ALONZO, John A.






Cinematographer, Director and Actor. Nationality: American. Born: Dallas, Texas, 1934. Education: Attended Dallas public schools. Family: Married Jan Murray. Career: Spent early childhood in Guadalajara, Mexico; worked with local theater while in high school; early 1950s—camera-pusher and cameraman, then director, WFAATV; 1956—puppet show created for Dallas TV; then in Hollywood working for KHJ-TV; also actor on TV and in films (credits include small role in The Magnificent Seven ); 1964—cameraman for short film The Legend of Jimmy Blue Eyes ; also did film documentaries for Wolper Productions; 1970—first feature film as cinematographer, Bloody Mama ; 1978—directed first film, FM . Agent: Scott Harris, Harris and Goldberg, 2121 Avenue of the Stars, No. 950, Los Angeles, CA 90067.


Films as Cinematographer:

1970

Bloody Mama (Corman)

1971

Vanishing Point (Sarafian); Harold and Maude (Ashby)

1972

Sounder (Ritt); Get to Know Your Rabbit (De Palma); Pete 'n Tillie (Ritt); Lady Sings the Blues (Furie)

1973

The Naked Ape (Driver)

1974

Conrack (Ritt); Chinatown (Polanski)

1975

Once Is Not Enough (Green); The Fortune (Nichols); Farewell, My Lovely (Richards)

1976

The Bad News Bears (Ritchie); I Will, I Will . . . for Now (Panama)

1977

Black Sunday (Frankenheimer); Which Way Is Up? (Schultz); Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Spielberg) (co)

1978

Casey's Shadow (Ritt); The Cheap Detective (Moore)

1979

Norma Rae (Ritt)

1980

Tom Horn (Wiard)

1981

Back Roads (Ritt)

1983

Blue Thunder (Badham); Cross Creek (Ritt); Scarface (De Palma)

1984

Runaway (Crichton)

1986

Nothing in Common (G. Marshall)

1987

Overboard (G. Marshall); Real Men (Ponzi)

1988

Knightwatch (F. Mann—for TV); Physical Evidence (Crichton)

1989

Steel Magnolias (Ross)

1990

The Guardian (Friedkin); Internal Affairs (Figgis); Navy Seals (Teague)

1992

HouseSitter (Oz); Cool World (Bakshi)

1993

Meteor Man (Townsend)

1994

Clifford (Flaherty); World War II: When Lions Roared (Sargent—for TV); Star Trek: Generations (Carson)

1995

The Grass Harp (Charles Matthau)

1998

Letters from a Killer (Carson)

1999

Lansky (McNaughton); The Dancing Cow (Goldstein)

2000

Return to Me (Hunt); Fail Safe (for TV)

2001

Deuces Wild

Other Films:

1960

The Magnificent Seven (Sturges) (uncredited bit part)

1961

The Long Rope (Witney) (role as Manuel); Susan Slade (Daves) (role as Manuel Alvarez)

1962

Terror at Black Falls (Sarafian) (role as Carlos Avila); Hand of Death (Nelson) (role as Carlos)

1964

The Legend of Jimmy Blue Eyes (cam—short); Invitation to a Gunfighter (Wilson) (role as Manuel)

1966

Seconds (Frankenheimer) (2nd cam)

1978

FM (d)

1979

Champions: A Love Story (d); Portrait of a Stripper (d)

1980

Belle Starr (d); Blinded by the Light (d)

1992

Visions of Light: The Art of Cinematography (as himself)

Publications


By ALONZO: articles—

On Chinatown in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), May 1975.

Millimeter (New York), March 1976.

On Tom Horn in Filmmakers Monthly (Ward Hill, Massachusetts), May 1980.

American Cinematographer (Hollywood), May 1983.

In Masters of Light: Conversations with Contemporary Cinematographers , by Dennis Schaefer and Larry Salvato, Berkeley, California, 1984.

Lighting Dimensions , November/December 1984.

American Cinematographer (Hollywood), October 1985.

American Cinematographer (Hollywood), March 1986.

