Shortly before Haskell Wexler, ASC passed away in 2015, I was present when he was asked about which current cinematographer had impressed him the most. His response seems somewhat vague at first but if you look past that you’ll get his message.
“What cinematographer? On the technical and creative level, there’re thousands of them out there. Those who have the opportunity to be special, so to speak, are those who have the opportunity to be special. The general technical level exists in a lot of them, but the demands of what might be called artistic photography is minimal. So, I wouldn’t name names. There are all kinds out there shooting under their skill level, way under their technical skill level. For all kinds of reasons – budgetary, getting it done, fixing it in post. All those things. I don’t know if you want to encourage young people to fit into the system the way it is. You just have to let them understand the tools. I mean, I don’t know what you do.”
To hear his uncertain response to such an innocuous question was oddly reassuring. It offered hope that given the right circumstances any qualified individual could be capable of delivering something superlative to the screen.
That also cuts the other way though, and I’m charmed that Haskell saw it with such clarity. His rebellious nature was often misinterpreted as prickly or contrarian, but it always led him in the same direction – toward the truth.
He was a tremendously interesting guy and I was privileged to get to know him a little.