Great Cinematographers, Part 19: Ralf D. Bode

As we wind down here, approaching the twentieth post in my cinematography series, we must take a look at one of the great directors of photography from the 1970s and 80s, Ralf D. Bode (1941-2001). I didn’t know his name until today, when I asked myself, “Who photographed Saturday Night Fever and why don’t I know his name?” (I assumed it was a man since there are so few female cinematographers.) Now that I know, I can share with you a few of the golden moments in Ralf Bode’s career.

Rocky (1976, dir. John G. Avildsen) – Although James Crabe is the credited director of photography, Bode was the uncredited second unit DP in charge of shooting the Philadelphia scenes. (Even without any onscreen credit, Bode is best remembered for his efforts here; the headline of his New York Times obituary proves as much.) His lens captured the most famous scene in the movie, when Rocky triumphantly makes his way up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I guess Bode didn’t film the indoor training scenes, but the outdoor stuff is certainly pretty great.

Saturday Night Fever (1977, dir. John Badham) – In one of the definitive classics of the 70s (as well as one of the best dramas ever made about dancing), Bode makes the smoky glow of the Brooklyn disco club seem glamorous and alluring as John Travolta and Karen Lynn Gorney spin seductively to the Bee Gees’ “More Than a Woman.” Take note of how the camera turns sideways to imitate the couple’s dip.

Dressed to Kill (1980, dir. Brian De Palma) – First of all, everything about this thriller is in tribute to Alfred Hitchcock. Many aspects are taken from Psycho, like the first scene (taking place in a shower), the killer’s identity (in multiple ways) and how aspects of the murder fit into the plot. The museum scene, however, is taken straight out of Vertigo. Angie Dickinson’s blonde hair, her white coat, the fact that she’s looking at paintings in a museum… it’s all just like Kim Novak in Vertigo. Even the Pino Donaggio score is designed to be reminiscent of Bernard Herrmann’s work in Vertigo. I don’t know if it’s more of a ripoff than an homage, but it’s interesting all the same. Fun fact about the scene: the exteriors, which you don’t see in this clip, were shot at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (which makes sense since the film takes place in New York), but the interiors were shot at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (echoes of Rocky for you viewers!).

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