Ralf D. Bode, ASC, Academy Award-nominated cinematographer of Coal Miner’s Daughter, died Feb. 27. The German-born DP, whose other credits included Saturday Night Fever, Dressed to Kill, and The Accused, had been suffering from lung cancer. He was 59.
Bode moved with his family to Vermont at age 13, majored in theatre at the University of Vermont, had a brief career as an actor, and enrolled in Yale Drama School’s directing program. He then served for two years as a Signal Corps cameraman in the U.S. Army. He met director Robert M. Young, who advised him to approach a cinematography career through a path as an electrician and gaffer. Bode worked as a lighting technician on John G. Avildsen’s Joe and Cry Uncle; for Avildsen’s film Rocky, Bode shot the Philadelphia sequences (including Sylvester Stallone’s famous run up the Philadelphia Museum of Art steps).
Early cinematography credits for Bode include The Stoolie and There Is No 13, but his first major project as DP was the disco smash Saturday Night Fever, which got him into the International Cinematographers Guild. Apart from Avildsen, Bode frequently collaborated with director Michael Apted on films like Coal Miner’s Daughter and Gorky Park, and director Jonathan Kaplan on The Accused and Love Field, among others. The cinematographer joined the ASC in 1982.
In the 1990s, Bode’s most prominent credits were on such top-drawer TV movies as Gypsy, A Streetcar Named Desire, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella, and Annie, for which he earned an Emmy nomination. He taught his craft at the Los Angeles Film School, which has endowed an annual student award in his name.