John Alonzo


Director Of Photography

About

Also Known As
John A Alonzo, John Alonso, John A. Alonzo
Birth Place
Dallas, Texas, USA
Born
June 12, 1934
Died
March 13, 2001
Cause of Death
Cancer

Biography

A versatile cinematographer, native Texan John A Alonzo began his career at a Dallas television station where he created the character of Senor Turtle for a local children's show. When he brought the tortoise to Hollywood, he found the West Coast inimical to the program and fell back on acting after its cancellation. Although he appeared in "The Magnificent Seven" (1960) and had bigger r...

Family & Companions

Jan Murray
Wife
Survived him.

Notes

About juggling dual responsibilities on TV projects: "I found it to be very easy. I used my regular crew and they know what I want as a cameraman. So I can give them the set-up and I can go away to work with my actors; then they call me when I'm ready. I come back in, watch my actors go through it, maybe change the lighting a little bit and then we start shooting. I've found it easy to do that. My concentration was 90 percent towards my actors and 10 percent towards my cinematography which just fell into place. It wasn't difficult at all. It might be difficult with a strange crew. In certain projects it might be difficult also. I might get into a very heavy dramatic piece where I really should have a cameraman do it so I can deal more with the script and actors. But I'm not going to give up cinematography." --Alonzo quoted in "Masters of the Light: Conversations with Contemporary Cinematographers" by Dennis Schaefer & Larry Salvato (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1984)

Biography

A versatile cinematographer, native Texan John A Alonzo began his career at a Dallas television station where he created the character of Senor Turtle for a local children's show. When he brought the tortoise to Hollywood, he found the West Coast inimical to the program and fell back on acting after its cancellation. Although he appeared in "The Magnificent Seven" (1960) and had bigger roles in lesser films like "The Long Rope" (1961) and "Terror at Black Falls" (1962), Alonzo soon found his acting taking a back seat to the still photography that was paying the bills in between parts. He began to devote himself to the study of cinematography, favoring the work of such standards of excellence as Walter Strenge, Floyd Crosby, Winton Hoch and James Wong Howe. In fact, it was Howe who gave him his big break as a camera operator on John Frankenheimer's "Seconds" (1966) as well as sponsoring him for union membership (seconded by Frankenheimer). In short order, Alonzo got his first job as director of photography on Roger Corman's "Bloody Mama" (1970).

Alonzo's experience as a documentary filmmaker in the late 60s prepared him for his collaboration with Corman, who was also a fast worker. He scored points with the producer-director for his willingness to climb on ladders to adjust lights (in violation of union rules) and his ability to shoot hand-held footage that the camera operator could not (also in defiance of union rules). Building on that start, he added to his reputation for swiftness with the actioner "Vanishing Point" and Hal Ashby's cult favorite "Harold and Maude" (both 1971) before teaming for the first time with mentor Martin Ritt on "Sounder" (1972). His decision to shoot the opening coon hunt at night instead of as day-for-night and his use of hidden lamps to provide a flare of light here and there added a certain excitement to the proceedings and helped establish the lyrical quality the director was after. Otherwise, he just provided as natural a light as possible and allowed the actors' behavior and the artwork to sell the "period."

"Lady Sings the Blues" (1972) gave him the opportunity to go for more lighting effects, adding color for the nightclub scenes and using a fog filter to get a sense of period, as well as experimenting for the first time with smoke effects (colored smoke whenever possible). "Chinatown" (1974) paired him with director Roman Polanski, who psyched everybody involved into functioning at maximum efficiency in their contributions to the masterpiece. Alonzo actually inherited the plum assignment from Stanley Cortez, whose refusal to shoot Faye Dunaway without diffusion angered Polanski and cost him the job. He sold the director on the use of an anamorphic 40mm lens (often even in close-up), teaching Polanski a great deal about composition within that aspect ratio of 2.35 to 1. "You don't have to fill the edges of the screen. You do it with lighting if you want to fill the edges, or let the edges go . . . a D.W. Griffith kind of bright center and dark toward the edges." For his efforts on this film noir classic, Alonzo received his (to date) sole Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography.

Alonzo joined the all-star list of directors of photography (i.e., Laszlo Kovacs, William A Fraker and Vilmos Zsigmond) on Steven Spielberg's "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (1977) and continued collaborating whenever possible with Ritt. He made a competent, though overlooked, directorial debut with the anarchic, pre-"WKRP" radio station comedy, "FM" (1978) and directed four CBS-TV movies from 1979-80 on which he also handled the cinematography. The cost-conscious Alonzo has always refused to use extra lights just because he can, and producers and directors know that he is not fooling around "when I suddenly say to them I need $55,000 today for lighting." Ritt's "Norma Rae" featured 99 percent hand-held camerawork, and despite the lighting problems inherent in such shooting, he traveled to locations without a generator, taking four electricians and four grips. "The only thing I fight for in a budget is the crew's salary."

