Documentary Releases: Cinematographer (2022) - Reviewed

Courtesy of Lightyear
The story of cinematographer Donald M. Morgan, the man who shot three of John Carpenter’s films including but not limited to Christine and Starman, is far more checkered and multi-layered than you’d think the life of a man behind a film camera would be.  With documentary filmmaker Dan Asma’s eye-opening dialogue Cinematographer with Morgan, The Exorcist cinematographer Owen Roizman and Unforgiven cinematographer Jack N. Green, we’re given a portrait of how a man with former substance abuse problems found his vocation to become one of the world’s greatest directors of photography for some of Hollywood’s most beloved movies.
Partially a confessional with Donald M. Morgan reflecting on his troubled past before achieving sobriety through the art and craft of film photography, partially a celebration of cinematography and the impact it has on viewers and those making film itself, Cinematographer is an intimate love letter to a man long overdue for his indelible contribution to cinema.  And yet as you’re watching it, Morgan comes across as an everyman not interested in mathematics or techniques relative to new camera tools, approaching it as constructing a painting while giving way to a director’s vision. 

Is the cinematographer an artist or is he merely a serviceman to the director?  Well, Morgan contests with what he brought to the table he is most definitely an artist and for once it was refreshing to hear the stories of filmmaking told entirely and only from the point of view of the cameraman who brought their directors’ visions to vivid life.  More than anything, the film is a testament to Donald M. Morgan’s own quest for helping others struggling with their own substance abuse issues and the sobering nature of sitting behind a camera to shoot a film. 
As a documentary, Cinematographer though mostly focused on Morgan bounces between interviews with Roizman and Green talking about their relationships not only with the directors they worked for but with the impact Morgan had on their lives.  Occasionally the film intersperses clips of footage from the works in question these three cinematographers shot though Cinematographer avoids becoming a clips compilation film ala Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession (also a wonderful documentary about movies by the way).  Still, most of it is filmed inside the homes of the three key cinematographers of this documentary and as such it takes on a greater intimacy.

A treat for film lovers and a heartfelt leaning upon the viewer’s shoulder from an ordinary man who was once lost but found his calling behind a film camera, Cinematographer while not a revolutionary documentary that reinvents the wheel is kind of a heartwarming look behind the camera at the men who shaped some of our favorite cinematic visions to have ever appeared onscreen.  By the end of it, while revering Morgan, Roizman and Green’s filmmaking efforts, you come to know these guys as friends who each cared deeply about their work and brought a unique quality to the films they helped to create.  Anyone interested in the movies owes themselves a look at Cinematographer!

--Andrew Kotwicki