The great Haskell Wexler died today at the age of 93. His two Oscars for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in 1966 and Bound for Glory in 1976 nicely bookend but cannot contain the dozen back-to-back flat-out masterpieces he shot or otherwise influenced from 1963 to 1978. 12 films in a row. Not a misstep among ’em. 12 virtually flawless films that run through the heart of that golden age. It would be wrong to say Wexler was lucky to be one of the go-to cinematographers in the ’70s, because he was one of the men who undeniably made that decade what it was.
Just look at this unbroken string of visual wonders, all the milestones:
- America, America, 1963
- The Best Man, 1964
- The Loved One, 1965 (also producer)
- Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, 1966 (Oscar winner)
- In the Heat of the Night, 1967
- The Thomas Crown Affair, 1968
- Medium Cool, 1969 (also director and screenwriter)
- American Graffiti, 1973 (as “Visual Consultant”)
- One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, 1975 (Oscar nominee)
- Bound for Glory, 1976 (Oscar winner)
- Coming Home, 1978
- Days of Heaven, 1978 (with Néstor Almendros, who won this Oscar)
Oscar nominated twice more for
- Matewan, 1987
- Blaze, 1989
In 2011, Wexler was asked by Rock Cellar Magazine about the only movie he wrote, shot, and directed, Medium Cool, set against the backdrop of the riots during 1968 Democratic National Convention. Wexler said:
Onscreen, the demonstrators chant “The whole world is watching,” which I was pleased to know was chanted at [Occupy] Wall Street recently. My thought regarding the ending of Medium Cool was about the relationship between fiction and reality. In the sense that some other photographer could be shooting the same things I was shooting, and make a different story. I wanted to say this is what is in my heart, this is my artistry.
“I’d say to anyone trying to break into the business: Don’t just be interested in movies. Be interested in life. Be a person. Be in touch.” – Haskell Wexler
Haskell Wexler on “Medium Cool” – Conversations Inside The Criterion Collection
Two-time Oscar Winner, Director of Photography Haskell Wexler, ASC (Guest Instructor at GCI April 2015 Session) sits down with GCI Co-Founder Yuri Neyman, ASC to discuss Haskell’s creative influences when lighting, and how new technology has impacted the career.