"Cross Creek" (1983) marked his seventh and final film with Ritt, and though he has continued to work steadily, he has not found anyone else with whom he has established a comparable chemistry. Alonzo has provided valuable assistance to first-time directors like Richard Pryor ("Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling" 1986) and Charles Matthau ("The Grass Harp" 1995), though no amount of help could save Rip Torn's disastrous "The Telephone" (1988). His best pictures in the late 80s were arguably Garry Marshall's comedies "Nothing in Common" (1986) and "Overboard" (1987), though a case might be made for Herbert Ross' "Steel Magnolias" (1989). His projects in the 90s have included Ralph Bakshi's disappointing live-action/animated feature "Cool World" (1992) and the far more successful "Star Trek: Generations" (1994). He recently helped provide the top-notch look of John McNaughton's period gangster movie "Lansky" (HBO, 1999), starring Richard Dreyfuss.

Filmography

 

Director (Feature Film)

Blinded By the Light (1980)
Director
Belle Starr (1980)
Director
Champions: A Love Story (1979)
Director
Portrait of a Stripper (1979)
Director
FM (1978)
Director

Cast (Feature Film)

Visions of Light: The Art of Cinematography (1992)
Himself
50 Years of Action! (1986)
Himself
Invitation to a Gunfighter (1964)
Manuel
Hand of Death (1962)
Carlos
Terror at Black Falls (1962)
The Long Rope (1961)
Manuel Álvarez
The Crowded Sky (1960)
Young repairman
The Magnificent Seven (1960)
Miguel

Cinematography (Feature Film)

Deuces Wild (2002)
Director Of Photography
FAIL SAFE (2000)
Director Of Photography
Letters from a Killer (1999)
Director Of Photography
Lansky (1999)
Director Of Photography
The Grass Harp (1995)
Director Of Photography
Star Trek: Generations (1994)
Director Of Photography
Clifford (1994)
Director Of Photography
The Meteor Man (1993)
Director Of Photography
Housesitter (1992)
Director Of Photography
Cool World (1992)
Director Of Photography
Internal Affairs (1990)
Director Of Photography
Navy Seals (1990)
Director Of Photography
The Guardian (1990)
Director Of Photography
Steel Magnolias (1989)
Director Of Photography
Physical Evidence (1988)
Director Of Photography
Roots: The Gift (1988)
Director Of Photography
Real Men (1987)
Director Of Photography
Overboard (1987)
Director Of Photography
Nothing in Common (1986)
Director Of Photography
Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling (1986)
Director Of Photography
50 Years of Action! (1986)
Director Of Photography
Out of Control (1985)
Director Of Photography
Runaway (1984)
Director Of Photography
Terror in the Aisles (1984)
Director Of Photography
Blue Thunder (1983)
Director Of Photography
Cross Creek (1983)
Director Of Photography
Scarface (1983)
Director Of Photography
The Kid From Nowhere (1982)
Director Of Photography
Zorro, The Gay Blade (1981)
Director Of Photography
Back Roads (1981)
Director Of Photography
Tom Horn (1980)
Director Of Photography
Blinded By the Light (1980)
Director Of Photography
Belle Starr (1980)
Director Of Photography
Champions: A Love Story (1979)
Director Of Photography
Portrait of a Stripper (1979)
Director Of Photography
Norma Rae (1979)
Director Of Photography
Casey's Shadow (1978)
Director Of Photography
The Cheap Detective (1978)
Director Of Photography
Beyond Reason (1977)
Director Of Photography
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
Director Of Photography
Black Sunday (1977)
Director Of Photography
Which Way Is Up? (1977)
Director Of Photography
Look What's Happened to Rosemary's Baby (1976)
Director Of Photography
The Bad News Bears (1976)
Director Of Photography
I Will...I Will...For Now (1975)
Director Of Photography
The Fortune (1975)
Director Of Photography
Farewell, My Lovely (1975)
Director Of Photography
Chinatown (1974)
Director Of Photography
Conrack (1974)
Director Of Photography
Hit! (1973)
Director Of Photography
Guess Who's Been Sleeping in My Bed (1973)
Director Of Photography
The Voyage of the Yes (1973)
Director Of Photography
The Naked Ape (1973)
Director Of Photography
Pete 'n' Tillie (1972)
Director of Photography
Get to Know Your Rabbit (1972)
Director of Photography
Lady Sings the Blues (1972)
Director of Photography
Sounder (1972)
Director of Photography
Visions... (1972)
Director Of Photography
Harold and Maude (1971)
Director of Photography
Vanishing Point (1971)
Director of Photography
Cannon (1971)
Director Of Photography
Revenge (1971)
Director Of Photography
Bloody Mama (1970)
Director of Photography

