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Almendros, Néstor (1930-1992)  
 
page: 1  2  

At that time Rohmer was working for French educational television. Knowing that Almendros needed work, he got him a job making educational documentaries. Between 1965 and 1967 Almendros made some two dozen such films.

In 1966 Rohmer gave Almendros his first opportunity to be the director of photography on a feature film. La collectionneuse, which won a Silver Bear award at the Berlin Film Festival, brought Almendros to the attention of critics. He would go on to work on over fifty more films. Rohmer was the director of seven of these, including Ma nuit chez Maud (My Night at Maud's, 1969), Le genou de Claire (Claire's Knee, 1970), and Die Marquise von O. (The Marquise of O., 1975), which won the jury prize at the Cannes film festival in 1977.

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Almendros also had the opportunity to work on nine films with François Truffaut, whom he had long admired. Their first collaboration was on Domicile conjugal (Bed and Board, 1970). In the years to come, they would work together on such films as Histoire d'Adèle H. (The Story of Adèle H., 1975), L'homme qui aimait les femmes (The Man Who Loved Women, 1977), and Le dernier métro (The Last Métro, 1980), which was awarded the César prize for photography by the French Academy of Film Arts and Techniques.

Almendros's work as a director of photography took him to Hollywood as well, where he was employed on a wide variety of projects, including Terence Malick's Days of Heaven (1976), which won him an Academy Award for best photography, Robert Benton's Kramer vs. Kramer (1978), Randal Kleiser's The Blue Lagoon (1979), Alan J. Pakula's Sophie's Choice (1982), and Robert Benton's Places in the Heart (1984).

In his work as a cinematographer, Almendros was concerned above all with the question of light. Even in his earliest amateur film-making days, he studied and experimented with the use of natural available light. Critics have described him as painterly in his attention to light, color, and composition. This painterliness, combined with his willingness to take risks and attempt solutions to difficult lighting problems, made his work particularly attractive to nouvelle vague directors such as Rohmer and Truffaut, who sought verisimilitude rather than artificial effects in the appearance of their films.

Rohmer praised Almendros for his precision and meticulousness, characteristics that are reflected in Almendros's discussion of his cinematographic work in his autobiography, A Man with a Camera (1984). With an artist's awareness, he explains what went into creating the ambiance needed for various scenes in his movies, always in the context of the director's vision of the story to be told. At the same time, he shows considerable technical expertise and ingenuity in meeting the challenges put to him.

Documentaries on Repression in Cuba

In 1984 Almendros realized a project that combined several of his roots in filmmaking--directing, documentaries, and Cuba. Improper Conduct (Mauvaise conduite) uses filmed interviews with 28 Cuban exiles who had been interned in UMAP (Military Units to Aid Production) concentration camps. The former prisoners had been jailed for what the Castro regime considered dissidence, running afoul of the institutionalized of Cuban law. Almendros used this film as a vehicle to expose the persecution of gays, but he expressed the hope that viewers would understand that "this is only an aspect, perhaps the most absurd, of a greater repression."

Critical reaction to the film was extremely positive. Improper Conduct was hailed as a powerful and important political documentary. It won several awards, including the Human Rights Grand Prix in Strasbourg. As an exposure of the Castro regime's brutal treatment of its homosexual citizens, Improper Conduct anticipates such works as Reinaldo Arenas's powerful account of his own persecution and imprisonment in Cuba, Before Night Falls (1993).

In 1988 Almendros co-directed another documentary about repression in Cuba, Nobody Listened (Nadie escuchaba). Once again, the film drew its power from its directness--real people telling their horrifying stories in their own words. To Almendros, the words themselves and the expressive faces of the people uttering them were the most important elements of the film. He deliberately eschewed "arty lighting effects" and background music.

An intensely private man, Almendros conducted his emotional and sexual life with great discretion. In his autobiography, he does not even mention his homosexuality.

Almendros died at the age of 61 of AIDS-related lymphoma. He will be remembered as a master of using light to bring realism to films and of using films to bring harsh reality to light.

Linda Rapp

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social sciences >> Overview:  Cuba

Although one cannot speak of a gay community in Cuba, one can speak of a homoerotic environment for meeting and socializing in Havana that is constantly moving and reshaping itself.

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The queer community has used documentary film to resurrect historical memory and to permit the marginalized to bear witness, as well as to build an image base that reflects our diversity and counters distorted representations.

arts >> Overview:  Film Directors

Gay, lesbian, and bisexual film directors have been a vital creative presence in cinema since the medium's inception over one hundred years ago.

literature >> Arenas, Reinaldo

Persecuted for his homosexuality by the Castro government he had once championed, Cuban novelist, essayist, and poet Reinaldo Arenas challenged all types of ideological dogmatism.

arts >> Kleiser, Randal

Although best known for his direction of lighter fare such as Grease, Randal Kleiser made his most significant contribution to gay cinema with the 1996 AIDS-themed "It's My Party."


    Bibliography
   

Almendros, Néstor. A Man with a Camera. Rachel Phillips Belash, trans. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1984.

_____. "Nobody Listened--Story of Cuban Repression." American Cinematographer 69.5 (May 1988): 44-48.

_____, and Orlando Jiménez-Leal. "Improper Conduct." American Film 9 (September 1984): 18, 70-71.

Bailey, John. "Memories of Almendros." American Cinematographer 80.8 (August 1999): 120-122.

Greenbaum, Richard. "Improper Conduct" (review). Films in Review 35 (November 1984): 528-529.

Honan, William H. "Nestor Almendros, Cinematographer, Dies at 61." New York Times (March 5, 1992): B15.

Mira, Alberto. "Almendros, Néstor." Who's Who in Contemporary Gay and Lesbian History. Robert Aldrich and Garry Wotherspoon, eds. London: Routledge, 2001. 12.

Revault d'Allonnes, Fabrice. "L'art moderne de la lumière." Cahiers du cinéma 454 (April 1992): 74.

Rohmer, Eric. "Nestor Almendros, naturellement." Cahiers du cinéma 454 (April 1992): 72-73.

Smith, Paul Julian. Vision Machines: Cinema, Literature, and Sexuality in Spain and Cuba, 1983-1993. London: Verso, 1996.

Strick, Philip. "Nestor Almendros." Sight & Sound 3.2 (February 1993): 29-30.

Truffaut, Laura. "Renaissance Exile." Film Comment 30. 1 (January 1994): 15-17.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Rapp, Linda  
    Entry Title: Almendros, Néstor  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated July 22, 2005  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/arts/almendros_n.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
 
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    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc.  
 

 

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