Remembering - Marcus Bartley

Many of you would have seen Chemeen (made in 1965), if not ages ago, recently after the DVD was released. For Malayalees it is a very special movie which won a President’s gold medal, popularized music directors like Salil Chaudhary (in Kerala) and made superstars of Madhu, Sheela and Satyan. With brilliant acting and an emotional story line, Chemmen remains in the hearts and minds of Malayalis, young and old.

But who remembers the man who did bulk of the camerawork for the movie including the famous sea scene picturing the epic struggle of Satyan with a shark in the swirling waters? It was a certain genius named Marcus Bartley. For all these years I thought he was a German who strayed into South India. I did not know that he was an Anglo Indian and that he had done over 50 movies between the 1950’s and 80’s in multiple languages. Starting with ‘Swarga Seema’ in Telugu way back in 1945, he went on to become the master of black and white photography and special effects. He epitomized cinematography of that time and was an integral part of all ‘Vauhini films’ movies.

He did only one more Malayalam film after Chemmen, titled ‘Mamangam’ in 1979. Raam Aur Shyam, Saathi, Yehi hai zindagi and Zindagi Jeene ke Liye are his Hindi films. ‘Chemeen’ incidentally used a technicolour format. The cinematography was considered outstanding, especially the shots of the sea, providing the audience with a wide angle feeling about the fishing community of the story. Close up’s of characters were resorted to as and when required.

Bartley was born in 1917 and was the recipient of the gold medal at the International Film Festival held at Cannes for ‘Chemmeen’ in the year 1978 for cinematography. As a Vizag based Cinematographer, the only information about this ace came from his much talked about work in Telugu movies, namely ‘Paathal Bhairavi’ and ‘Maya bazaar’, two movies I have not seen or for that matter, may not see. But well, I decided to find a bit about Marcus and here it goes.

Ambu Rao, his protégé, says “To me calling Bartley as my guru is causing disrespect to him, the word `guru' is too small to address that man. He has a towering influence over me and what I am today is merely because of him. In those days his young mind was brimming with creative ideas and Bartley allowed Ambu to experiment with a free hand. Bartley skillfully kindled this enthusiasm, though he was harsh at times. It was an experience that I would cherish till my end." Bartley not only taught Ambu the finer points of photography but also played a very important role in shaping his individuality.

"One day as I was standing near the dollies during the shoot of a very important scene of `Maya Bazaar', the director K. V. Reddy pointed at me and asked Bartley: `who is this novice, tell him to go, this is a very important scene'. Bartley replied: `he is my assistant and it's my look-out'. He later scolded me and gave me a through dressing down on body language." Another nice article on Ambu Rao’s recollections about Bartley.

Following from the review of the movie PathalaBhairavi- Marcus Bartley was arguably the greatest cinematographer of those times. Almost all the superhits of those times were made with his hand at the camera. His specialty was the shots under the moonlight. In those days, a circle was drawn on a screen and the screen was lit to make it look like a moon. With this on the background, one cannot have other lights there. In spite of this difficulty, all the characters in such scenes had their shadows away from the moon. Apart from this, many of the transformations of elements in this movie were shown using Fade-In and Fade-Out techniques giving it a much better look and feel than the latest digital morphing which uses high technology computers. Marcus Bartley made this possible with his innovative ideas.

Adoor Gopalakrishnan, the famous film maker says - Chemmeen, Yes, the film made by Ramu Kariat in 1965 was the first Malayalam film to win the President's Gold Medal. It was an important film in many ways. It was a color film; in fact a very colorful film with impeccable photography by Marcus Bartley.

Maya bazaar - The first cinematic Maya Bazar was made in 1936 in Telugu based on the play. Later 16 films were made with the same title in different languages but K.V. Reddy's production stood out. Though there were efforts to convert this film into color, using latest technology, the idea was dropped as the legatees of the film makers feared that original charm of black and photography of Marcus Bartley would be lost. He simply created magic on screen with his imaginative photography. Full of special effects, camera tricks by the famous camera man Marcus Bartley, this movie produced 50 years ago is a visual feast!

Passionforcinema has this to add - Marcus Bartley was the top camera man those days (his work for Mayabazaar is legendary). As per the protocol adhered to by KV’s crew, only Marcus and KV will get a chance to see through the camera lens. Right from the moment he started working on the sets of Mayabazaar, Rao always wanted to see through the lens - at least once.

