Today on the Google home page in the United State is a special Google logo, Doodle, for the American-Chinese cinematographer. Google said they were suppose to run this Doodle last year but held it out of respect for the Hurricane Harvey relief efforts.
Today is the anniversary of the release of one of his most notable works, The Thin Man (1934), which was released 84 years ago today in the US. It was a story of a retired detective who, while spending much of his time managing his wife’s considerable fortune and consuming quantities of alcohol, is asked to follow the trail of a missing inventor. Although reluctant to interrupt his holiday in Manhattan, he is persuaded to investigate by his wife’s craving for adventure, and together they embark upon a case that leads to the disclosure of deception and murder.
James Wong Howe was born on August 28, 1899 in Taishan, Guangdong, Jiangmen, China and died at the age of 76 on July 12, 1976, in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California. He worked on over 130 films and was a “master” at use of shadow and was one of the first to use deep-focus cinematography. He earned 10 nominations for the Academy Award for Best Cinematography, winning twice for The Rose Tattoo (1955) and Hud (1963). Howe was judged to be one of the 10 most-influential cinematographers in a survey of the members of the International Cinematographers Guild in the United States.
Born in Guangzhou, China, Howe immigrated to the U.S. when he was five years old and grew up in Washington state. He boxed professionally in his teens, worked odd jobs, then finally started in the industry by delivering films and picking up scraps from a studio’s cutting room floor.
Throughout his career, he used lighting, framing, and minimal camera movement to express emotion. He accidentally discovered how to use dark backdrops to create color nuances in black-and-white film. He pioneered using wide-angle lenses, low key lighting, and color lighting. Howe also made early use of the crab dolly, a camera dolly with four wheels and a movable arm supporting the camera.
In contrast to the success of his work life, Howe faced significant racial discrimination in his private life: he became a U.S. citizen only after the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act; due to anti-miscegenation laws, his marriage was not be legally recognized in the U.S. until 1948. Despite the barriers he faced, Howe retired with two Oscar awards as one of the most celebrated cinematographers of his time.
Forum discussion at Twitter.