees died on February 23 in Carmel, Calif. The “Mohr” was a tribute from his father, prodigious studio cameraman, Robert Surtees, to another photographic legend (and dad’s mentor), Hal Mohr.
What began with a candlelit scene on the set of Don Siegel’s The Beguiled, Surtees’ first film as director of photography, progressively darkened. Many of the films Surtees shot, most notably Tightrope, are so inky as to be rendered illegible on a TV monitor.
Bruce Surtees with Clint and Kyle Eastwood on the set of Honkytonk Man.
Siegel spent years mentoring Surtees and his close friend and frequent collaborator, Clint Eastwood. Siegel exposed Surtees to places light seldom ever entered. When it came time for Clint to assume the director's chair he brought Surtees along and together they collaborated on 14 features.
With over 60 films to his credit, Surtees received his lone Oscar nomination for Lenny (1974). The Academy opted to instead to bestow their golden doorstop on Towering Inferno.
The sudden impact Clint Eastwood’s Super Bowl commercial, Halftime in America, had on football fans owes much of it’s look to Surtees.
Not everything Surtees lensed was darkened. His unobstructed views of "shooting the curl" make John Milius' Big Wednesday the most gorgeous surfing film there is. Italy's St. Mark's Square sparkles in Paul Mazursky's Blume in Love. The Baxter's Beauties of 1933 segment of Stanley Donen's Movie Movie allowed Surtees the opportunity to recapture Hollywood's Golden Era.
The cause of death was complications of diabetes. Bruce Surtees was 74.
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