Today’s Memorable Movie Moment takes us back to 1978, for the excellent cinematography in a film called Days of Heaven. Written and directed by 3x Oscar nominee Terrence Malick (The Thin Red Line, The Tree of Life), Days of Heaven is an American epic that follows a young couple, Bill and Abby, during the Expansionist era in 1916. Moving from Chicago to Texas in search of work, the two become involved in a scheme to have Abby marry a wealthy farmer who is close to death in order to gain his fortune. This, of course doesn’t go according to plan and so a dramatic conflict of jealousy and deceit ensues, loosely based on a backstory that first appeared in Alexander Dumas‘ The Three Musketeers.
Starring Richard Gere (An Officer and a Gentlemen, Pretty Woman), Brooke Adams (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Dead Zone), and Sam Shepard (Swordfish, Black Hawk Down), the film received Oscar nominations for Best Costume Design, Best Sound, and Best Music – Original Score. Although it failed to win any of these awards, Days of Heaven did receive the Oscar for Best Cinematography for Nestor Almendros.
Almendros, a native of Barcelona, Spain, moved to Cuba at the age of 18 and then went onto New York City. He returned to Cuba following the 1959 Cuban Revolution and filmed several documentaries surrounding the Castro-regime. After his films were banned from viewing, however, he moved to France where he began his extensive work with directors Eric Rohmer (The Collector (1967), Claire’s Knee (1970), and Chloe in the Afternoon (1972)), and Francois Truffaut (Bed & Board (1970), Two English Girls (1971), and The Story of Adele H (1975)).
Following his stay in France, Almendros returned to New York, where he began his successful career in American film. Although Days of Heaven is known as his most masterful cinematic work, it did not come without its own share of controversy. Almendros was steadily losing his site at the time, and a lot of the work fell upon his assistant cinematographer, Haskell Wexler (The Thomas Crown Affair, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest), to take photos with a Polaroid and then have Almendros analyze them afterwards with a magnifying glass. Although Wexler received an “additional photography” credit, the major credit went to Almendros, who continued serving as cameraman on numerous projects until his death in 1992. His work on Days of Heaven, however, is today’s Memorable Movie Moment. Take a look at the trailer, and note the fascinating camerawork that is reminiscent of Ernest Haller‘s work on Gone with the Wind (1939). Enjoy!