The Arriflex 35 BL at work
“The (Arriflex 35 BL) camera is a real blast. It’s as quiet as a church mouse and extremely flexible with its light weight”. John S. Priestley
By Marwan el Mozayen.
The Arriflex 35 BL equipment auctioned from the Russ Meyer’s estate
Like all Arris, the 35BL was built to last. Between 1972 and 1990 more than 1700 cameras of the 35 BL series had been manufactured. These cameras are engineering masterpieces. Each 35BL consists of about 1800 parts and assembly took 300 manhours of work by 18 employees.
Super Vixens by Russ Meyer
The Arriflex 35 BL is probably the first 35mm camera that was truly designed to be carried on the shoulder. Arri’s engineers and designers set out to make a camera that would be as universal as possible. All the employees of the design office at the time were measured, and visitors to Arri’s premises had a wooden model placed on their shoulder so that the ergonomics were tested on as many people as possible.
The camera received its first big active event in 1972 at the Olympic Games in Arri’s hometown of Munich. It had become a question of honour for the camera manufacturer to deliver the best of the best and 5 of the very first cameras from the production line were used to film the games.
The trailer for Visions of Eight
Five experienced cinematographers were hired for the official Olympic film team by Wolper-Production. Arri 35BL equipment was provided.
Like the 17 other teams, they were distributed among 8 directors and 8 DoPs. Each group would take eight different perspectives and themes from the Olympic Games. These were:
The Fastest Kon Ichikawa
The Highest Arthur Penn
The Longest John Schlesinger
The Strongest Mai Zetterling
The Loser Claude Lelouch
The Beginning Yuriy Ozerov
The Women Michael Pfleghar
The Decathlon Milos Forman
As word spread about the BL camera’s reliability and quadruple slow motion, the five cameras were overly busy.
Across 110th Street was shot on an Arriflex 35 BL
“Across 110th Street” was the first feature film to be shot with a BL35. The camera immediately showed what it was made of “Across 110th Street” was released on December 19, 1972. Across 110th Steet was a cheap little movie that actor Anthony Quinn helped to produce. The theme song by Bobby Womack and J.J. Johnson is remembered and was used by Quentin Tarantino in the film “Jacky Brown.”
The film fits into the blaxploitation genre. It takes place between petty criminals, the Mafia and corrupt police officers above 110th Street in New York Harlem. This low-budget production was shot 95% on location. The Arnold & Richter agency had only provided the camera for a week of test shots, but the camera proved so successful that the producer persuaded Arri to provide additional access and used the camera for the entire production.
“The camera is a real blast. It’s as quiet as a church mouse and extremely flexible with its light weight. I don’t know what I would have done without it in a lot of cases, especially in these small spaces where we were shooting a lot. You just put it on your shoulder and walk around with it, bend over, sit down, hold it in your lap – anything is doable. I think that’s going to be a huge boost to the film industry”, commented DoP John S. Priestley.
Russ Meyer, Shari Eubank outside a cinema starring Super Vixens
The Arriflex 35 BL helped make a breakthrough in original sound filming on location. This challenged the offering from Panavision who competed with Arri.
In the years that followed, there was an intense battle between these two companies for the quietest camera, with the 35BL II, 35BL III and 35 BL IV series lowering the volume from an initial 28dB (BL35) to 20dB (BL35IVs) measured one meter in front of the gate.
The introduction of the Arriflex 35 BL III in 1980, eliminated the blimp thanks to a new design of the lens carrier. The Arriflex 35 BL IV, was the first camera of this series with the PL Mount Standard and this was introduced in 1984.
Legendary filmmaker Russ Meyer became a legend even with a series of low-budget “trash” movies. His signature style was so recognizable that trash movies became a category in their own right. Meyer proudly remarked in interviews that only he and Hitchcock had managed to have an entire film genre named after them.
Meyer filmed in a particularly voyeuristic style and the female breast was repeatedly the secret protagonist of his films. Many of Russ Meyer’s films are often humorous or even parodic. Meyer’s movies are rarely serious, and some films are very over-the-top.
Russ Meyer’s Arriflex 35 BL
You might be interested in Sam Pinto’s article “The Vintage Curves of the Arriflex 35 BL: A connection to Exploitation and Art in Issue 19 of SilvergrainClassics magazine (see https://shop.silvergrainclassics.com/detail/index/sArticle/20276/sCategory/92)