Misc. Crew (Feature Film)

Deuces Wild (2002)
Dp/Cinematographer
Visions of Light: The Art of Cinematography (1992)
Other
Housesitter (1992)
Dp/Cinematographer
The Guardian (1990)
Dp/Cinematographer
Internal Affairs (1990)
Dp/Cinematographer
Steel Magnolias (1989)
Dp/Cinematographer
The Telephone (1988)
Assistant
Overboard (1987)
Dp/Cinematographer
Nothing in Common (1986)
Dp/Cinematographer
50 Years of Action! (1986)
Other
Runaway (1984)
Dp/Cinematographer
Black Sunday (1977)
Other
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
Dp/Cinematographer
The Bad News Bears (1976)
Dp/Cinematographer
The Fortune (1975)
Dp/Cinematographer

Cinematography (Short)

San Sebastian 1746 in 1968 (1968)
Cinematographer

Cinematography (TV Mini-Series)

The Prime Gig (2001)
Director Of Photography
The Prime Gig (2001)
Cinematographer
World War II: When Lions Roared (1994)
Director Of Photography

Misc. Crew (TV Mini-Series)

The Prime Gig (2001)
Dp/Cinematographer

Life Events

1956

Moved to Los Angeles to host a children's show on local KHJ-TV, featuring Senor Turtle, a character he had created for a Dallas show

1960

Appeared in "The Magnificent Seven"

1962

Acted in Richard Sarafian's "Terror at Black Falls"

1966

Filled in as a camera operator for cinematographer James Wong Howe on John Frankenheimer's "Seconds" and impressed Howe and Frankenheimer so much that they sponsored him for union membership

1970

First feature as director of photography, "Bloody Mama"

1971

Reunited with Sarafian, this time serving as director of photography on "Vanishing Point"

1971

Initial TV-movie as director of photography, "Revenge" (ABC)

1972

First collaborations with director Martin Ritt, "Sounder" and "Pete 'n' Tillie"

1972

Shot Brian De Palma's "Get to Know Your Rabbit"

1974

Reteamed with Ritt for "Conrack"

1974

Received an Academy Award nomination for his work on Roman Polanski's "Chinatown"; replaced Stanley Cortez on film

1977

Was director of photography for Frankenheimer's "Black Sunday"

1977

Photographed parts of Steven Spielberg's "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (credited as additional director of photography)

1978

First collaboration with producer Ray Stark, "The Cheap Detective"

1978

Feature directorial debut, "FM"

1979

TV directing debut, "Champions: A Love Story" (CBS), also director of photography

1979

Reunited with Ritt for "Norma Rae"

1983

Seventh and last collaboration with Ritt, "Cross Creek"

1983

Reteamed with De Palma on the reamke of "Scarface"

1986

Initial collaboration with Garry Marshall, "Nothing in Common"; third and final teaming with Stark

1987

Collaborated again with Marshall on "Overboard"

1990

Served as cinematographer for Friedkin's "The Guardian"

1992

Was director of photography for Ralph Bakshi's mix of animation and live action, "Cool World"

1994

Shot "Star Trek: Generations"

1999

Served as cinematographer on John McNaughton's "Lansky" (HBO), garnered Emmy nomination

