OWEN ROIZMAN, ASC, 1936-2023

            Sometime during the early morning hours of January 7, we lost perhaps the last giant of American cinematography, Owen Roizman, ASC.  In failing health for quite some time, his passing wasn’t unexpected but it struck home especially hard.

            Owen was a close friend for nearly twenty-five years.  When we met, if I was a bit late to have considered him a mentor, he nevertheless assumed that role with brilliance, humor and class.  Geography creates strong ties, so as a fellow Brooklyn native I identified with his view of the world, his Yankee fandom and not least of all, his accent.  I also appreciated his wicked, New Yorker’s sense of humor.  Of course, beneath the armor was a gentle, sensitive temperament, but even in his advanced years you would’ve been mistaken to underestimate him.  And as immovable as he was in his convictions, they were never intended to offend…so long as you were in agreement.  Right up to the end, it was funny how his sense of right and wrong could chafe with certain individuals, but that spoke more to their deficiencies than to his.

            Few careers have been better documented, yet some elements bare highlighting.  Owen claims a special notoriety among that Golden Generation of cinematographers who changed the way movies looked during the 1970’s.  Many of his innovations in style and technique have become so familiar, we now accept them as convention.  Students the world over have benefitted from his generous sharing of knowledge.  His leadership at the ASC and the Academy set the standard for how to conduct oneself at the head of the pack.  We also have Owen to thank for his supervision of the 2009 Clubhouse renovation.  Having occupied a ringside seat for that long slog, believe me, it was no simple task.  Finally, his love of his family was plain to see; for those of us who knew him, it extended our way as well.

            I couldn’t have asked for a better cinematographer to be inspired by, nor could I have wished for a better advisor as my participation at the ASC increased.  If I seem to have placed him up too high, I haven’t.  As every individual can claim, he was one of a kind, but the old saying reminds us: “When Owen came along, they broke the mould!”  His departure is not tragic.  But it certainly is sad.

            Owen, I send you my best.  We’re all gonna miss you, buddy.

Academy Award Nominations: The French Connection (1971), The Exorcist (1973), Network (1976), Tootsie (1982), Wyatt Earp (1994)

ASC Lifetime Achievement Award, 1997

ASC President, 1997-1998

Three-Term AMPAS Cinematographers Branch Governor

Camerimage Lifetime Achievement Award, 2001

UCLA\Kodak Cinematographer-In-Residence, 2002-2003

Honorary Academy Award, 2017


19 thoughts on “OWEN ROIZMAN, ASC, 1936-2023”

  1. Thank you, Richard. What a wonderful farewell.
    His presence certainly changed my life, and it was an honor to have also worked with him.
    May his memory be a blessing.

  2. Thank you for expressing so eloquently what Owen meant to you and untold numbers of others. The world is diminished without him but better for his having walked among us.

  3. Perfect,. Thanks so much for this , Richard. I know you were blessed with a special relationship with Owen. He was extremely helpful to me a number of times in providing some “direct advice” on how to navigate the world of cinematography and the ASC. He was an artist, but, he had a keen understanding of how art and business intersected, and helped a “suit” like me reach the right understanding and conclusions. He also married very, very well.

  4. RIP, Owen Roizman
    I love his interview in Visions of Light when asked if he could shoot a gritty “street” film, since most of his other work was glossy / glamorous, especially his commercials:
    ” . . . if I’m a Cinematographer I should be able to shoot whatever style you need me to.” (paraphrased)

    Thank you Richard for sharing your memories.

    Such a great body of work.

    I think that I’ll watch one tonight!

  5. Thank you Richard. Owen was the last great lion of the ASC. I feel like this marks the end of a great chapter in the history of cinematography.

  6. Brother Richard…
    Your words hear are heartfelt and resonated to me deeply! When I was at the ASC Clubhouse being interviewed to become a member, you were President at the time, you had asked me a question: “who are some of your cinematography heroes…” I started to stutter – not only because there was a long list, but several were right there staring right down the barrel at me! My long ‘deer in the headlight’ paused lingered and you graciously stepped in and said, “well, let’s start with you sitting right next to one – and that was Owen Roizman… You’re a witness, I started to tear and was choked up! I think that moment with everyone in that room seeing my raw emotion and admiration for Owen at that very moment, won me over in that room… My beating heart was on a slab on that conference room table. From that moment onward, it was about sharing our hearts and respect… Owen asked me about growing up in Brooklyn – I looked over to you because your smile was ear to ear… There was an immediate ‘sympatico’, and I know you related because you were part of that and was responsible to get me in that room… I am eternally grateful to you for that… This is my first memory of Owen – me being indoctrinated in that room in to the ASC… Owen and I became fast friends – deeply… Frankly, I was surprised on how much he loved me – and as a Sicilian, we have an expression: ‘You love me, I will love you twice back…’ That is exactly what I did – loved him with all my heart… In closing here, when I attended my very first ASC Awards, he saw me from across the aisle and waived me to come to him… I did proudly… I told him how nervous I was to be in a room of a thousand cinematographers all boasting about their work with egos as huge as Godzilla… Well, this was what was in my head before attending – ha… Anyway, he leaned over and whispered something in my ear and gave me the greatest lesson of my life… Occasionally, I share that lesson to young students I mentor… I know it will resonate with them for the rest of their lives as it did me! Rest in Peace Owen, you were the real deal… Love you eternally… Your ‘Brooklyn Paisano’, Crescenzo Notarile, ASC, AIC

  7. Owen was a gem of a man. Honest, thoughtful, direct, creative. As president of the ASC, when we first introduced digital cinema with TI’s prototype DLP systems, Owen supported our efforts and challenged the technology to deliver better image quality. He was generous with his time, providing his input and bringing along friends to demos and color grading sessions with the new technology. I was privileged to know him and to learn from him. He will be missed.

  8. The Golden Generation for sure. When I was a teenager, in the 70’s we used to speak about the unique group of cinematographers that were at the forefront of a changing business . Owen was one and will be greatly missed. I miss all of them, quite an impact he made.

  9. Thank you Richard. I wish I could claim to even have met the man. His impact on my aesthetic is forever. As a New Yorker myself, he portrayed NYC as I knew it and as i see it, even today. His work creates in me a visceral reaction that may be beyond words but let me say, it still inspires and brings me comfort.

  10. Not only has the art of cinematography lost a legend but the world of humanity has lost one as well.
    Owen was a dear friend, advisor and role model as well. His iconic sense of humor never ceased to amaze me.
    There was never a time spent with him that didn’t enjoy some sort of growth of mind or spirit.
    I will always love you and I will miss you forever.

  11. Richard, Thank you for the tribute to Owen. I grew up watching his creativity both in the cinema and on television. The Exorcist, The French Connection, and the Taking of Pelham One Two Three stand out in my mind as the most influential of his films for me. Glad that you had that long running friendship with him.

  12. RIP dear Owen. He took the best photo ever of my husband Bill. Another tall and extremely talented tree has fallen. Your tribute says it all Richard. Prayers and blessings to Owen’s whole family including his film family.

  13. Thank you Richard,
    Owen guided me over the years in many different directions, from working on remastering his old films and working on his new films. Your words reminded me of a time when he used that NY attitude and wit on Paul Haggar – I knew firsthand that Owen was a force to be reckoned with. His taste and style helped shape and inspire my career and among other things helped shape Digital Cinema with the imprimatur of the ASC.

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