Orson Welles said, “Film is like a colony and there are very few colonists. When America was wide open, with the Spanish at the Mexican frontier, the French in Canada, the Dutch in New York, you can be sure that the English would go to a place that was still unoccupied.”
He was discussing wide lenses in 1958 Cahiers du Cinéma interviews. The Angénieux Retrofocus 18.5 mm lens was introduced in 1951. What he says sounds familiar today—finding new lenses to define new looks and stand out from the crowd.
Welles continued, not immodestly: “I work and have worked with the 18.5 mm lens only because other filmmakers haven’t used it. It’s not that I prefer the 18.5 lens. I’m simply the only one who’s explored its possibilities. Quite simply, no one was working with it for a long time. It’s not a question of preference. I occupy positions that aren’t occupied because, in this young medium of expression, it’s a necessity. The first thing one must remember about film is that it is a young medium. And it is essential for every responsible artist to cultivate the ground that has been left fallow. If everyone worked with wide angle lenses, I’d shoot all my films with a 75 mm lens, because I believe very seriously in the possibilities of 75. If other artists were extremely baroque, I’d be more classical than you can imagine. I don’t do this out of a spirit of contradiction; I don’t want to go counter to what has been done; I just want to occupy an unoccupied terrain and work there.
“For Touch of Evil (1958), practically everything is with the 18.5 mm. There are unsuspected possibilities with this lens. In Mr. Arkadin (1955), not for all the shots, but for most of them. In Don Quixote (1957), everything is with the 18.5.
“Each time I give it to a Director of Photography, he is terrorized: but by the end of the film, it’s his favorite lens.”
From the country that was once a colony — Happy Fourth of July!
Orson Welles Interviews with André Bazin, Charles Bitsch and Jean Domarchi in June and September 1958 Cahiers du Cinéma. English translations in Orson Welles: Interviews Edited by Mark W. Estrin (Feb 20, 2002).
1951. First Angénieux 35mm Cinema Lens
The 18.5mm f/2.2 (T2.5) Retrofocus R2 prime lens was the first Angénieux lens made specifically for 35mm cinematography. It had 7 elements in 5 groups. Aperture range was f/2.2-16. Minimum focus was .75 m / 29.5 inches.
Willy Kurant, ASC, AFC discussed working with Orson Welles and the 18.5 mm Angénieux wide-angle prime lens:
“I was lucky to have the great pleasure of photographing the first completed color movie directed by Orson Welles. I was a great fan of his visual style and in particular his asymmetric framing and composition which always revealed magnificent backgrounds and ceilings. Everyone was trying to imitate him, but failed to get enough depth of field.
“In the 1950s, I bought the 18.5 mm Angenieux Retrofocus wide angle prime. I had a hard time mounting it on my Arri 2-B. I had to remove the matte box and other lenses because everything appeared in the shot, even my fingers .
“On my first day of shooting The Immortal Story with Orson, I was operating handheld with an 18.5 mm Angénieux on the Éclair CM3 , moving from Jeanne Moreau to the candles she was lighting and then blowing out—with smoke all over.
“This was the first shot Orson saw in dailies. He liked my cinematography and also the use of the 18.5 mm, and from that moment on, we had a wonderful collaborative working relationship. Orson had his own CM3 and bought an 18.5 Angénieux lens which we used on The Deep, with Jeanne Moreau (again) and Laurence Harvey. Unfortunately that movie was never finished.”
Here’s the Angénieux 18.5mm f/2.2 Retrofocus Type R2 Lens in the popular Cameflex Eclair CM3 Mount: