Celebrated American cinematographer Haskell Wexler has died in his sleep at the age of 93. His rich body of work includes documentaries and features as well as his own films. A political activist and a key figure of the American counter-culture movement, Wexler stacked up a series of credits on acclaimed movies between the 1960s and ’80s, including Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, In The Heat of the Night, Coming Home, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and The Thomas Crown Affair as well as several documentaries such as Interviews with My Lai Veterans (1971) and Introduction to the Enemy (1974).
In 2004, Wexler’s son, Mark turned the camera on his father for a personal documentary that explores the great man’s craft and his views on his films and his family. “I am his son, the son of a famous father and I have spent much of my adult life struggling to step out from under the shadow of that fame,” Mark Wexler says in Tell Them Who You Are.
Here are a few of Wexler’s key works.
America America (1963) Often cited as Wexler’s first successful mainstream movie, directed by Elia Kazan and featuring the hardscrabble journey of Greek immigrants to the land of liberty and freedom. Wexler’s keen eye for details as well as capturing the rhythms of the crowds won him acclaim and set up him up as one of the most talented cinematographers in the business.
Medium Cool (1966) Wexler’s debut movie, which he also wrote, follows a television reporter who is covering a national convention organised by the Democratic Party. Its use of documentary-style camerawork and combination of staged and actual footage won Wexler further acclaim and inspired the BBC documentary Look Out Haskell, It's Real: The Making of Medium Cool.
Bound For Glory (1976) This biographical movie about the American folk singer Woody Guthrie is cited as the first ever production to use the Steadicam mount, which enables smooth camera movements.
Colors (1988) Dennis Hopper’s unconventional police procedural captures the messiness of gang wars in Los Angeles. Robert Duvall and Sean Penn are the buddies in uniform trying, and often failing, to keep the order on the streets.
Bus Rider Union (2000) Wexler kept shooting documentaries alongside features. Here is a film from 2000, which he co-directed, and which chronicles the attempts by civil rights activists to bring the mass transport system to the racially divided inner cities of Los Angeles.