One fine day he gathered courage and approached KV. KV gave Ambu Rao one glance and gave a shout to Bartley. Bartley looked back and beckoned the young man. Rao ran towards the camera only to hear Bartley say “WAIT!”. He was scared by the tall giant of a man and stood still. Bartley summoned a spot boy to get a high chair. Rao was a short guy and the camera was set high - in position. Hence the high chair. Bartley then he called the lights on and Rao had his first look through the lens eye.

What was it like? Let’s hear from the man (rao) himself - “When I saw through the lens, my lifelong wish was fulfilled. It is the memorable moment of my life. It is the best moment of my life. It is the greatest moment of my life. I am blessed to see Bartley’s vision through his lens. Believe it or not, till date I have never seen the same lighting feel again. I pointed out the same to camera man Kabir during the making of Bhairawa Dweepam.

Marcus Bartley shot brilliant movies with the legendary Mitchell Camera. The Mitchell camera was originally developed by Leonard in 1917 who sold its designs to George Mitchell. The Mitchell standard went on to remain for many decades, no camera has ever been so well equipped for special effects work; it was another reason for the Mitchell's immediate popularity. 85% of all Hollywood pictures of those days were shot with a Mitchell.

Pics – Thanks to ‘The Hindu’


As a child I saw 'Maya Bazaar' in 1957, and was bowled over by the shots of the laddoos streaming up into Gadothgajan's wide open mouth, while he sat with his arms on his hips. There were many similar 'trick photography' in the movie, bewitching to any child. I enjoyed them in a recent rerun too. Chemmeen was simply delightful with its music and acting, and not least because of its colourful photography. did it win the award at Cannes in 1978? The movie was relased in 1967/68, I think.

Nice article, Maddy.
Indrani said…
I have seen the movie, and I remember returning home with a choked throat. Nice to read the finer details of the movie here.
Happy Kitten said…
I have always thought that the black and white malayalam movies had wonderful photography... I think they tried in their own ways to compensate the viewers for the lack of color.
Gandaragolaka said…
Bartley is still a household name among Mayabazaar fans in Andhra Pradesh-- esp. a song set in a boat on a lake under night-sky.

Thanks for the article.
Anonymous said…
Amazing-have seen Chemeen so many times and as you said the other names-Salilda,Ramu etc are immortally linked to it,esp for Mallus; but never knew that the cinematographer was such a talented Anglo-Indian!
Thanks Maddy for that.
Anonymous said…
Thanks for the information on Marcus Bartley. Really it is a experience to see his films. I have seen many of them.
Anand said…
Just saw the color version (converted from BW to color) of Mayabazar (telugu)...its amazing the technology, camera work used in really had great and fun time. I rememeber my father saying he watched it 40 times and I heard same from lot of people...still today this movie holds the same charm. Great work Marcus...
Hi, My name is Sampathreddy Beeravolu. I am searching for Marcus Bartley on the internet, I am very happy to find this much information about him. Paatala Bhiravi and Maya bazar are the movies shine by his photography no words about his camera tricks. He can do anything with camera lens. Thank you for your information Maddy. We need some more articles like this. Thank you.
Maddy said…
Thanks anand and sampath - Pls keep reading
iam very fortunate to read this info about the friend mr.vamsi maganti is running an website exclusively for Bartley.
you can find the website here
Sripal Sama said…
Thanks a lot for writing this article. Was doing some research on Maya Bazar and came across Mr. Bartley and then this article. Very informative.

By the way, Mayabazar color version was made, released and successfully played in Andhra Pradesh last yr. by Gold Stone.
Jagdish said…
Jagdish: I read once in the media The great ANR remarked once any body anything to do with cinematography should watch and study Mr. Barley's work in Maya bazaar. Very true. As a kid I've watched the movie in Tamil and Telugu. As I fine artist I've observed his lighting techniques. Each frame is a painting by itself. Some of them reminded me of the great Dutch painter Rembrandt's. Mr. Marcus himself had said once before taking a camera one should go to a school of Art first. Mr. Marcus truly a genius indeed.
Maddy,Thanks for the additional details.
He has reportedly done a couple of more Malayalam movies-Neelapponmaan(1975) and Ormmakal marikkumo(1977)
Maddy,Thanks for the additional details.
He has reportedly done a couple of more Malayalam movies-Neelapponmaan(1975) and Ormmakal marikkumo(1977)
Maddy said…
Reju P D says
Chemmeen apart from a master piece on screen, had best crew behind. Marcus Bartley as cinematographer, Hrishikesh Mukherji as editor..... And the film is now about to complete its 50 years in 19 August 2015. Thanks to author, this is one of the few web article i found about Mr Bartley. Found it credible

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