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.


8 thoughts on “TO THE POINT…KIND OF”

  1. That’s an interesting response from Haskell, who was technically very adept as well as creatively inspiring. I could offer an interesting perspective on my years handling dailies at Technicolor… Because there were the world class Cinematographers (Zsigmond, Kovacs, Deschanel, Willis, Burum, Almendros, Roizman, Cronenweth, among others…) that had absolutely technical mastery of Cinematography, and generated seminal visuals that helped define motion picture imaging.
    Yet there were others, quite well known, that had quite a reputation for creators imagery, yet from a laboratory perspective had very little control over their photography, and required a lot of hand holding in order to deliver dailies that were presentable. I guess I shouldn’t name those, should I?

  2. Don’t name those names, Rob. You can tell me privately some day… 😉

  3. Man was he spot on. I often try to explain this to people when they ask what it takes to be successful. Such a huge part of it is just plain opportunity and having enough skill to take advantage of that opportunity. Still, his answer beats all of mine.

  4. Haskell was definitely talented and an advocate for workers. About 35 years ago I spoke to him on the ‘phone regarding the photography on my reel. Instead of commenting on the images he immediately took me to task for an industrial I did for Alfa Grupo de Mexico. How could you make a film for a company that exploits workers, he said. Whether Alfa did or did not exploit its workers is unknown to me. There was not one word about photography. Wexler and Connie Hall had a commercial production company. I did or should have asked him how could he do commercials for companies that may or may not exploit their workers. I never got an answer and that was the end of the call. May his memory be a blessing!

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