The Mitchell BNC camera

In 1919, Henry Boger and George Alfred Mitchell founded the Mitchell Camera Corporation in Hollywood. Between 1920 and 1924, the company produced a Model A camera, designed by John E. Leonard. In fact, the engineer had developed this camera by making changes to his first model, created in 1917.

Tournage des Rapaces (Greed, Erich von Stroheim. 1924), Erich Von Stroheim, 1924, From the collection of: The Cinémathèque française
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The new camera was made of metal and the improvements were numerous: - Viewfinder on ground-glass focusing screen, seen by shifting the mechanism - Four-lens turret with interposed filters and masks - An iris diaphragm that could be moved within the frame - 170° aperture shutter with automatic fade - Claw and pointer pin mechanism - 32-tooth sprocket, already used in the Bell & Howell 2719, but skillfully adapted. The cinematographer Charles Rosher used the prototype for The Love Light, Frances Marion, 1921, with Mary Pickford. A Mitchell was also used by Erich von Stroheim for Greed (1924): "Finally, after half an hour of setting them up, the cameras are ready. Ben Reynolds is there, the cameraman in charge of the imposing $3,500 Mitchell camera, with his assistant William Daniels, responsible for the smaller Bell & Howell. Side by side, stuck to their machines, with Erich von Stroheim slightly behind, standing on a box to supervise the set." ("Von, The Life and Films of Erich von Stroheim", by Richard Koszarski)

Tournage des rapaces (Greed, Erich von Stroheim. 1924), 1924, From the collection of: The Cinémathèque française
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The camera generated a lot of interest in Hollywood, competing with the Bell & Howell from Chicago. Its success spread to Europe: Fritz Lang and Karl Freund used two when making Metropolis (1927), filmed in Babelsberg.

Tournage de Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1927), From the collection of: The Cinémathèque française
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An improvement was added in 1925 with the Model B: the high-speed mechanism for creating slow motion (128 frames per second). In 1927, the Mitchell, which was less noisy than the Bell & Howell, became the camera of choice for filming talking pictures; it was, nevertheless, necessary to enclose it in a blimp, a soundproof box, made to measure by the company.

In 1929, Fox asked Mitchell to make eight 65-mm Fox Grandeur cameras. This was the equipment that Raoul Walsh used to film (The Big Trail, 1930): "From an artistic point of view, Grandeur cameras require both the director and chief operators to learn to accommodate a substantially wider frame. This isn't a problem for the cameraman, who quickly understands that framing using a Grandeur does not fundamentally change his role. If someone is fairly talented at framing using the older formats, they can easily adapt to the new, wider ones—just as a good painter can use his paintbrushes on small canvases as well as immense boards. As for the director, he must pay much more attention to the details of the image when using a Grandeur, even with close-ups. The Grandeur's depth of field makes the background an important part of the image." (Arthur Edeson, chief operator on The Big Trail, in American Cinematographer, 1930)

From 1932, Mitchell built the most beautiful camera of all time for Technicolor, using two prisms and three 35-mm films.

The same year, a NC camera (News Camera) was designed. It contained an excellent silent feed mechanism, the NC Eccentric movement (four claws and two pointer pins moving on an eccentric axis). All of the company's future cameras would be equipped with this system. 356 models were sold between 1932 and 1946.

Caméra Mitchell Type NC avec moteur électrique, George A. Mitchell, 1932, From the collection of: The Cinémathèque française
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In 1934, Mitchell created the first BNC (Blimped Noiseless Camera), an equally legendary 35-mm camera, which, from 1937, and for more than 30 years, would be used in every film studio.

Gregg Toland was an enthusiast and shot Orson Welles' Citizen Kane (1939) with it. Jean-Luc Godard and Raoul Coutard honor it in Le Mépris (Contempt, 1963). The BNC's only flaw was its lack of reflex viewfinder: the BNCR solved this problem in 1967.

Caméra Mitchell BNC, From the collection of: The Cinémathèque française
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The Mitchell camera, which was continuously being improved, was the source of many new inventions. New factories, built in Glendale (California), produced a projector for rear projection, 16-mm cameras (1946), BFC 65 mm (1953), VistaVision (1954), Cinemiracle (1958), 35 portable reflex (1960), Todd-AO 65 mm (1963), 205-R (1973), Mark III (1973)...

The Mitchell cameras' success could not be denied. "85% of films screened around the world are filmed with a Mitchell," the company proclaimed. In 1952, George Mitchell was recognized by the Academy Awards for all of his contributions. The company itself received three awards, in 1939, 1968, and 1969.

West Side Story, Gjon Mili, 1960-08, From the collection of: LIFE Photo Collection
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