Karl W. Freund
January 16, 1890
|Died||May 3, 1969 (aged 79)|
Santa Monica, California, U.S.
|Known for||Pioneer of Entfesselte Kamera|
Karl W. Freund, A.S.C. (January 16, 1890 – May 3, 1969) was an Austrian cinematographer and film director best known for photographing Metropolis (1927), Dracula (1931), and television's I Love Lucy (1951-1957). Freund was an innovator in the field of cinematography and is credited with the invention of the unchained camera technique.
Karl Freund was born in Dvůr Králové (Königinhof), Bohemia. When he was 11 his family moved to Berlin. His career began in 1905 when, at age 15, he was hired as an apprentice projectionist for Alfred Duskes films. In 1907, he began work at the International Cinematograph and Light Effect Society. Freund was drafted by the Imperial Army to fight in World War I but was released from duty after only three months.
Freund began his film career in 1905. He was a newsreel cameraman in 1907 and a year later was working for Sascha-Film in Vienna. In 1911, Freund moved to Belgrade to create a film laboratory for the Brothers Savic. Freund worked as a cinematographer on over 100 films, including the German Expressionist films The Golem (1920) and The Last Laugh (1924). Freund worked with director Fritz Lang on a multiple projects, of which Metropolis (1927) is the best known. Freund co-wrote, and was cinematographer on, Berlin: Symphony of a Metropolis (1927), directed by Walter Ruttmann. Between 1926 and 1929, Freund was the production head at Fox Europa Film.
Freund's only known film as an actor is Carl Theodor Dreyer's Michael (1924) in which he appears as a sycophantic art dealer who saves the tobacco ashes dropped by a famous painter.
Early in his career Freund began to experiment with different ways of filming and new aspects of film. In 1914 he worked with Oskar Messter, a pioneering inventor and experimenter with sound film technology.
The Unchained Camera
Karl Freund is the inventor of the unchained camera. With its first appearance in Der letzte Mann, the unchained camera was a revolution in early film. For the first time, the camera was free of the tripod and could move around the set. Because it was no longer confined to one position, thousands of new shots were possible. Freund was known to wear the camera on his stomach and walk around while it was filming. He would also put the camera on a cart that moved along a track. Several other innovative ways of moving the camera were introduced by Freund, including putting the camera on a crane.
Freund emigrated to the United States in 1929, where he continued to shoot well-remembered films such as Dracula (1931) and Key Largo (1948). His work on Dracula came under a mostly disorganized shoot, with the usually meticulous director Tod Browning leaving cinematographer Freund to take over during much of filming, making Freund something of an uncredited director on the film. He won an Academy Award for Best Cinematography for The Good Earth (1937).
Between 1921 and 1935, Freund directed 10 films, of which the best known are probably his two credited horror films, The Mummy (1932) starring Boris Karloff, and his last film as director, Mad Love (1935) starring Peter Lorre.
Freund worked under contract for MGM and Warner Bros. In 1944 he founded the Photo Research Corporation of Burbank to manufacture TV cameras and exposure meters.
In an interview Richard Brooks tells a story of his interactions with Freund when they worked on the film Key Largo together.
At the beginning of the 1950s, he was persuaded by Desi Arnaz at Desilu to be the cinematographer for the television series I Love Lucy from 1951. Critics have credited Freund for the show's lustrous black and white cinematography, but more important, Freund designed the "flat lighting" system for shooting sitcoms that is still in use today. This system covers the set in light, thus eliminating shadows and allowing the use of three moving cameras without having to modify the lighting between shots. While Freund did not invent the three-camera shooting system, he did perfect it for use with film cameras in front of a live audience. The cameras that were used were BNC Mitchell cameras with T-stop calibrated lenses on dollies. The center camera was for wider shots. The other two were positioned 75 to 90 degrees away from center and were primarily used for close-ups.
Despite his extensive experience in film cinematography, Freund said that switching to television was a challenge for him. Because I Love Lucy was filmed in front of a live audience there were restrictions on where the camera could be placed.
Freund and his production team also worked on other sitcoms produced at/through Desilu, such as Our Miss Brooks.
In 1937, he visited Germany to bring to the United States his only daughter, Gerda Maria Freund, saving her from almost certain death in the concentration camps. His ex-wife, Susette Freund (née Liepmannssohn), remained in Germany, where she was murdered at the Ravensbrück concentration camp in 1942.