Karl Freund
Karl Freund in 1932
Karl W. Freund

(1890-01-16)January 16, 1890
DiedMay 3, 1969(1969-05-03) (aged 79)
Years active1926–1969
Known forPioneer of Entfesselte Kamera
ChildrenGerda Martel

Karl W. Freund, A.S.C. (January 16, 1890 – May 3, 1969) was a German Bohemian and American cinematographer and film director. He is 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, often noted for pioneering the unchained camera technique.

Early life

Karl Freund was born in Dvůr Králové, 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.[1]

Early film career

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.

Innovation in Cinematography

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.[2]

The Unchained Camera

Karl Freund was a pioneer of the unchained camera. In films such as 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.[3][2] 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.[4]

American film and television career

Freund immigrated 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,[5] 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).

Freund directing Boris Karloff in The Mummy (1932)
Freund directing Boris Karloff in The Mummy (1932)

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.[6] Brooks also recounted useful advice he received from Freund two years later, just before Brooks' directorial debut. Freund gave Brooks reels of 16mm film, calling them "Lesson Number One." When Brooks watched the reels at home, he saw that they were pornography. The next day, Freund explained "I produced them. My pictures, 1922. Many times you will be wondering, do you put the camera here, or up here, or down here? Maybe you make the scene a little bigger, or a little smaller. Lesson Number One. Get to the fucking point."[7]

I Love Lucy

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.[8]

Despite his extensive experience in film cinematography, Freund said that switching to television was a challenge for him.[8] 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.[9]

Photo Research Corporation

In 1941, he founded Photo Research Corporation with the intent to develop products to improve the quality of motion picture photography. One early notable product was the Norwood Director direct-reading incident light meter, developed with Donald W. Norwood. After the first model's success, the two parted ways. Photo Research retained rights to produce and improve the model. It was now produced under the Spectra name, with continuing improvement. It was this photometer product and a direct-reading brightness meter that earned Freund two Academy Awards for technical achievement from the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences. [10][11]

The brightness meter mentioned above (Model 1415UB) became a popular instrument, appearing in many laboratories' catalogs. That meter accompanied 1950's astronauts on the Project ManHigh balloon missions reaching nearly 100,000 ft altitude. [12] Below is a description of that meter's import by eminent lighting engineer David DiLaura.

"In 1952, Karl Freund of Photo Research Corporation produced a luminance meter that eliminated visual photometry [visual photometery is comparing two light sources visually to determine brightness]. Freund borrowed some of the technology that had been developed by William Baum of the Palomar Observatory to measure star luminance. Compact photomultiplier tubes had been developed that could detect very small amounts of light. At the same time, miniature, high sensitivity, low power electrometer amplifier vacuum tubes had become available that could amplify the small signal currents that the photo tubes generated. Freund used this technology as the light detection system in his luminance meter." [13]

Both Spectra and Photo Research are still producing fine measurement equipment. Spectra split off from Photo Research in 1986 as Spectra-Cine Inc. [14] Photo Research currently exists as a subsidiary of Jadak Inc, manufacturing light and color measurement devices. [15] The Photo Research PR-650 spectroradiometer with telescope input and Pritchard viewfinder (viewfinder invented during Freund's time) was for years the standard luminance and color measurement device used in the fields of display manufacture and psychophysiology. [16] Like most laboratory equipment, even the equipment from the 1940s is robust and remains serviceable.

Personal life

In 1937, he visited Germany to bring to the United States his only daughter, Gerda Maria Freund (1916 – 2017), 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.[citation needed]

Selected filmography

As cinematographer

As director

As producer

See also


  1. ^ "KARL FREUND". www.cinematographers.nl. Retrieved 2017-05-08.
  2. ^ a b Walk, Ines (2008-12-01). "Karl Freund • Biografie • Person • Film-Zeit". film-zeit.de: Portal über Filme & Filmleute vor und hinter der Kamera (in German). Archived from the original on 2017-08-07. Retrieved 2017-05-08.
  3. ^ Brownlow K, Branagh K, Winterbottom M, et al. Cinema Europe : The Other Hollywood. Image Entertainment; 2000.
  4. ^ Pierre, Paul Matthew St (2016-08-15). Cinematography in the Weimar Republic: Lola Lola, Dirty Singles, and the Men Who Shot Them. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 9781611479454.
  5. ^ In an interview with author and horror historian David J. Skal, David Manners (Jonathan Harker) claims he was so unimpressed with the chaotic production, he never once watched the film in the remaining 67 years of his life. However, in his DVD audio commentary, Skal adds, "I'm not sure I really believed him." Source: commentary of film in 2-DVD set Dracula: The Legacy Collection, Universal Studios Home Entertainment (2004)
  6. ^ Institute, American Film (1999-01-01). The American Film Institute catalog of motion pictures produced in the United States. F4,1. Feature films, 1941 - 1950, film entries, A - L. University of California Press. ISBN 9780520215214.
  7. ^ Basinger, Jeanine & Wasson, Sam, Hollywood: The Oral History, Harper, 2022, pg 332-333
  8. ^ a b ""Filming the 'Lucy' Show" - by Karl Freund". www.lucyfan.com. Retrieved 2017-05-08.
  9. ^ The Life and Films of Karl Freund, Hollywood Innovator Archived 2011-08-07 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ "Photo Research, Inc. - Company History". web.archive.org. 2015-02-20. Retrieved 2023-04-20.
  11. ^ "Photo Research - Camera-wiki.org - The free camera encyclopedia". camera-wiki.org. Retrieved 2023-04-20.
  12. ^ "Manhigh III. USAF Manned Balloon Flight Into The Stratosphere": 230. ((cite journal)): Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  13. ^ DiLaura, David L. (2006). A History of Light and Lighting: In Celebration of the Centenary of the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America. Illuminating Engineering Society of North America. p. 327. ISBN 978-0-87995-209-9.
  14. ^ "Spectra Cine, Inc - Company History". www.spectracine.com. Retrieved 2023-04-20.
  15. ^ "Photo Research Products". www.jadaktech.com. Retrieved 2023-04-20.
  16. ^ Harrington, Lawrence K.; Bassi, Carl J.; Peck, Carol K. (2005). "Luminous efficiency and the measurement of daytime displays, signals, and visors". Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine. 76 (5): 448–455. ISSN 0095-6562. PMID 15892542.