At 89 veteran Canadian cameraman, Phil Pendry has had – and is still having – an astonishing career in film and television. His is a career that dates back over 60 years and is full of wild tales and adventure from around the world.
Pendry started out as a movie-crazed 14 year-old who talked himself into a job as a second camera assistant on a Denham studio movie sets. In 1943, he recalls watching Nazi buzz bombs fall on London from the roof of a studio where Anthony Asquith was directing A Way To The Stars, starring Michael Redgrave and Stanley Holloway. He was also camera assistant on Noel Coward's The Way Ahead, and after the war, on the Peter Ustinov movie Private Angelo, among many others.
"One of the greats," is how distinguished ABC news anchor Peter Jennings described Pendry. "Everyone knows Phil," says documentary producer Harry Rasky (who last worked with Phil on the one-hour documentary Modigliani for TVO). "He's done everything, been everywhere and knows everyone. Even Marshall McLuhan wanted to talk with him." "Talk about six degrees of separation – this guy is one degree from countless celebrities during the past half century," marveled Bill Cunningham, the founder of Global Television News. "And don't forget the famous Bums film he did with Yoko Ono," adds Michael Maclear, who worked with Pendry in Vietnam, Africa and Europe.
Phil and Rodney Charters Cinematographer for 24 ABC
The tools of his trade are a cell phone, an aging Honda Civic, a room full of high-end television gear and an address book filled with contacts from around the world. Working with some of the best reporters in the business, Pendry has been a witness to many of the great international events of last 60 years. Among them: the three Israeli/Arab wars, the civil war in Northern Ireland, Vietnam, the wars of independence in Algeria, South Africa, Biafra and The Congo, along with a long list of Cold War-related events.
In Canada he shot stories for CTV's Maclear Series, W-5, Canada AM and Live It Up, and worked with as principle cameraman for the CBC's Moving On series (formerly The Disability Network). He also shot and directed an award-winning documentary entitled Little Mountain, a story about a disabled Aboriginal child. Also directed and photographed a 26 half hour series "Wandering Canada" on CBC, and 4 years as DOP for Direct TV in the United States, 50 half hour originals (Special Assignment )
Phil and Philip BloomThe list of people Pendry has worked with is a literal 'Who's Who' of T.V. hosts and correspondents. Many of themPhil and Tom Cochran made their own names roaming the world's hot spots in the early Sixties, including (in alphabetical order): Isobel Basset, Romeo Le Blanc Hillary Brown, Kingsley Lenin Brown, Stanley Burke, Martin Burke, Ken Cavanaugh, Henry Champ, Douglas La Chance, Don Cameron, John Chancellor, Jean Carpenter, George Clay, Adrian Clarkson, Ron Collister, Bill Cunningham, Gordon Donaldson, Alex Desfontaine, Abe Douglas, Barry Dunsmore, Tom Earl, Alan Edmonds, Duncan Elliot, Bob Evans, Mary Lou Finlay, Donald Gorden, Tom Gould, Agi Gabor, David Halton, Helen Hutchinson, Peter Jennings, Monika Jenson, Patrick Keatley, Alex Kendrick, Peter Kent, Bruce Phillips, Ralph Lucas, Ron La Plate, David Levy, Tom Leach, Jack McGaw, Robert MacNeil, James Minifi, Michael Maclear, Edward R. Morrow, Peter Murphy, Knowlton Nash, Don North, Norman De Poe, Jim Reed, Peter Riley, Peter Reynolds, Morley Safer, Bill Stevenson, David Suzuki, Charles Taylor, Peter Truman, Pamela Wallan, Patrick Watson, Ing Wong Ward, Charles Wasserman, Moses Znaimer.
Pendry has also met countless world figures and celebrities. He is a good friend of Yoko Ono, and first met her while working with Michael Maclear as a staff cameraman in the Tokyo bureau of CBC. Later in London, he shot Ono's famous Bums film, "Film No 4" using a windup Bolex camera, and also befriended John Lennon during that era.
Pendry is a confessed loner, but this didn't stop him from marrying three times and having numerous affairs with beautiful women all over the world. Recalls one former lover who remembers Pendry fondly: "Phil really knew how to take care of a woman – he lavished them with gifts, attention and tons of charm." Pendry gleefully admits to billing CBC for 'excess baggage' for the women he took on foreign assignments under the guise of 'sound assistants.' His experience shows that being in a war zone acts as a genuine aphrodisiac for some women.
Pendry knows how to enjoy life and has been richly awarded for his talent and experience by the television networks. "For someone with no formal education whatsoever, I think I've done pretty well," he admits. Age has not slowed Pendry down – he looks and behaves like a man at least 20 years his junior, and attributes his robust health to avoiding tobacco, drugs and alcohol, eating carefully and not drinking milk.