American Cinematographer (Hollywood), May 1990.

American Cinematographer (Hollywood), April 1993.


On ALONZO: articles—

McGilligan, P., in Take One (Montreal), no. 2, 1978.

Cleaver, T., " Scarface ," in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), December 1983.

McCarthy, T., in Film Comment (New York), March/April 1984.

Rose, P., on Runaway in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), January 1985.

Erbach, K., on Nothing in Common in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), March 1986.

Beeler, M., in Cinefantastique (Forest Park), vol. 26, no. 2, 1995.


* * *


John A. Alonzo represented—along with Vilmos Zsigmond, Gordon Willis, Conrad Hall, and others—a new breed of Hollywood cinematographer that entered the business during the 1970s whose work, like that of many new breed directors and editors at the time, challenged the classic style of Hollywood filmmaking by striving to be more experimental.

His career falls neatly into three segments. Initially, he journeyed to Los Angeles to make his fame and fortune as an actor; indeed for a short time he was the host of a locally produced children's show in Los Angeles. He got an uncredited bit part in The Magnificent Seven , John Sturges's western remake of Kurosawa's Seven Samurai , starring Yul Brynner. Bigger and better parts soon followed in such features as Delmer Daves's Susan Slade and the western Invitation to a Gunfighter , also starring Yul Brynner. On television, he had supporting roles in such hit series of the 1950s and 1960s as Perry Mason, Cheyenne, Temple Houston, Destry, Bewitched and The Wild, Wild West— where he appeared in two episodes, "The Night of the Golden Cobra" and "The Night of the Surreal McCoy." In the latter episode, he had the title role.

It was during this initial phase of his career that Alonzo decided he really wanted to work behind the camera. He spent many a day studying the work of great cinematographers, particularly Winton Hoch and James Wong Howe. It was Howe who helped him break into the industry. Howe was shooting Seconds in 1966 and needed a camera operator. Alonzo was picking up camera experience working on David Wolper television documentaries at the time, but had no union card. Howe and the director of Seconds , John Frankenheimer, sponsored Alonzo for union membership and his career was off and running. Between 1971 and 1974 Alonzo lensed such popular films as Vanishing Point , Sounder , Lady Sings the Blues , and director Roman Polanski's groundbreaking Chinatown .

For Chinatown , Alonzo was called upon to replace the film's original cinematographer, the legendary Stanley Cortez ( The Magnificent Ambersons, The Night of the Hunter ) whose old-guard methods of lighting and shooting Polanski found to be too slowly paced, causing the film to fall behind schedule. Alonzo's greater spontaneity both in the studio and on location—which stemmed from his experience shooting low budget films for Roger Corman, and greater familiarity with the day's newer, faster film speeds—made him an ideal replacement. His masterful evocation of a sun-baked Los Angeles of the 1930s darkened by shadows lurking everywhere with a hint of corruption virtually defined the cinematic style now known as neo-noir.

For Chinatown Alonzo earned his only (to date) Academy Award nomination. Though he didn't win, the Academy's acknowledgment of his brilliant work on Chinatown enabled him to pick and choose his next projects. There were a number of successful efforts such as Norma Rae in 1979 and Scarface in 1983 that defined this phase of his career. But there were no other major awards or breakthrough achievements. Thus, increasingly, Alonzo began to alternate work as a cinematographer with stabs at directing in an effort to gain more creative control.

He directed his first film, FM (an amusing, counter-cultural forerunner of the hit TV series WKRP In Cincinnati ) in 1978. The TV movies Champions: A Love Story , and Belle Starr , as well as numerous videos for MTV followed. Alonzo's directorial career never really took off, however, and so he has had to settle for finding the top venues to exhibit his talent as a cinematographer. He is still much in demand. But most of the films Alonzo has lensed in the 1980s and 1990s-including Meteor Man , an entry in the big screen Star Trek franchise, Internal Affairs , HouseSitter, and others—only serve to remind us of a talent serving a system that has given him little opportunity to match the early promise of his masterful Chinatown .

—Douglas Gomery, updated by John McCarty

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