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Chris Menges

Chris Menges

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Also Known As: Christopher Menges Died:
Born: September 15, 1940 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Herefordshire, England, GB Profession: director, director of photography, camera assistant, assistant editor, camera operator

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

As an Academy Award-winning cinematographer who made the successful segue to directing features, Chris Menges has carved out a successful, but understated career. Menges got his start as an assistant editor and camera operator and even worked as a sound recordist several times, before working his way up to director of photography. Menges had his first real break as a documentary cameraperson and editor in the 1960s and 1970s, traveling wherever there was war and insurrection - Burma, Angola, Vietnam and Tibet - while working with filmmaker Adrian Cowell. Once he made the permanent jump to feature films in the 1980s, Menges developed a style as a cinematographer that never overwhelmed audiences with gaudy colors or outlandish camera moves In fact, Menges understood the oft-accepted theory that color could be less realistic than black and white, because it focused the audience away from emotion to an object. Menges' work was defined by a low-key naturalism, plain composition, and a mix of lenses to tug at the audience at the appropriate moments, which helped him craft memorable images in several award-winning films, including "The Killing Fields" (1984), "Michael Collins" (1996) and "The Reader"...

As an Academy Award-winning cinematographer who made the successful segue to directing features, Chris Menges has carved out a successful, but understated career. Menges got his start as an assistant editor and camera operator and even worked as a sound recordist several times, before working his way up to director of photography. Menges had his first real break as a documentary cameraperson and editor in the 1960s and 1970s, traveling wherever there was war and insurrection - Burma, Angola, Vietnam and Tibet - while working with filmmaker Adrian Cowell. Once he made the permanent jump to feature films in the 1980s, Menges developed a style as a cinematographer that never overwhelmed audiences with gaudy colors or outlandish camera moves In fact, Menges understood the oft-accepted theory that color could be less realistic than black and white, because it focused the audience away from emotion to an object. Menges' work was defined by a low-key naturalism, plain composition, and a mix of lenses to tug at the audience at the appropriate moments, which helped him craft memorable images in several award-winning films, including "The Killing Fields" (1984), "Michael Collins" (1996) and "The Reader" (2008).

Born on Sept. 15, 1940 in Kingston, Herefordshire, England, Menges was the son of composer Herbert Menges, who also served as musical director at the Old Vic Theatre. Menges began his career as an assistant to filmmaker Alan Forbes, then began working for a distribution company, Contemporary Films. He moved on to become an assistant editor and camera assistant for Derek Knight & Partners, then joined the Granada TV production "World in Action" (1963) as a cameraman. While in his native England, Menges worked for socially conscious director Kenneth Loach; first as a cameraman on "Poor Cow" (1967), then as a cinematographer on his feature debut, "Kes" (1969), a drama about a young boy looking to escape his working-class trappings by caring for a fledgling kestrel. Menges' work was commended for its naturalistic, yet evocative qualities. Menges previously worked as a camera operator on Lindsay Anderson's surrealistic study of students at an English boarding school "If..." (1968), then served as director of photography for Stephen Frears on his first feature, the whimsical crime comedy "Gumshoe" (1972).

Menges spent the ensuing decade working on documentaries and in television, lensing "Radical Lawyer" (1973), "The Opium Warlords" (1974) and "A Family Doctor" (1975). Following Stephen Frears' "Last Summer" (1977), Menges had his first taste of the big time when he served as the second unit cameraman on "The Empire Strikes Back" (1980). He then did double duty as director and cinematographer on "East 103rd Street," a study of East Harlem made for British television in 1981. After shooting the whimsical comedy-of-errors "Local Hero" (1983), Menges vaulted to the top tier of cinematographers after winning Academy Awards for his work on both "The Killing Fields" (1984), Roland Joffe's grim look at America's pullout of Vietnam in 1975, and "The Mission" (1986), Joffe's lush period epic about a former slave trader (Robert De Niro) seeking redemption in the jungles of South America. His understanding of the psychological effects of mise-en-scene on the audience contributed to his being able to make the transition to director.

After shooting two wildly contrasting features - the bleak substance abuse drama "Shy People (1987) and the airy romantic comedy "High Season" (1987) - Menges made his directorial debut with "A World Apart" (1988), an impressive and impactful political drama based on the life of imprisoned South African anti-apartheid activist, Ruth First (Barbara Hershey). Menges managed to elicit an exceptionally strong performance from Hershey, who picked up a Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Festival. He made his American feature directing debut with "Crisscross" (1992), a rather bleak and gloomy drama about a mother (Goldie Hawn) who takes a job as a stripper after her Vietnam veteran husband (Keith Carradine) abandons her and their 12-year-old son to deal with his emotional trauma in a monastery. Menges directed the similarly-themed British feature, "Second Best" (1994), about a reclusive Welsh postmaster (William Hurt) living with his ailing father who becomes a surrogate father to a young boy (Chris Cleary Miles) whose biological dad (Keith Allen) is serving time in prison.

