Through the Lens

Jake and the fat man: Chinatown, for which John A. Alonzo was Oscar nominated, screens at the Vistas Film Festival.

The function of most film festivals is to introduce the enthusiastic filmgoer to the unknown. Certainly, the Vistas Film Festival will do a little of all that when it kicks off October 9: Its opening-night film is a Puerto Rican offering titled Julia, toto en mi, about a real-life poet who lived in exile during the '40s and '50s; its closing-night selection is the Argentinean El Bonorense, a stark and bleak cop thriller. And in between are copious offerings unlikely to be seen even on the art-house circuit.

But this year's fest serves also to remind locals that one of their own was once among Hollywood's finest filmmakers, as Vistas pays homage to John A. Alonzo, who died in 2001 after a long bout with cancer and was among cinema's greatest cinematographers--and certainly, the finest ever to graduate from North Dallas High School. Alonzo was a cameraman for WFAA when, in 1956 at the age of 22, he moved to L.A. to pursue a career in the movies; he had bit parts in such films as The Magnificent Seven. Twelve years later, Roger Corman hired him as director of photography for Bloody Mama.

His filmography is as impressive and important as any DP's; his work on Roman Polanski's Chinatown alone, for which he was Oscar nominated, rates him an immortal. Newsweek pegged it in '75, when Paul Zimmerman wrote of Alonzo's "gothic poetry." Vistas will screen that film, as well as Harold and Maude, Scarface, The Bad News Bears, Norma Rae, Sounder, Lady Sings the Blues, Blue Thunder, Star Trek Generations and the restored, little-seen soul documentary Wattstax, which is among the fest's highlights. Appropriate Alonzo was from here: He, like Mark Cuban long after him, was an early pioneer in the field of high-definition; at last, he's put into focus.


The Vistas Film Festival takes place October 9 through October 12 at the Angelika Film Center and Dallas Museum of Art. For more information, visit

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