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 Yusef Karsh on the set of ‘Zulu’

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John

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Yusef Karsh on the set of ‘Zulu’ Empty
PostSubject: Yusef Karsh on the set of ‘Zulu’   Yusef Karsh on the set of ‘Zulu’ EmptyTue Sep 21, 2010 8:02 pm

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Yusef Karsh (Zulu)

"I arrived at the Royal National Park Hotel three weeks before the filming on Zulu was due to start, to re-build my darkroom ready for the steady stream of pictures I would be generating in the coming weeks.
In this setting up period, during a dinner with the production manager John Merriman, he casually mentioned that my hero of the lens, Yusef Karsh, had been invited to the set to cover the making of the picture for Life magazine. He would also be doing character portraits, which were his unequalled speciality, of the actors. This was exciting and incredible news for a young stills photographer like me who, for as long as I could remember, had revered him from afar.
His portraits of Winston Churchill, Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck are, I believe, absolute perfection in their larger-than-life, superb characterisation of both men. For years I had dreamed of one day doing a book on my own work, modelled on his famous Portraits of Greatness, which I had once drooled over and which, at the time, I could not afford to buy.

He was for me, at that early stage of my career and beginnings as fledgling photographer, almost God-like, such was my admiration of the man. So, when John told me that not only was he coming to South Africa to do work on the picture but that I would be working with him I was quite mad with joy. I will never forget John’s words: “Because you are our unit photographer, Bob, you will be looking after him and his needs.”
Little did I realise then that, during their brief month on the set, not only would we be working closely together but he and his lovely and charming wife Estralita and I would become close friends.

He arrived on set from Canada with Estalita and a huge load of cameras and equipment, plus hundreds of rolls of film which Kodak had obviously donated for this job, plus a full range of Rolleiflex twin-lens reflex cameras, which he Rolleiflex people in Canada had GIVEN him to use. I was in awe of this because I was using Kalloflex’s, which were Japanese imitations of the excellent Rolleiflex cameras.

He had, in his entourage, a young New Yorker who was supposed to assist him by, among other duties, giving him correct exposures, and re-loading his cameras. But as we started filming the first, frenetic action scenes of “the north wall attack,” chaos prevailed and the inexperienced and very young man soon realised that he was way out of his depth. I felt very sorry for him as he was lost when it came to ‘reading’ (and very quickly) the harsh South African sunlight. Worse still, his nerves got the better of him, Zulu being the first movie set he’d ever worked on, so he fumbled badly and even dropped cameras. After I’d rattled off a few exposure settings for Yusef, he asked me to ‘help’ the poor youngster which I tried to do.

That night, after dinner, we repaired to the darkroom to process and print some of the pictures he had taken. They were a disaster. The chemical developer I was using (Kodak D76) was not suited to the film (hundreds of rolls of which) he had brought with him and which was far too ‘contrasty’ for our conditions. This fact was realised when he saw my good results and very printable negatives with the film I was using (shot at the same exposures). He immediately, via Maxwell Dietch, my contact in Johannesburg, ordered a hundred rolls of my type of film and sent the remainder of his original film back to Canada. Fortunately the ‘rushes-car’ to Johannesburg was able to pick up and deliver the goods.

After a few days it became obvious to me that Yusef had not worked in a darkroom for many years. This was because, as was the practice overseas, most photographers used the excellent Film-laboratory services available there.
So it was that every night, after dinner, the great Yusef (‘Karsh of Ottawa’) and I would go into my little temporary darkroom in a prefab hut where, together, we would have a great old time processing and printing not only his pictures and mine but also those of Sergio Strizzi, a wonderful Italian photographer from from Cine-Citta in Rome (Carlo Ponti’s stills man) who was shooting for the European release’s publicity. Strizzi was later to invite me to join him in Rome on Dino De Laurentis' The Bible, after Zulu was finished, but it was an offer I declined. My first wife Marie and I had recently divorced and I couldn't leave our two small children at that awful time.

During this period I was asked by Stanley Baker to accompany Yusef and Estralita on a short tour of Zululand. We visited Ulundi, Mshlabatini, and Melmoth, where we had lunch with Gatsha Buthelezi, who had played his great uncle, the Zulu King, Cetshwayo kaMpande, in the film.

This is unfortunately the only picture I have of Yusef.. It was taken during the “Cetshwayo kraal scene” and features Yusef, with his Rolleiflex, setting up a shot of ‘Bayete’ the Induna we brought with us from Zululand and my old friend Simon Sibela, a well known stuntman and actor from Johannesburg.


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Unit set-up, plus -resultant- ‘publicity still’ of David Kernan & Peter Gill as, Privates Hitch and Williams ‘ZULU’ 1963.

Before I started my career as a ‘Publicity stills cameraman’ in the film business, like most people I believed that publicity still photographs were just clips, taken from the film’s actual camera footage, this is simply not so. ‘Stillsmen,’ as we are called, are key members of every film unit and our photographs are vitally important to the publicity and post-production marketing of the finished property.

