I have to confess to being a bit embarrassed over my previous lack of knowledge about the esteemed career of cinematographer Allen Daviau. Maybe it’s because as the director of photography on only fifteen films, his volume was somewhat slight. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that the last feature film he shot was Van Helsing back in 2004. I guess he just fell off my radar.
It’s not that I was unaware of his work on most of his projects, I simply never put that work together in a way that allowed me to take in the full value of his astonishing career. I’m not sure I’m the only one. How often do you see a list of the great cinematographers and find Daviau’s name on it?
It only takes a moment to go over his filmography to see what an extraordinary cinematographer he was. Of course, his best known work was for Steven Spielberg. Daviau shot ET, The Color Purple, and Empire of the Sun for the maestro. Think about being the guy who shot that bicycle with an alien in the front basket as it traveled in front of the moon. That was Allen Daviau. He was no one trick pony though. He could adjust his style to any subject matter. The Color Purple was lush and almost painterly. Empire was grittier and to my mind, his best work with Spielberg.
Daviau did great work for other directors as well. The Falcon and the Snowman for John Schlesinger, Avalon and Bugsy for Barry Levinson, and my personal favorite of all his films, Peter Weir’s Fearless.
It’s a remarkable thing to consider the versatility of his skill set. Avalon was staggeringly beautiful. Bugsy brought a lustrous old Hollywood feel to the gangster film genre, and Fearless had one of the most harrowing and moving plane crash scenes I’ve ever seen.
Even on lesser films like The Astronaut’s Wife, his gorgeous compositions jumped out at you. He simply couldn’t create a bad looking frame. After Van Helsing, Daviau worked sparingly for the next six years – mostly on shorts.
He was a five-time Oscar nominee who somehow faded into the background – seldom spoken of as an all-time great. Surely he was though. As I said before, just look at the resume. While it may not be long, what’s there is oh so choice.
Allen Daviau died yesterday due to complications from COVID19. He was 77 years old.