Menges returned to cinematography after nearly a decade-long absence when he shot "Michael Collins" (1996) for Irish director Neil Jordan. Proving he had not lost his touch, Menges recreated the blue-green light of Dublin from 1916 through the early 1920s, stemming from the near-authentic carbon arc street lamps he employed, to the industrial pollution that seemed to hang over the exteriors of the film. Menges worked with primary color wheel shades - such as cyan - on the camera itself. The result was an effect which truly made the film a "photograph come alive," wrote film theorist Siegfried Kracauer. Menges earned a third Oscar nomination for his exquisite work on the film. Remaining in an Irish setting, he served as director of photography on Jim Sheridan's political drama "The Boxer" (1997), starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Emily Watson. He then returned to directing with "The Lost Son" (1999), a dark and sordid tale about a Parisian detective (Daniel Auteuil) who tries to find the 30-year-old son of a wealthy couple after stumbling upon a child pornography ring.

Once the new millennium rolled around, Menges fully dedicated himself to being a director of photography. He crafted a pallet of earthy colors mixed with black-and-white flashbacks for "The Pledge" (2001), directed by Sean Penn, then provided stark and gritty images for Stephen Frears' urban crime thriller "Dirty Pretty Things" (2002). After shooting the star-studded "Concert for George" (2003), a musical farewell to George Harrison, Menges filmed the small-budget crime thriller, "Criminal" (2004), then served as the director of photography for Tommy Lee Jones' directorial debut, "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada" (2005). Menges did yeoman's work as the cinematographer and camera operator for the award-nominated "North Country" (2005), then shot the excellent psychological drama "Notes on a Scandal" (2006), starring Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett. After shooting the failed Iraq War drama, "Stop-Loss" (2008), Menges turned in Oscar-caliber work with "The Reader" (2008), director Stephen Daldry's somber romantic drama about a man (Ralph Fiennes) who recounts the love affair he had with a mysterious German woman (Kate Winslet) during the last days of World War II. Menges earned his fourth Academy Award nomination for Best Cinematography.

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Filmographyclose complete filmography

DIRECTOR:

1.
  Lost Son, The (2001) Director
2.
  Second Best (1994) Director
3.
  Crisscross (1992) Director
4.
  A World Apart (1988) Director
5.
  East 103rd Street (1983) Director

CAST: (feature film)

VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

1958:
Began career as an assistant to filmmaker, Alan Forbes
:
Worked as a camera operator for documentaries by Adrian Cowell
:
Served as assistant editor and camera assistant for Derek Knight & Partners
1963:
Joined Granada TV's "World in Action" team as a cameraman
1969:
First film as cinematographer, Kenneth Loach's "Kes"
1971:
Worked behind the camera on Stephen Frears' first feature, "Gumshoe"
1976:
Re-teamed with Stephen Frears for "Last Summer"
1977:
Filmed episodes of the British series, "ITV Playhouse"
1980:
Shot second unit work on "Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back"
1981:
Made directing debut with the documentary, "East 103rd Street"
1984:
Won first Cinematography Oscar for Roland Joffe's "The Killing Fields"
1985:
Was subject of TV film, "Shooting From the Heart: Chris Menges"
1986:
Earned second Cinematography Oscar for work on Joffe's "The Mission"
1988:
Feature directing debut, "A World Apart"
1992:
First US feature to direct, "Crisscross"
1994:
Directed William Hurt in the drama, "Second Best"
1996:
Returned to work as a director of photography on "Michael Collins"; earned an Academy Award nomination for cinematography
1997:
Was the Cinematographer for Jim Sheridan's "The Boxer"
1999:
Directed Daniel Auteuil in his English-language acting debut, "The Lost Son"
2002:
Served as the cinematographer for Stephen Frears' "Dirty Pretty Things"
2005:
Filmed Tommy Lee Jones' directorial debut, "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada"; earned an Independent Spirit nomination for cinematography
2006:
Was the director of photography for "Notes on a Scandal"
2008:
Co-cinematographer for Stephen Daldry's "The Reader"; earned an Academy Award nomination for cinematography
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Notes

"Color can be very distracting from the narrative. When you put lights by the camera, you tend to create color; when you have the light coming from the back, it can be subdued." --Chris Menges in the Los Angeles Times, March 23, 1997.

"When I made 'A World Apart', I started to understand that a director's life was a lot more troublesome and arduous and almost schizophrenic than one could ever imagine. As a cameraman, one doesn't exactly understand these pressures. They are absolutely enormous." --Menges to The Hollywood Reporter, March 11, 1997.

Companions close complete companion listing

wife:
Judy Freeman Menges. Sound technician.

Family close complete family listing

father:
Herbert Menges. Musical director. Born in 1902; died in 1972; worked with the Old Vic theater.

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