Cinematographer. Nationality: French. Born: Paris, 4 December 1914. Family: Son of the actor Pierre Renoir, nephew of the director Jean Renoir. Education: Attended Lycée Lakanal, Paris. Career: General assistant on Jean Renoir's films in early 1930s, then assistant photographer to Christian Matras and Boris Kaufman; 1939–43—in film department of French navy; then resumed cinematography work. Died: In Troyes, 5 September 1993.
La Nuit du carrefour ( Night at the Crossroads ) (J. Renoir); Boudu sauvée des eaux (J. Renoir)
La Vie est à nous ( The People of France ) (J. Renoir)
Le Chanteur de minuit (Joannon); La Grande Illusion ( Grand Illusion ) (J. Renoir) (+ asst d)
La Bête humaine ( The Human Beast ) (J. Renoir) (+ asst d); La Marseillaise (J. Renoir); Légions d'honneur (Gleize); Lumières de Paris (Pottier); La Piste de sud (Billon); Les Rois de la flotte (Pujol)
Le Dernier Tournant (Chenal); L'Enfer des anges (Christian-Jaque); Sérénade (Boyer)
Toni (J. Renoir)
Prison sans barreaux (Moguy) (co)
Opéra-Musette (+ co-d)
Bonsoir mesdames, bonsoir messieurs (Tual); L'Aventure est au coin de la rue (Daniel-Norman)
Le Couple idéal (Roland); L'Extravagante Mission (Calef); Jéricho (Calef)
Les Chouans (Calef); La Mission sous la mer (Calef); Le Père tranquille ( Mr. Orchid ) (Clément and Noël-Noël); Une Partie de campagne ( A Day in the Country ) (J. Renoir—produced 1936)
Monsieur Vincent (Cloche); La Grande Voliere (Péchet)
L'Impasse des deux anges (Tourneur); Docteur Laënnac (Cloche); Alice au pays des merveilles ( Alice in Wonderland ) (Bunin and others) (co); Pyrénées, terre de legends (Lods—short) (co)
Rendezvous de juillet (Becker); Prélude à la gloire (Lacombe); Images gothiques (Cloche—short); Sculptures au moyenâge (Cloche—short)
Né de père inconnu (Cloche); Knock (Lefranc); Clara de Montargis (Decoin)
The River (J. Renoir); Monsieur Fabre (Diamant-Berger); The Green Glove (Maté)
Le Carrosse d'or ( The Golden Coach ) (J. Renoir); Puccini (Gallone); Maddalena (Genina)
India favolosa (Macchi)
Madame Butterfly (Gallone); Un Missionaire (Cloche); Le Mystère Picasso (Clouzot)
Eléna et les hommes ( Paris Does Strange Things ) (J. Renoir); Crime et châtiment (Lampin); Les Sorcières de Salem (Rouleau)
Une Vie (Astruc)
Délit de fuite (Borderie); Les Tricheurs ( The Cheaters ) (Carné)
La Valse du gorille (Borderie); Sergent X (Borderie)
Et mourir de plaisir ( Blood and Roses ) (Vadim); Terrain vague (Carné)
Les Amants de Teruel (Rouleau); Lafayette (Dréville)
Symphonie pour un massacre (Deray)
Cleopatra (Mankiewicz) (2nd unit)
Circus World ( The Magnificent Showman ) (Hathaway) (2nd unit); L'Insoumis (Cavalier)
Paris au mois d'août (Granier-Deferre)
La Curée ( The Game Is Over ) (Vadim); La Grande Vadrouille (Oury)
Barbarella (Vadim); Histoires extraordinaires ( Spirits of the Dead ) (Fellini, Malle, and Vadim)
The Madwoman of Chaillot (Forbes) (co)
The Lady in a Car with Glasses and a Gun (Litvak); The Adventurers (Gilbert); The Horsemen (Frankenheimer)
Le Casse (Verneuil); Les Mariés de l'an deux (Rappeneau)
Hellé (Vadim); Le Tueur (de la Patellière); Le Serpent (Verneuil)
L'Impossible Objet ( Impossible Object ) (Frankenheimer); Paul and Michelle (Gilbert)
La Traque (Leroy)
Docteur Françoise Gailland (Bertuccelli); French Connection II (Frankenheimer)
L'Aile, ou la cuisse (Zidi); Attention les enfants regardent (Leroy); The Spy Who Loved Me (Gilbert)
La Zazanie (Zidi)
La Toubib (Granier-Deferre)
Règle du jeu ( Rules of the Game ) (J. Renoir)
Le Technicien du Film (Paris), January 1949; no. 209, November 1973.
Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), vol. 2, no. 8, January 1952.
Ciné France Mensuel , January 1965.
Le Technicien du Film (Paris), November-December 1973.
On The Spy Who Loved Me in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), May 1977.
Cinéma Pratique , no. 160, 1979.
Cinématographe (Paris), April 1979.
Monthly Film Bulletin (London), vol. 32, no. 375, April 1965.
Monthly Film Bulletin (London), no. 13, 1973.
Film Français (Paris), no. 2346, April 1991; no. 2472, September 1993.
The Guardian (London), 8 September 1993.
New York Times , 13 September 1993.
Facts on File , 16 September 1993.
Variety , 8 September 1993; 27 September 1993.
