Friday, 29 August 2014


Capturing escapist truth and beauty through the camera- UK film cinematographer Alec Mills. Image: The History Press.


By Alec Mills

Foreword by Sir Roger Moore

Published by The History Press

Reviewed by Scott Weller

“Knowing Alec, I can safely promise you a good read, and I always tell the truth.”

Roger Moore

There are many reasons why British film industry technical talent is regarded as the finest in the world. And famed cinematographer Alec Mills is one of them!

Best known for his involvement and vital contributions to some of the most popular films of the seventies and early eighties, most notably from the James Bond and Classic STAR WARS saga, Mills, in a lengthy career that would seem him handle everything from his first youthful and enthused clapperboard duties to learning the craft of becoming a seasoned visual renderer, would easily earn his title as one of the most popular and respected people of his ilk in the fantasy-making aspects of cinematography, helping to launch Roger Moore’s broad James Bond era into colourful, humorous, exciting fun, whilst, at the other end of the scale, and in a galaxy far, far away and a long time ago, subtly moving Return of the Jedi towards its vital climatically dark thrill ride, making it all the more thrilling and immersive to watch.
Alec Mills at the camera lens during the 1982 UK filming of Return of the Jedi.

A subtle and caring person with a fine eye for detail, research and continuity, as well as a pioneer in many areas, especially knowing how to work as part of a team in his varied jobs but also, where necessary, not afraid to let his views be known when critically needed, Mills, through contacts and sheer bloody hard work, would truly become a part of the golden age of cinema – American, International and often hard-bitten UK endeavours. Lured by the siren-like glamour, adventure and fantasy bug of celluloid at an early age, his youthful post World War II entering of the British film industry soon saw a quiet but solid advancing up the career leader in working with some of the biggest and brightest names in the UK industry, soon proving a vital and worthy way of building his craft- from his stints in moody and atmospheric black and white to glorious, extravagant colour, from the large to the small screen, travelling countries and climes as diverse as Austria to Japan, and learning from the likes of long time Cameraman/Cinematographer legend buddies/partners in cinematic magic capturing including Michael Reed, Jack Cardiff and Alan Hume, Mills unique relationship with the camera, and the mystical quality of film running through it, is a genuine, if not always perfect, love affair.

Shooting 007 and Other Celluloid Adventures, his newly released autobiography via The History Press, paints a clear, concise and honest picture (sometimes warts and all!) of the important mark Mills contributes to populist motion picture storytelling history. Some of the 007 anecdotes, about the family feeling of the franchise created by Albert R. Broccoli, and Mills constant “humorous” sparring with prankster star Roger Moore, may not necessarily be fresh, but there are many other glamorous, and not so glamorous projects made in and around them, previously unknown and unrevealed, that prove equally worthy- cherished insights and observations on well-known actors (like the infamous boozy legend that was Oliver Reed, gritty action hero (in reality and fantasy) Lee Marvin and stalwart super-bitch and all-round tough cookie Bette Davis, plus charismatic, often chilly or eccentric directors, including Franklin Schaffner, John Guillermin and Roman Polanski. Its here, in these outer chapters, that Mills also evokes his true duties and responsibilities to a time, place and era in filmmaking that will never be seen again, showing us the importance of hard work and dedication, and how, if not always quickly, it can pay off later down the line. STAR WARS fans, in particular, will not only relish the chapter detailing his time working on the ambitious, on set secrecy-shrouded final episode of the Original Trilogy with Return of the Jedi- the happiness yet ensuing nightmares of disagreeing/dealing with a resentful senior LUCASFILM staffer, but also director Richard Marquand’s previous evocative directorial effort, the one that ultimately got him into the attention sights of George Lucas in the first place: the much under-rated World War II thriller Eye of the Needle, of which Mills reminisces are clearly a more positive if smaller-scale experience.
Mills (top) with Richard Marquand and the camera team of Eye of the Needle

Beyond the tales of the good and the bad, the gentlemanly Mister Mills, a champion of the values of teamwork and loyalty, also shows his serious side when it comes to his craft, importantly revealing intriguing tricks and magic of the film-making trade which are now sadly passing into the ether with the arrival of CGI. It's information that historians, and especially students/rising star visualists trying to break into this difficult medium of entertainment, would be wise to remember and keep inside this mini equivalent of a film-school education.

Backed up by some very rare behind the scenes photos, especially of interest to Bond aficionados, Mills trip down the cobbled but incident-packed streets of Memory Lane- the ensuing personal hardships, friendships, battles and victories making their mark- is a well-written and incident packed endeavour, with some personal demons and insecurities over his contributions to film and TV thankfully exorcised. (Oh, and speaking of the supernatural, watch out for the chapter about his "house guest"!)

AFICIONADO RATING: Never has the phrase “They don’t make ‘em like they used to” been more apt with this book. 3.5 out of 5

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