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|Also Known As:||Janusz Zygmuni Kaminski||Died:|
|Born:||June 27, 1959||Cause of Death:|
|Birth Place:||Poland||Profession:||director of photography, 2nd unit photographer, director|
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As the director of photography on many of director Steven Spielberg's films, Janusz Kaminski created some of the most lasting and memorable images in cinema history. Whether filming "Schindler's List" (1993) in stark black-and-white, giving the film a cold documentary feel, or using nausea-inducing, hand-held shots while storming the beaches of Normandy in "Saving Private Ryan" (1998), Kaminski had the unique gift of maintaining an air of realism, while using a wide array of washed-out color schemes, hyperkinetic movement and other visual trickery to draw the audience into the action. A naturally gifted cinematographer, Kaminski had in inauspicious start in Hollywood, making B-movies for low-budget impresario Roger Corman, whose cookie-cutter production facility has been the proving grounds for many later A-list filmmakers. Eventually, with a great deal of resilience and a bit of luck, Kaminski honed his craft to the point where he was noticed by none other than Spielberg. Following "Schindler's List," a stunning and diverse list of achievements with the director followed, among them "A.I. Artificial Intelligence" (2001), "Catch Me if You Can" (2002) and "Munich" (2005). A rare non-Spielberg...
As the director of photography on many of director Steven Spielberg's films, Janusz Kaminski created some of the most lasting and memorable images in cinema history. Whether filming "Schindler's List" (1993) in stark black-and-white, giving the film a cold documentary feel, or using nausea-inducing, hand-held shots while storming the beaches of Normandy in "Saving Private Ryan" (1998), Kaminski had the unique gift of maintaining an air of realism, while using a wide array of washed-out color schemes, hyperkinetic movement and other visual trickery to draw the audience into the action. A naturally gifted cinematographer, Kaminski had in inauspicious start in Hollywood, making B-movies for low-budget impresario Roger Corman, whose cookie-cutter production facility has been the proving grounds for many later A-list filmmakers. Eventually, with a great deal of resilience and a bit of luck, Kaminski honed his craft to the point where he was noticed by none other than Spielberg. Following "Schindler's List," a stunning and diverse list of achievements with the director followed, among them "A.I. Artificial Intelligence" (2001), "Catch Me if You Can" (2002) and "Munich" (2005). A rare non-Spielberg endeavor, "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" (2007), earned Kaminski some of the highest accolades of his career, while his reunion with the director on the momentous biopic "Lincoln" (2012) arguably surpassed all that had come before. In the eyes of many, Kaminski had established himself as both the best known and the finest cinematographer of his generation.
Kaminski was born on June 27, 1959 and raised in Wroclaw, Poland, a fairly large metropolis neatly tucked behind the Iron Curtain. The only child of a housewife and factory worker, Kaminski grew up with a passion for watching movies, though at the time, he never considered working in film as a possible career. Thanks to the slightly liberal attitude of Poland's censors, he was exposed to American films like "Vanishing Point" (1971) and the music of Pink Floyd, fueling his desire for a more free society and a place to buy a new pair of jeans. By the time he reached high school age, he knew that the creative life was for him. In 1980, he joined an amateur filmmaking club that traveled to Greece on vacation under the pretense of filming a documentary. Instead, Kaminski met an expatriate from Poland who offered to help him and his friends immigrate to the United States. Kaminski agreed and was given the name of a contact in Vienna, Austria, where he spent the next six months waiting for his papers to come through.
With visions of blue jeans dancing in his head, Kaminski flew first to New York, then to Chicago, possessing little money and no English. While he enrolled in school to learn the language, he landed a job as a machine operator at a playing card factory for three months, until he was fired to make way for a fresh set of immigrants. He began working at a Sears & Roebuck warehouse, then was fired once again. Frustrated by the prospect of working at a factory the rest of his life, Kaminski enrolled in the film program at Columbia College, where he quickly established himself as the go-to guy for photography. After graduating in 1987, he moved to Los Angeles, where he landed a fellowship in the cinematography program at the American Film Institute. But instead of delving back into studying his craft, Kaminski instead pounded the pavement in search of work, blind calling production companies for job openings. He eventually landed his first professional gig with B-movie impresario Roger Corman as the second unit director of photography on the forgettable thriller, "Streets" (1990).
Kaminski continued to help Corman churn out low-budget schlock, graduating to first unit director of photography on "The Rain Killer" (1990) and "The Terror Within II" (1991). Thanks to his quickly growing resume and reputation as a quality cinematographer, director Steven Spielberg took notice and hired him to shoot "Class of '61" (ABC, 1993). At the time, Kaminski was aware that Spielberg, who served as executive producer on the TV movie, was testing the DP for bigger and better things. Kaminski passed with flying colors, of course, leading Spielberg to hire him for "Schindler's List" (1993). In order to preserve immediacy and realism, Kaminski and Spielberg agreed to shoot the film in stark black-and-white and use a considerable amount of handheld camera movements, allowing them a cinema verite feel. Spielberg also shot the film in Kaminski's native Poland, a place the cinematographer no longer had any affinity for. In fact, he and some other members of the crew routinely encountered a still-healthy vein of anti-Semitism. Nonetheless, the film became hailed as one of the finest in cinema history and earned several Academy Awards, including one for Best Cinematography - the first for Kaminski.
