- Friday, Feb. 5, 2016
Cinematographer Haskell Wexler, ASC—who passed away in December at the age of 93—will be remembered on many fronts. For his lensing of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, the last film to receive an Oscar for black-and-white cinematography. For his Oscar-winning cinematography of Bound For Glory. For directing and earning a DGA Award nomination for the seminal hybrid drama/documentary Medium Cool.
I first met him in the context of his commercial directing exploits. In the mid-1970s he teamed with another luminary cinematographer, Conrad L. Hall, to form spot production company Wexler-Hall. Wexler later partnered with the lauded DP Vilmos Zsigmond on another commercial production house, Cinematic Directions. (Zsigmond died just a week after Wexler’s passing.)
What I remember most, though, comes from the last time I saw Wexler but did not get a chance to speak with him. It was in March 2014 when Billy Crystal presented Wexler with the Humanitarian Award at the first annual Location Managers Guild of America Awards. Crystal recalled directing the HBO film 61*, which was shot by Wexler. Crystal said that Wexler implored him to make sure that the production of 61* was “really safe,” without any crazy long hours.
This concern about safety was a focus of the Wexler-directed documentary Who Needs Sleep? which showed the tragic consequences of sleep-deprived crew members. In accepting the Humanitarian Award, Wexler called for “more human conditions in the way we work.” Concerns for crew safety should be paramount he said, asking, “Are our priorities human or to feed the bottom line?”
Later during the awards ceremony, presenter/producer Harry Bring said he met Wexler for the first time during the International Cinematographers Guild’s memorial earlier that month for 27-year-old Sarah Jones, the assistant camerawoman who was killed when a train crashed into a production team while shooting the film Midnight Rider in Georgia.
Bring said he first hired Jones as an intern and that her death has had a profound impact and will prove to be a lasting influence on the industry, leading to safety being the priority it needs to be. This vital cause is also part of Wexler’s legacy as he was an articulate, caring advocate for the wellbeing of people throughout our industry and society at large.