Gerry Fisher was a cinematographer who collaborated with Joseph Losey on films including Accident and The Go-Between.
January 12, 2015
Gerry Fisher, who has died aged 88, was a cinematographer who worked with some of the most renowned film directors of the second half of the 20th century, including Carol Reed, John Huston and Billy Wilder. However, he will be best remembered for his long collaboration with the cinematic auteur Joseph Losey, for whom he shot eight films, including Accident (1967) and The Go-Between (1971).
In 1966 Fisher was working as the cameraman on the James Bond spoof Casino Royale when Losey gave him Harold Pinter’s screenplay for Accident. He asked Fisher to tell him within three days if he thought he could step up to join his crew as director of photography.
“So I went back to the hotel and locked myself in my room,” recalled Fisher. “I was saddled with these enormous decisions, (a) whether I think I can do it, (b) whether I think I dare do it and (c) whether I dare tell them that I would have to leave Casino Royale in order to do it. Anyway, I did do all those things.”
For Accident – in which a professor becomes obsessed with a beautiful student – he created a jarring set of skewed shadowy compositions to match the psychological twists in Pinter’s screenplay.
The film’s star Dirk Bogarde is seen through rain-dappled windows, in dark interiors and in the gloaming of London evenings. “I didn’t know how I was going to achieve that look,” said Fisher. “But I discovered afterwards that it’s not important to know how you’re going to tackle something so long as you know what you want to do.”
A confirmed Francophile, Fisher also filmed Losey’s French productions, including Monsieur Klein (1976), an Alain Delon feature set in the murky art world of wartime Paris. “On the set we invented a secret code,” recalled his cameraman, Richard Andry. “When he blinked his right eye, it meant: special development push one stop; the left eye: please bring me a cup of coffee; and both eyes: a glass of champagne.”
Gerald Fisher was born on June 23 1926 in London. In his youth he worked for Kodak and De Havilland Aircraft. After wartime service in the Royal Navy he joined Alliance Riverside Studios at Twickenham as a clapper boy. He progressed to camera assistant on documentaries for Wessex Films before working for six years as a focus puller at Shepperton Studios.
During the late Forties he worked as an assistant cameraman on a string of B-movies such as Brass Monkey (1948) and No Way Back (1949), which brought him to the attention of more accomplished directors.
During the Fifties and Sixties he manned the camera on shoots for, among many other films, David ean’s Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), Anthony Asquith’s The VIPs (1963) and Joseph L.
Mankiewicz’s blockbuster Cleopatra (1963). He learnt his trade alongside some of the finest cinematographers of the 20th century, including Christopher Challis, Freddie Francis and Douglas Slocombe.
His big break came in the mid-Sixties when, as he put it, “Joe Losey figured he saw something in me I didn’t know I had”. The moody palette of Accident was in stark contrast to his approach four years later on The Go-Between.
Shot in rural Norfolk during the summer of 1970, Fisher framed the forbidden romance between two star-crossed Edwardian lovers (played by Alan Bates and Julie Christie) in a series of sunny vistas. The film won the Palme d’Or at Cannes – and a Bafta nomination for Fisher.
Fisher and Losey also worked together on Secret Ceremony (1968), A Doll’s House (1972), The Romantic English Woman (1975), Les Routes du Sud (1977) and Don Giovanni (1978).
The French cinematographer Pierre-William Glenn maintained that Fisher was “quite simply brilliant when it came to interpreting the scenery, whether it was in a studio or a natural décor”. Losey had him working in both, “sculpting” light and plotting complicated shots. “His electrical installations were diabolically accurate,” recalled Glenn. “He imposed camera movements that were as precise as his lighting. I often had to manoeuvre around spotlights touching every edge of the frame during a sequence shot.”
Fisher acted as cinematographer on more than 60 films, including John Huston’s PoW thriller Escape to Victory (1981) – featuring Pelé, Bobby Moore and Michael Caine on the football pitch – and Highlander (1986), for which he filmed on location across Scotland, from the Isle of Skye to Loch Shiel.
One colleague described Fisher as “almost a caricature of an Englishman”. He dressed with elegance, sported a neat clipped ivory-white beard, demanded the best from his team and remained optimistic on even the most difficult shoots.
“He was confident of his talent,” said Glenn, “tough against pain and very tenacious. 'We are not giving up,’ he would often tell me.”
Fisher was nominated for a Bafta for his aerial work filming dog fights on the First World War epic Aces High (1976), and the following year he received a César nomination (the French equivalent of an Oscar) for Monsieur Klein.
He was made a Chevalier de l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1997 and in 2008 received a lifetime achievement award from the British Society of Cinematographers (BSC).
He shot his last film, the French romantic drama Furia, in 1999 after which he retired to East Molesey on the banks of the Thames.
He married Jean Hawkins in 1951. His wife died a few days before him and the couple had a joint funeral. They are survived by their son, the cameraman Cary Fisher.
FISHER, Gerry (Gerald Fisher)
Born: 6/23/1926, London, England, U.K.
Died: 12/2/2014, East Molesey, London, England, U.K.
Gerry Fisher’s westerns – cinematographer:
Macho Callahan - 1970
Ned Kelly - 1970
Man in the Wilderness – 1971