In 1980, Douglas Slocombe was a respected cinematographer approaching retirement age. Then he got a call from Steven Spielberg asking would he consider filming his upcoming adventure movie, Raiders of The Lost Ark. So began the last, and highest-profile, phase of Slocombe’s career.
Slocombe, by that point, was a legend among cinematographers because he’d done everything. His first job dropped him into the middle of history; hired by Herbert Kline to film the rapidly deteriorating situation in Europe, Slocombe was in Poland the day the Nazis invaded and narrowly escaped with his life. And then he did it again in the Netherlands, for good measure.
His career after the war included a number of classics. In the ’40s and ’50s, Slocombe was one of the main cinematographers at Ealing Studios and was behind the lens for that studio’s string of brilliant comedies, such as Kind Hearts and Coronets, and The Man In The White Suit. In the ’60s, he showed equal skill with serious dramas such as The Lion In Winter and action movies like The Italian Job. The ’70s saw him working in Hollywood on Jesus Christ Superstar, The Great Gatsby, and Rollerball.
Slocombe’s key attribute was that there was no “Slocombe style.” He was versatile, using light and film stock in a multitude of different ways. Harrison Ford once noted that, not once in the entire time shooting Raiders of the Lost Ark, did he see Slocombe use a light meter.
Slocombe wound up filming the first three Indy movies and they provided a fitting capstone to his career. In fact, Slocombe’s last movie before his eyesight troubles forced him to retire was Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade. It shows both the respect he commanded and the skill he had that Janusz Kaminski, the Oscar-winning cinematographer who took over for him on Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull, carefully imitated Slocombe’s style right down to the use of shadows and warm, golden light.
Slocombe enjoyed a long retirement and only passed away today, aged 103. But he leaves behind a stunning body of work that won’t soon be forgotten.