Daily Telegraph (London), 23 September 1993.
Classic Film Images (London), no. 220, October 1993.
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In a distinguished career tragically foreshortened by failing eyesight, Claude Renoir demonstrated his versatility and technical ingenuity in over eighty films and, though principally associated with luxuriant color photography, he also achieved notable successes with monochrome. His early mentors included Jean Bachelet, Maurice Lucien, and Joseph Louis Mundwiller, although the cinematographers who most marked his development were Christian Matras and Boris Kaufman. His formative years were almost inevitably associated with the work of his pre-eminently famous uncle, Jean Renoir, and in the prewar period he gained invaluable experience of filmmaking both as his general assistant and cameraman. In the latter role he showed considerable physical courage to produce airborne shots in La Grande Illusion (1937), and to capture the dangerous high-speed train sequences for La Bête humaine (1938) when, strapped to a platform on the side of the engine, he almost lost his life as the train entered a narrower-then-expected tunnel.
In terms of his uncle's monochrome films, Renoir's sensitivity to light and composition are perhaps most in evidence in Toni (1935) and Une Partie de campagne (1946). In Toni , relying only on natural light for the exteriors, his deep, fluid camerawork delicately framed the protagonists in their romantic country setting, while in the dramatic switch of mood in the murder sequence, he achieved memorable tension through tightly framed close-ups. The observant, unobtrusive camera work tracing the characters through their natural setting anticipates in style a key determinant of postwar Italian neorealism. The exploitation of light is again intrinsic to the creation of the more lyrical mood of Une Partie de campagne which is steeped in the vibrant atmosphere of Auguste Renoir's Impressionist canvases. Of particular interest is the lyrical swing sequence, seemingly inspired by the painter's La balançoire , in which a mobile camera moves in harmony with the swing's oscillations, thus bringing the audience to share directly in the sensation of motion. The cinematographer's most celebrated monochrome achievement, however, came with Monsieur Vincent (1947) directed by Maurice Cloche, in which the unemphatic beauty of his compositions were integral to the depiction of the self-denying subject, the sixteenth-century priest, Vincent de Paul.
Renoir's first tentative excursion into color photography was at the instigation of Jean Renoir who had decided to experiment with the color format for his film The River (1951), filmed on location in India. Unimpressed by Hollywood's eye-catching use of color, the director sought more muted tones and these the photographer achieved with such success that previously dismissive attitudes in France towards color were changed fundamentally. Thereafter color photography could be taken seriously and in successive films during the fifties, Renoir exploited to the full the potential of polychromatic film. For Renoir's high-spirited, theatrical story Le Carosse d'or (1953), with its exotic Peruvian setting and magnificent costumes, he deployed color to bring a warm, carefree glamour, while in Eleanor et les hommes (1956), he presented Paris of the 1880s as a series of color prints, often working closely within a striking range of contrastive reds and blues. In much darker vein, in his only feature film for Alexandre Astruc, Une Vie (1957), he created deeply resonant images of the damp, green Normandy landscape to translate the pessimistic mood of Maupassant's tragic romance.
The sixties brought an association with the former fashion photographer Roger Vadim who now, as film director, sought to bring a visual sensuality to the cinema. Renoir readily espoused this aesthetic and in turn provided the elegantly modulated tones of Et Mourir de plaisir (1960) with its striking dream sequence composed in black, white and red, the suggestive color compositions of La Curée (1966), which includes visual references to Antonioni's color experiments in Il Deserto rosso (1964) and the lurid, psychedelic registers of the futuristic Barbarella (1968). For Oury in La Grande Vadrouille (1966), Renoir excelled in capturing the beauty of the Meursault locations, while his misty sequence in a Turkish bath produced images of captivating delicacy. The decade also brought work with American filmmakers, though initially only as second unit for Mankiewicz's Cleopatra (1963), and Hathaway's Circus World (1964). For Frankenheimer, using super panavison, he captured the rugged wilds of Afghanistan for The Horseman (1970) and after this director's scenic action film French Connection II (1975), Claude Renoir again showed his ability to distill the essence of exotic locations in Gilbert's The Spy Who Loved Me (1976), while also drawing on his accumulated experience of lighting to make the most, in dramatic terms, of the huge Pinewood set.
No account of Renoir's film career would be complete without reference to his documentary work. After Monsieur Vincent , he continued his association with Maurice Cloche and brought his skills as a lighting cameraman to studies of the plastic arts in Images gothiques (1949) and Sculptures au moyen-âge (1949). Renoir's most interesting achievement in this domain, however, was Le Mystère, Picasso (1955) for Henri Clouzot. Using specially prepared transparent "canvases," he was able to film the painter at work and thus produce a unique record of artistic creation.
Throughout his four decades as a cinematographer, Renoir adapted readily to the requirements of successive directors and was equally at home with documentaries, delicately observed romances, discreetly narrated stories of self-effacing characters or rumbustuous, all-action movies. Acknowledged by his peers as an articulate commentator on the craft of the cinematographer, he contributed articles to professional journals on color photography and technical innovation. His eye for color and composition frequently redeemed otherwise indifferent films and his intelligent contribution both to the theory and practice of cinematography was entirely worthy of the illustrious Renoir name.
—R. F. Cousins