History Piece

 
The Making of Power and the Land (1939-1940)


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In the American Cinematographer's November 1985 issue, a full front page tribute by the General Camera Company in stark black and white simply read: "ARTHUR JACOB ORNITZ: HE LIGHTED TO WAY FOR OTHERS TO FOLLOW". It was a fitting tribute to a man who was one of the great cinematographers of his generation and whose work today is still highly regarded by everyone in the film industry.

Arthur Ornitz was born in New York City on November 28, 1917. His parents, Samuel and Sadie Ornitz moved their family from New York to Hollywood, California when Arthur was still a child. The move was the result of an invitation Samuel Ornitz received from one of the major Hollywood studios to work as a screenwriter after the successful reception of his book, Haunch, Paunch and Jowl, considered to this day as a classic novel of Jewish life about New York's lower East Side. The family remained in Hollywood. Samuel Ornitz was one of the founding members of the Screen Writer's Guild. He was one of the Hollywood Ten.

Arthur Ornitz's career as a cinematographer started during a summer vacation, while he was still in high school. His mother, Sadie Ornitz, a strong minded woman, did not want her boys to be idle during the summer. To keep them occupied, she hired Gunter Fritsch, a famous German cinematographer, newly arrived from Nazi Germany, unemployed and in need of money to teach Arthur and his younger brother, Donald, the rudiments of photography. In addition to his fascination with photography, the intellectual stimulation and ambiance in the Ornitz home while he was growing up, listening to people talking about making films, greatly influenced Arthur Ornitz's decision to focus on film as his life's work.

Ornitz made his first short documentary, Wanted a Master with Pete Smith, who was the head of the Short Subjects Department at that time at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The film was nominated for an Academy award. Ornitz was only 22 years old and just beginning to learn his craft when he was asked by Joris Ivens to work on the documentary film, The Power and the Land. Because of his respect for Ivens, Ornitz was eager to be a part of this production. Ornitz knew Ivens' reputation as a Dutch film maker and had enormous respect for him as a creative film person. Ornitz and Ivens met again in Paris after the war and it was obvious they still had a great deal of warmth and admiration for each other.

 
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