(2015) Chris Menges ASC BSC The Life and times

Work is my University.
Man of the Marches.
Selfishness is the greatest evil

The Life and times through the films of one of Britain’s greatest cinematographers will feature at an illustrated presentation at the Regent Street Cinema, London, on March 7th. Chris Menges ASC BSC was awarded a Lifetime Achievement at Camerimage in 2015. To celebrate his life the Festival published an astonishing book, in effect his autobiography, written with honesty and simplicity by a man as respected as much for his humanitarianism as his imagery. At times deeply moving it is unlike any other published in this magnificent series by Camerimage. They are justifiably proud of it.


If Oscars could be awarded for Documentary cinematography, Chris Menges would have won many before gracing the interior of any film studio. This modest man was winner of Academy Awards for The Killing Fields and The Mission with further nominations for Michael Collins and The Reader, the cinematographer responsible for such iconic gems as Kes and Local Hero, The presentation will illustrate his extraordinary life from tales of his documentaries, to his feature films directed by Ken Loach, Bill Forsyth, Stephen Frears, Tony Scott, Franco Rosso, John Mackenzie, Neil Jordan, Roland Joffe, Roy Battersby, Andrei Konchalovsky, Jim Sheridan, Sean Penn, Tommy Lee Jones, Richard Eyre Stephen Daldry and others.
As director on «A World Apart» (best director NY Critic Award) his cinematographer was Peter Bizou. Later collaborators were Ivan Strasburg, Ashley Rowe and Barry Ackroyd.

Chris Menges ASC BSC receiving the Life Time Achievement award from the hands of Camerimage 
Festival Director Marek Żydowicz.

This review offers a fleeting glimpse of his journey in his attempt to make sense of the world through observation and cinematography. His documentary experience from the age of 22 on World in Action would appear to have influenced his thinking, approach and philosophy on life. It certainly resulted in enduring images on every film he has photographed. Jim Sheridan wrote after completing The Boxer: “Chris embodied the soul of the documentary filmmaker who had been lost in the jungle for almost a year and who persisted, but always looked under the surface to find a deeper truth. He bathes the scene in a glowing reality that you can touch. The idea of a man seeking peace inside and out.”
All that appears on the cover is the name “Chris Menges”. Nothing more is needed. The book is a “must read” for filmmakers of all ages. It embraces the history of our time through his documentary exploits in the jungles of Burma, Vietnam and the Amazon, contact with the ANC in South Africa and trouble in Congo, Cyprus and Algeria, Opium wars in Burma, freedom fighters in Tibet and revolution in Zanzibar. It is the story of a unique journey by a man of his time, as recorded for posterity, with no holds barred.
While shooting for «The Reader», after visiting a concentration camp he writes “being there is profoundly troubling. It’s Hell on Earth. You cannot help being emotionally drawn into this material. I try to work only on films that I can learn from. Work is my university- it’s about educating myself.”
To understand the influences on the life of Chris Menges requires an appreciation of the enchantment of the land of his birth. He writes with passion in his poetic prose “the land of the Welsh Marches is the most amazing and interesting countryside. The magical, gentle green hills, brilliant trees and hedgerows are alive with birds and mammals, and are dotted with sheep, cattle and farming folk. Come Spring, it would be all blood and guts during lambing; later, the landscape turned soft and gentle during long summer days. The land would be forever home, and remain in my heart.” 

A World Apart CM  the wee one

The farm in Wales was purchased for £2500 in 1971 with the help of a loan from Stephen Frears. It has remained the home he shares with his wife Judy. The hills and environment have been a haven to which to return and make sense of the World.
After arrest in Zanzibar during a revolution, Michael Parkinson, describes Chris Menges: “a newcomer to World in Action, a quiet, seemingly shy young man with almost a diffident manner, yet a fearless operator.” A year later in Nepal working on a film series on Buddhism he quoted in his diary ”selfishness is the greatest evil and until egotism is eliminated demons will await with an open mouth.” He felt immense pride in working for” a weekly television program to fight injustice with bravery.”
Crossing the peaks of Nepal to film the ambush of Chinese supply vehicles in Tibet in 1964 he writes; “we zipped our bodies inside our lightweight sleeping bags. We lay on a grassy slope covered in snow and cracking frost. It was very, very, cold. Stars came and vanished as banks of cloud came across the sky.”
The book is written with honesty and passion. It is the latest addition to the historic Series published by Camerimage for which all cinematographers should be grateful. To the list of Vittorio Storaro, Vilmos Zsigmond, Laszlo Kovacs, Guiseppe Rotunno, Billy Williams, Owen Roizman, William A Fraker, Freddie Francis, Tonino Delli Colli, Robby Muller, Stephen Golblatt, Pierre Lhomme, Dante Spinotti. Michael Ballhaus, John Seale, Vadim Yusov, Slawomir Idziak and Caleb Deschanel, Camerimage has now added with pride that of Chris Menges.
It is expected copies will be available through the BSC and sponsors following a reprint, currently being negotiated with the Publishers.
The following are observations from readers:
“I hope some of the young ones learn, not only the technique but the ideas and politics that motivate it - Ken Loach.
“Your career will become a template for masses of film hopefuls because you didn’t merely try to do it, you actually did it and succeeded triumphantly”- Kevin Brownlow,
“This book is so beautiful. It is a remarkable document. I loved it and I was very moved by it”-
Scott Rudin
“We are inspired. This book will serve the young generation well- Tenzin Phuntsog


by Nigel Walters BSC

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