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Billy Bitzer

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Billy Bitzer
BornJohann Gottlob Wilhelm Bitzer
April 21, 1874
Roxbury, Massachusetts
DiedApril 29, 1944 (age 70)
Hollywood, California

Billy Bitzer (1874-1944) started out pursuing his interest in magic and developing novelty toys before becoming a celebrated cameraman of the earliest years of American cinema, chiefly through his association with D.W. Griffith.


Bitzer worked as a silversmith before an interest in magic led to him joining Elias Koopman's Magic Introduction Company in 1894, marketing various novelties.

In 2003, a survey conducted by the International Cinematographers Guild named him one of the ten most influential cinematographers in history. Bitzer, it is said, "developed camera techniques that set the standard for all future motion pictures."

Among Bitzer's innovations were:

  • the fade out to close a movie scene;
  • the iris shot where a circle closes to close a scene;
  • soft focus photography with the aid of a light diffusion screen;
  • filming entirely under artificial lighting rather than outside;
  • lighting, closeups and long shots to create mood;
  • perfection of matte photography.

Through the 1930s he annotated the Biograph records at the Museum of Modern Art's Department of Film with Katharine Stone White and then worked on his memoirs, which were published posthumously.[1]

From "Billy Bitzer: His Story by G.W. Bitzer (1973)": "I had always been fascinated by magic. Whenever my sister Anna would cooperate with me, I tried every magic trick I could conjure up, with some success... Once I took her up on the roof and made pictures of her seeming to walk a tight-rope—my first bit of trick photography."


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