In this production ‘still’ of mine, one of the very first sequences of the scenes to be shot of the film, “Zulu” in 1963, the two soldiers in the water are of the 24th Welsh Borderers of foot -who were the regiment based at Rourke’s drift at the time of the famous battle by the same name, during the 1879 Zulu war- They are, ‘Private Hitch’ played by David Kernan and ‘Private John Williams’, played by Peter Gill, they are getting themselves in readiness, for the shooting of the sequence in the scripted story where the pont over the river is being repaired, in readiness for the main ‘column’ of wagons, men and equipment, soon to arrive.

The actual ‘ponts’ which the camera-crew are standing on in the picture (to the left,) were specially constructed by the art department’s carpenters crew and were based on actual sketches drawn by one of the men of the Royal Corps of Engineers, at the time of the battle in 1879 and which survive to this day.

Due to the film’s director Cy Endfield’s meticulous attention to authentic detail, this single ‘set up’ of only a few seconds film-time took many hours to shoot.

Since the film was shot in the Royal Natal National Park, at the ‘Mont Aux Sources’ in the Drakensberg Mountains and in the middle of winter, the water of the Tugela river was freezing, which necessitated the unfortunate actors having to wear diver’s wet-suits under their uniforms.

After hours and hours of waiting and rehearsal by the camera crew and team (seen to the left) I was finally able to squeeze myself next to the huge Technirama camera and grab this typical ‘Publicity still’ it was my all time favourite photograph of the Film.

An amusing aside to this photograph is that Basil Keyes, who was our Executive Producer, on “Zulu” and who had actually worked on Noel Coward’s fine film about the Royal Navy entitled, “In Which We Serve.” It told the story of, “The Battle of the Atlantic” when so many men’s lives were lost. On seeing this picture of mine Basil was moved and remarked wryly, that although it had been shot in the Tugela river, it looked uncannily like a ‘still’ of two drowning merchant seaman in mid-Atlantic, from Coward’s classic film. I took it as a back-handed compliment, for it identified with what was for me, one of Britain’s (and Noel Coward’s,) finest films ever, featured the then very young, but now legendary, Sir Richard Attenborough, as a young able seaman and the now equally famous, the late Sir John Mills".


They were heady days.

Source: Bob Martin Photographer.

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Dave

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Yusef Karsh on the set of ‘Zulu’ Empty
PostSubject: Re: Yusef Karsh on the set of ‘Zulu’   Yusef Karsh on the set of ‘Zulu’ EmptyTue Sep 21, 2010 8:30 pm

Thanks for the post John. Really enjoyable read..... Idea
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Frank Allewell

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Yusef Karsh on the set of ‘Zulu’ Empty
PostSubject: Re: Yusef Karsh on the set of ‘Zulu’   Yusef Karsh on the set of ‘Zulu’ EmptyWed Sep 22, 2010 11:21 am

Nice one John, that was really good to read.

Regards
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Chelmsfordthescapegoat

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Yusef Karsh on the set of ‘Zulu’ Empty
PostSubject: Re: Yusef Karsh on the set of ‘Zulu’   Yusef Karsh on the set of ‘Zulu’ EmptyWed Sep 22, 2010 8:20 pm

Love the second photo. Nice one john. Idea I bet that cool water was a god send during the filming of Zulu..
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Yusef Karsh on the set of ‘Zulu’ Empty
PostSubject: Yusef Karsh on the set of ‘Zulu’   Yusef Karsh on the set of ‘Zulu’ EmptySun Dec 05, 2010 6:03 pm

Still finding my way around this site. What a really interesting read that was.

Cheers.
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John

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Yusef Karsh on the set of ‘Zulu’ Empty
PostSubject: Re: Yusef Karsh on the set of ‘Zulu’   Yusef Karsh on the set of ‘Zulu’ EmptySun Dec 05, 2010 6:25 pm

Tocino. Glad you enjoyed it.. Idea
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Tocino

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Yusef Karsh on the set of ‘Zulu’ Empty
PostSubject: Yusef Karsh on the set of ‘Zulu’   Yusef Karsh on the set of ‘Zulu’ EmptySun Dec 05, 2010 8:21 pm

John wrote:
Tocino. Glad you enjoyed it.. Idea

John,

Bob Martin’s mention of the Rolleiflex twin-lens reflex cameras brought back some memories. I had always lusted after that camera in my younger days. Way out of reach of my reach/pocket though. There nearest I came to, at that time, the in the 60’s was this:-

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How things have changed. With digital cameras and good photo editing anything is possible.

Toc
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old historian2

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Yusef Karsh on the set of ‘Zulu’ Empty
PostSubject: Re: Yusef Karsh on the set of ‘Zulu’   Yusef Karsh on the set of ‘Zulu’ EmptySun Jan 02, 2011 3:29 pm

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