2001

Final screen credit, "Deuces Wild"; released posthumously

Videos

Movie Clip

Lady Sings The Blues (1972) - All Of Me Fleeing prostitution in 1930’s Harlem, Diana Ross as Eleanora Holiday proves to club owner Jerry (Sid Melton) she’s no dancer, but is rescued by “Piano Man” Richard Pryor, winning a job and choosing a name, with the Gerald Marks-Seymour Sims song, then known as a Ruth Etting standard, in Lady Sings The Blues, 1972.
Farewell, My Lovely (1975) - Did You Ever Catch My Act? Beginning the two-scene performance that won Sylvia Miles her second Academy Award nomination, as Raymond Chandler’s boozy former showgirl Jessie Florian, visited by Robert Mitchum as an older, wearier Philip Marlowe, in 1941 L-A, in director Dick Richards’ film from David Zelag Goodman’s screenplay, Farewell, My Lovely, 1975.
Farewell, My Lovely (1975) - To Hell With Polite Drinking More than 40-minutes into the picture, shooting at the since-burned Max Busch house in Pasadena, Robert Mitchum narrates as Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, on a case that is, for now, unrelated to the initial investigation, introducing second-billed Charlotte Rampling as Mrs. Grayle, and the now-revered writer Jim Thompson in his only movie role as her power-broker husband, in Farewell, My Lovely, 1975.
Farewell, My Lovely (1975) - Buy Yourself A New Suit Summoned to a plush 1941 L-A nightclub, Robert Mitchum as P-I Philip Marlowe, older than ever imagined by Raymond Chandler, consults with his neither client nor love-interest Mrs. Grayle (Charlotte Rampling) about her ancient husband (legendary writer Jim Thompson) and fixer Laird Burnette (Anthony Zerbe), later directly in Farewell, My Lovely, 1975.
Farewell, My Lovely (1975) - Open, Tired And Growing Old Striking an odd balance here, Robert Mitchum, who could have played Philip Marlowe in the 1940’s, instead plays him in 1975, though much older than Raymond Chandler ever wrote him, in a period story set in 1941, through David Zelag Goodman’s adaptation and Dick Richards’ direction, opening Farewell, My Lovely, John Ireland and Harry Dean Stanton his cop buddies.
Farewell, My Lovely (1975) - Ten Dollars For Elephants On a routine case collecting a straying teen (Noelle North, Lola Mason and Wally Berns her parents) in 1941 L-A, Robert Mitchum as private eye Philip Marlowe narrates and cracks wise, introducing ex-boxer Jack O’Halloran as Moose Malloy, Dick Richards directing from David Zelag Goodman’s adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s novel, in Farewell, My Lovely, 1975.
Chinatown (1974) - Hold It There, Kitty-Cat Looking to figure out who’s behind the surreptitious dumping of water from the reservoir, private eye Jake (Jack Nicholson) is back at the locks where he encounters director Roman Polanski, in his famous cameo, as a nameless goon with a switchblade, in Chinatown, 1974.
Chinatown (1974) - Contrary To My Experience Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson), lunching with Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) after having his nose sliced, feels strongly that she's holding back, in Roman Polanski's Chinatown, 1974.
Chinatown (1974) - Open, She's No Good Atmospheric credits and the introduction of detective Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) with an aggrieved client (Burt Young), the opening of Roman Polanski's Chinatown, 1974, also starring Faye Dunaway and John Huston.
Chinatown (1974) - Do You Know Me? Jake (Jack Nicholson), reveling with his barber and assistant detectives (Richard Bakalyan, Joe Mantell), gets an unexpected visit from the real Mrs. Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) in Roman Polanski's Chinatown, 1974.
Chinatown (1974) - Dying Of Thirst Lots of 1930's Los Angeles as detective Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) tails water department boss Hollis Mulwray (Darrell Zwerling), early in Roman Polanski's Chinatonw, 1974.
Lady Sings The Blues (1972) - The Man I Love Supported in her performance of the George and Ira Gershwin tune by "Piano Man" (Richard Pryor) but unwilling to take part in a crude tipping ritual, young Billie Holiday (Diana Ross) is rescued by Louis McKay (Billy Dee Williams) in Lady Sings The Blues, 1972.

Trailer

Family

Raymond Alonzo
Father
Migrant worker. Mexican.
Maria Alonzo
Mother
Migrant worker. Mexican.
Krista Alonzo Haines
Daughter
Married to John Haines; survived him.

Companions

Jan Murray
Wife
Survived him.

Bibliography

Notes

About juggling dual responsibilities on TV projects: "I found it to be very easy. I used my regular crew and they know what I want as a cameraman. So I can give them the set-up and I can go away to work with my actors; then they call me when I'm ready. I come back in, watch my actors go through it, maybe change the lighting a little bit and then we start shooting. I've found it easy to do that. My concentration was 90 percent towards my actors and 10 percent towards my cinematography which just fell into place. It wasn't difficult at all. It might be difficult with a strange crew. In certain projects it might be difficult also. I might get into a very heavy dramatic piece where I really should have a cameraman do it so I can deal more with the script and actors. But I'm not going to give up cinematography." --Alonzo quoted in "Masters of the Light: Conversations with Contemporary Cinematographers" by Dennis Schaefer & Larry Salvato (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1984)