First Angénieux 35mm Prime in 1951

Here’s an update from Cannes about the newly announced Angénieux Optimo Prime lenses. (18mm, 21mm, 24mm, 28mm, 32mm, 40mm, 50mm, 60mm, 75mm, 100mm, 135mm, 200mm.) Specifications and prices will be announced at Cine Gear.

The new lenses are not “vintage.” However, they do carry on the long legacy of Angénieux and here’s a more polished version of the article posted two days ago in our New Products column.


Angenieux 18.5mm Prime. Est. 1951.

Willy Kurant, ASC, AFC talked about working with Orson Welles and the first Angénieux wide angle 18.5 mm prime lens (FDTimes September 2013).

“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. It was interesting 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.”

We will make no lens before its time

Orson Welles, Jeanne Moreau, and Cinematographer Willy Kurant, ASC, AFC off the coast of Yugoslavia on the unfinished film The Deep (1966-1969). It was adaped from the 1963 novel Dead Calm by Charles Williams. Philip Noyce directed Sam Neil, Nicole Kidman and Billy Zane in the 1989 film version, Dead Calm. Photo courtesy Willy Kurant.

With apologies to Orson Welles for the title above, borrowed from the famous line in his Paul Masson wine commercials.

The Angénieux 18.5 mm lens was introduced in 1951. In this 1958  Cahiers du Cinéma interview, Orson Welles talks about shooting with it in the intervening years. What he says sounds familiar today—finding a new lens to define a new look. (Note: the Cooke Speed Panchro Series III 18 mm prime lens was released in 1954.)

Cahiers du Cinéma: Are you using still lenses with a short focus, the 18.5mm? 

Orson Welles: Yes, everything is in 18.5. For Touch of Evil (1958), practically everything is in 18.5. 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.

What goal do you pursue in systematically using the 18.5mm lens and in pushing the editing so far?

I work and have worked with the 18.5 mm lens only because other filmmakers haven’t used it. 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. It’s not that I prefer the 18.5 lens. I’m simply the only one who’s explored its possibilities. I don’t prefer improvisation. 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.

Since you’ve been using the 18.5 lens for a long time, you must have already explored a good part of this terrain, and yet you persist. Isn’t there a certain affinity between you and this lens?

The 18.5 lens is a new, important invention: it’s barely been five years that it’s possible to find good 18.5 lenses, and how many persons have made use of it? 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: 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).




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