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Overview for Karl Freund
Karl Freund

Karl Freund



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Also Known As: Died: May 3, 1969
Born: January 16, 1890 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Profession: Cinematography ... director of photography director producer apprentice projectionist projectionist newsreel cameraman assistant cameraman screenwriter


At the age of 16, Karl Freund -- who would photograph some of the great expressionist films as well as "I Love Lucy" -- began his long, illustrious career in motion pictures as a projectionist. Within two years, he had graduated to camera operator and received a variety of assignments, including newsreels and shorts, particularly for Pathe. Always an innovator, Freund was experimenting with sound film as early as 1908, and also developed his own camera. In the 1920s, Freund worked at the UFA studios during what has become known as the Golden Age of German cinema. Collaborating with such film artists as Fritz Lang, F.W. Murnau, Paul Wegener and E.A. Dupont, Freund helped to create some of the most beautiful and highly regarded films of the silent era. Freund was renowned for his daring camera angles, and his lighting effects, the latter a hallmark of the expressionism school. In 1924, he worked on "The Last Laugh" with Murnau and screenwriter Carl Mayer. Mayer collaborated closely with Freund to write a script exploiting the potentials of a moving camera. The camera became an integral part of the narrative, interpreting and visualizing the central character's state of mind. To film one scene where the main character is intoxicated, Freund strapped the camera to his chest, batteries to his back for balance, and stumbled about like a drunken man.

In 1925, Freund worked on "Variety," directed by E.A. Dupont. Once again, Freund's expressive camerawork drew a great deal of praise. Faced with numerous inquiries about the innovative camerawork, Dupont wrote an article for the "New York Times" explaining the "photographer's ingenuity" in making the film. In 1927, Freund worked with Walter Ruttman on "Berlin--The Symphony of a Great City." To achieve greater flexibility in difficult shooting situations, Freund developed a special high-speed film stock. The entire documentary was reportedly shot without a single person spotting the camera.

In 1929, Freund came to the United States to work on an experimental color process for Technicolor. Shortly thereafter, he went to work for Universal Studios, shooting "Dracula" (1931) and "Murders in the Rue Morgue" (1932). While under contract at Universal, he directed several films, including the horror classic "The Mummy" (1932) and the genuinely odd musical "Moonlight and Pretzels" (1933). While his talent as a director has been applauded, Freund seemed more comfortable in the role of DP, and when he moved from Universal to MGM in 1935, he mostly left directing behind, handling one last horror film, "Made Love" (1935). While at MGM, Freund received an Academy Award for his cinematography for "The Good Earth" (1937). Freund's work as a cinematographer in the United States, including such diverse films as "The Kiss Before the Mirror" (1933), "Camille" (1937), "Key Largo" (1948), "The Seventh Cross" (1944) and "Pride and Prejudice" (1940), reflected his tremendous range and versatility. "Key Largo" was one of the last the great black and white gangster films made in the U.S., and its atmospheric lighting seems to reflect that like the mobster played by Edward G. Robinson, it is an anachronism, a dying breed.

In 1944, Freund founded the Photo Research Corporation in California. In the early 1950s, he went to work in the television industry. His TV work includes the "I Love Lucy" show, where he designed an innovative way to film the live program using three 35mm cameras simultaneously. The three-camera technique is still used in situation comedies today. While others claim to have used multiple cameras in film before Freund developed the three-camera technique, none had been able to master the difficulties of lighting so that no additional set-ups and changes were needed. In 1954, he was given a technical award by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences for the design and development of a direct-reading brightness meter. The following year, he represented the US at the International Conference on Illumination in Zurich. Freund devoted his last years to his Photo Research Corporation, where he continued to experiment with and develop new photographic techniques. A huge presence, with a warm, wide grin and white hair, Freund was affectionately known as "Papa" by most who he worked with in the industry. He was no pussycat, and could be prickly at times, but few cinematographers made as many technical innovations and trained as many future technicians as Freund.

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