Because of his Oscar-winning work on "Schindler's List," Kaminski was able to move away from grade-B thrillers and land some of the biggest films in Hollywood. After shooting "The Adventures of Huck Finn" (1993) and "Little Giants" (1994), he provided a lush, gauzy look to "How to Make an American Quilt" (1995), a romantic drama about a young fiancé (Winona Ryder) having second thoughts about marriage after meeting another man (Jared Leto) and who seeks advice from her grandmother's friends who are knitting her wedding quilt. He teamed up with director Cameron Crowe on "Jerry Maguire" (1996), then went to work exclusively for Spielberg on his next nine films, starting with "The Lost World: Jurassic Park" (1997). For "Amistad" (1997), a beautifully filmed look at the 1839 rebellion aboard a Spanish slave ship and the complex court case that ensued, Kaminski earned his second Oscar nod for Best Cinematography, as well as a nomination for the 1997 Outstanding Achievement Awards sponsored by the American Society of Cinematographers.
Perhaps his greatest triumph was his work on "Saving Private Ryan" (1998), Spielberg's violently realistic World War II drama about a team of soldiers led by a battle-weary captain (Tom Hanks), who are on a mission to find a G.I. (Matt Damon) behind enemy lines while the invasion of Normandy rages around them. Opening with a washed-out American flag fluttering in the wind, Kaminski treated audiences to a hypnotic, sometimes stomach-churning array of images and movement that captured perfectly the utter hell of war. The 20-minute opening sequence alone - which depicted in gruesome detail the famous beach landings from a first-person perspective - was worthy of the numerous awards bestowed upon him. Shot entirely hand-held to give the sequence a documentary feel, Kaminski brought the audience down to ground level, where artillery battered the beachhead, bullets ripped companies apart, and soldiers surrounded by chaos did everything they could just to stay alive. A triumphant cinematic accomplishment, "Saving Private Ryan" earned many accolades, including a no-brainer Academy Award for Best Cinematography.
Fresh off his second Oscar win, Kaminski went to work on Spielberg's next feature, "A.I. Artificial Intelligence" (2001), a futuristic thriller about androids with superhuman powers walking among humans. Awash in somber blues and splashed with a violent array of neon colors, "A.I." was a visual feast that helped detract audiences from an ultimately overwrought tale about a robot boy (Haley Joel Osment) who wants to be real. Returning to the future, Kaminski signed on to shoot Spielberg's far better realized sci-fi thriller, "Minority Report" (2002), a stark adaptation of Philip K. Dick's dystopian novel. Kaminski depicted the year 2054 in bleak, washed out colors, creating an almost chiaroscuro effect with very little bright spots. Though no award nominations came his way, Kaminski's work on "Minority Report" showed him in top form. For "Catch Me If You Can" (2002), a journey to the past detailing the life of the world's greatest fraudster, Frank Abignale (Leonardo DiCaprio), Kaminski brought the 1960s to life in vibrant pastels and deep-hued neutrals.
After teaming up with Spielberg on "The Terminal" (2004), an amusing romantic drama about an Eastern European (Tom Hanks) stranded at Kennedy Airport after being unauthorized to leave, he brought to life the virtual destruction of the planet in "War of the Worlds" (2005). Kaminski's shocking imagery - eerily reminiscent of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 - and stark tone brought to life the devastation wrought by an alien invasion. On "Munich" (2006), he once again utilized muted tones, tight camerawork and steadicam movements to bring a sense of realism and urgency to the story about a team of Mossad agents, led by a young intelligence officer (Eric Bana), who hunt down and assassinate the ringleaders behind Black September's killing of 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team in 1972. In a rare, almost shocking breakaway from Spielberg, Kaminski teamed up with director Julian Schnabel on "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" (2007), a heart-wrenching look at Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric), the former high-flying editor of the French Elle magazine who suffered a crippling stroke, but nonetheless wrote a novel by blinking his left eye, signaling one letter at a time. Kaminski's washed-out, but often vibrant tones, odd, first-person angles, and striking shots depicting the wild imagination of a man trapped inside his own mind, earned him his fourth Academy Award nomination for Best Cinematography.
While one of the most anticipated films of the decade for longtime fans of the franchise, Kaminski's next collaboration with Spielberg would become more infamous than immortal. A muddled tale of aliens and ancient civilizations, "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" (2008) attempted to revive several of the best elements from the first film, even as it introduced new blood into the proceedings in the form of actor Shia LaBeouf as Jones' (Harrison Ford) illegitimate son, as well as brought back fan favorite Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood. Instead, its over-the-top action and uneven pacing left audiences unsatisfied - even bitter. Next, Kaminski turned his artistic attentions to more real-world stories, shooting projects like Judd Apatow's semi-autobiographical dramatic comedy "Funny People" (2009) and James L. Brooks' romantic comedy flop "How Do You Know" (2010). Later Spielberg efforts, however, fared significantly better, as projects like the World War I equestrian epic "War Horse" (2011) aptly demonstrated Kaminski's facility with grand, sweeping visuals. The director of photography topped himself with is next work for Spielberg on the acclaimed biopic "Lincoln" (2012) starring Daniel Day-Lewis as the iconic 16th U.S. president. Imbuing the proceedings with an authenticity that recalled long-archived photographs, Kaminski picked up yet another Oscar nod for Best Cinematography - just one of the 12 nominations "Lincoln" received.
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CAST: (feature film)
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"He [Steven Spielberg] is very experienced with flashy ideas," Kaminski said. "But on this movie ["Schindler's List"], he would stand back and anaylze the dramaturgy of the movie and the story. We did many hand-held shots. We stayed away from the dolly. We stayed away from anything that would make the film look like a Hollywood production." --Janusz Kaminski, quoted in "A Filmmaker Comes of Age", DAILY VARIETY, December 7, 1993.
"He worked for me as student in 1986 and 1987, and he was certainly in the group of students that you felt were going to go on and make careers for themselves. He had a really good mix of technical ability and a great personality." --former teacher Charles Celander, production manager in the film and video department at Columbia College, quoted in the CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, March 23, 1999
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