Quick to pHIL sHOOTINGembrace new technology, Pendry now uses a small, handheld video camera for most of his work. It's a far cry from the days when he lugged around a 35 mm film camera to shoot documentaries and newsreels for the March of Time, Pathé News and the National Film Board. No job is too small or too big for Pendry – one day he's working 'on spec' for a group of film students both as cameraman and mentor, and the next day he's off to South America and places like Machu Picchu, shooting stories for Newsworld International. And to this day, Pendry still works long hours and is constantly on the lookout for new assignments.
Introduction to his book now in development "A Slightly Different Point of View."
Absurd (adjective) – 1. ridiculously unreasonable, unsound, or incongruous
We're all familiar with the old adage, "the camera never lies." The truth is, however, that the camera actually does lie – and frequently. As far as the television viewer perceives, the idea that "seeing is believing" has a certain ring to it, like it should be one of the Ten Commandments. But as a cameraman having covered 40 different war conflicts in as many countries, and having seen more than one side of any given story, my experience is that "seeing is very rarely believing."
For example, if you have a dozen people walking down the road and film them from a half-kilometer back with a long lens, it appears as though they are simply walking down the road. But if you film just in front of them, close to the ground with a wide-angle lens, they look like a rampaging mob. It's a form of optical illusion, many of which are used by camerapersons all over the world to tell a story with a particular slant to it.
I tend to look on the war coverage I have filmed as a theatre of the macabre. Watching events through a viewfinder divorces one from the reality of what you are seeing – it's only when you take your eye away that the real story becomes clear. The camera tends to act as a barrier that deflects the emotional magnitude of a scene – otherwise how could someone record the blood and death of a war zone without being physically shaken by the events? In the end, we have to anaesthetize our own visual perception to a certain degree, along with that of the viewer.
My first recollection of hiding behind a camera was at the end of World War II after being conscripted into the British Army from 1944 to 1948, and posted as a photographer for the Allied War Crimes Commission in Germany. I accompanied a pathologist to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp to collect evidence for the Nuremberg Trials of Allied POWs who had been imprisoned their or murdered by the Germans. Upon entering the camp, we were surrounded by dozens of what appeared to be skeletons dressed in rags. My first and only reaction was not one of pity or anger, but complete embarrassment – it was like being the only person on a stage with the curtain rising, standing there alone and looking out at a huge sea of expressionless faces, who were neither applauding or moving. Here were these dozen or so skeletons needing – literally dying – to communicate, and I remember lifting up my camera and being unable to continue. The riveting scene held me spellbound and I was unable to move for what felt like an eternity, simply hoping that the scene would just disappear or that the driver would move on.
If a scene is unbelievable enough, it tends to transfix you to the spot. In all of my years behind the camera, this has only happened to me twice: the first was in the Bergan- Belsen concentration camp, and the second was in the early Sixties while standing on the side of a mountain during a volcanic earthquake on the southern island of Japan. As I stood filming the eruption, the road split between our location and the mountainside, opening up about two feet and then closing up again. It was like gazing into the abyss, and I found myself staring at the phenomenon like a deer caught in a hunter's spotlight just before being shot. Nobody in our group moved or spoke when the gap finally closed – it was like we were dumbfounded and couldn't believe what we had just seen.
I have covered over three dozen wars and have always been able to shoot footage of the conflicts despite the horror of the situation. But on these two occasions the enormity of the moment literally shocked me. When I think of Belsen, I am always reminded of the feelings of helplessness and frustration that came from being unable to change anything. However, unlike the crack in the road in Japan, which was an act of nature, Belsen was an act of man. And when we later interrogated hundreds of German POWs, they all protested their innocence and denied any knowledge of the existence of the camps. But any crime is imaginable as long as you don't commit it yourself, and any draconian law is permissible if you don't have to enforce it personally.
Conflicts and Wars all have a intriguing assimilatory as they seem to be a normal part of the
human existence, since the dawn of time men and women have decided to settle their differences by the use of force. After witnessing approx 40 of these absurdities over the last 60 years, the underlying reasons have been ethnic and religious differances, with each combatant having God firmly intrenched on their side. A perfect example of this was the loyalty oath demanded by Hitler of all his solders, which began "I swear by God this sacred oath"
My intention for this book is to highlight a period in television news gathering that we will never witness again. It was a romantic period, where trench-coated reporters and their camera crews roamed the world as rogue, free spirits in pursuit of the stories of the day. Their network bosses were a long way off, unlike today where satellites, direct live television and cell phones tie journalists closely to their home bases and provide an instant broadcast of the evening news. However, in those days, we had a lot of latitude in both what and how we reported, along with the chance to offer the viewer an opportunity to witness the events as they otherwise might not have seen them