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Nestor Almendros, 61; Cinematographer

March 05, 1992|BURT A. FOLKART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Nestor Almendros, the Spanish-born, Academy Award-winning director of photography who sent cascades of natural light washing across such films as "Sophie's Choice" and "Kramer vs. Kramer," died Wednesday at his Manhattan home.

He was 61 and had been suffering from lymphoma, Jorge Ulla, his co-director on the documentary "Nobody Listened," told the Associated Press.

Almendros won an Academy Award for cinematography in 1979 for "Days of Heaven," directed by Terrence Malick and starring Richard Gere and Brooke Adams.

It was his first American film after a series of international successes, primarily in Cuba and France.

In "Days of Heaven," Almendros perfected his technique of relying on available light--what he called "natural light"--unencumbered by the brilliant, mood-shattering floodlights of most Hollywood films.

He took advantage of modern, faster lenses to film during what he called "the magic hour," when lavender light played across the land during the minutes before the sun set.

In a 1978 Los Angeles Times interview as he was filming "Days of Heaven," a tale of young immigrants leaving Chicago for the farmlands, he likened the technique to a school of art.

"As with Impressionism, when tubes were invented that permitted painters to go outdoors and catch instant light, so when fast lenses came the moment (also) came for natural light."

Almendros described his style as "simplicity." He filmed without gauze, filters or any diffusion in front of the lenses and utilized the light he could glean from bonfires, lanterns and propane bottles to help illuminate outdoor scenes.

He also said that had it not been for the advent of color film--which required slower lenses--use of available light would have gone forward from the pioneering era of D. W. Griffith.

Almendros lived from 1948 to 1961 in Cuba, where his father had taken the family into exile from Franco's Spain. He worked on several documentaries of the early Castro era. His strong ties to Cuba prompted him to co-direct two documentaries about political repression on the island: "Improper Conduct" in 1985, and "Nobody Listened" in 1988.

Before settling in the United States, Almendros had worked for many years in France with such leading directors as Eric Rohmer on "Claire's Knee" and "Pauline at the Beach," and Francois Truffaut on "The Wild Child" and "The Man Who Loved Women."

Almendros was nominated for Oscars for several Hollywood films in subsequent years, including "The Blue Lagoon," "Kramer vs. Kramer" and "Sophie's Choice." He won a Cesar award--the French equivalent of the Oscar--for his cinematography of "The Last Metro" in 1981.

His other movies include "Places in the Heart," Almendros' favorite; "Still of the Night," and what proved his last film, "Billy Bathgate," which opened last year.

Almendros is survived by his mother, Maria, a brother and a sister.

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