HASKELL WEXLER DIES AT 93; TWO-TIME OSCAR-WINNING CINEMATOGRAPHER AND LIFELONG SOCIALIST ACTIVIST:
One of the few cinematographers to have received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (in 1996), Wexler won his first Oscar for his black-and-white photography on “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” director Mike Nichols’ 1966 debut starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.
His acceptance speech was among the briefest in Hollywood history: “I hope we can use our art for peace and for love. Thanks.”
He won his second Oscar for “Bound for “Glory,” director Hal Ashby’s 1976 movie starring David Carradine as legendary singer-songwriter Woody Guthrie.
Wexler also received Oscar nominations for best cinematography for the 1975 film “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (shared with Bill Butler), “Matewan” (1987) and “Blaze” (1989).
Among Wexler’s other feature film credits as a cinematographer are “The Thomas Crown Affair,” “In the Heat of the Night,” “Coming Home,” “Colors” and “The Babe.”
He also was visual consultant on George Lucas’ 1973 classic “American Graffiti.” And he received an “additional photography” credit on Terrence Malick’s 1978 film “Days of Heaven,” for which cinematographer Nestor Almendros won an Oscar.
Wexler made his feature directorial debut with “Medium Cool,” a low-budget 1969 film that he wrote and for which he served as a producer and as the director of photography.
Described by Wexler as “a wedding between features and cinema verite,” the drama about an emotionally detached TV news cameraman was partly shot in Chicago during the tumultuous 1968 Democratic National Convention.
At one point, as the camera inches closer to a tear-gas cloud and a wall of police officers, a voice off-camera famously can be heard warning, “Look out, Haskell — it’s real!”
It wasn’t — the voice was dubbed in after the shoot to add to the “truthiness,” as a later entertainment industry leftist who blended reality and socialist fantasy would say. But taken on its own level, Medium Cool (heavily influenced by an earlier sixties movie about a cameraman, Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up) is a fascinating movie. Antonioni’s Blow-Up, despite its setting at the height of swinging mod-era London is a hypnotic, uniquely timeless film. Wexler’s Medium Cool is very much of its era; watching it is a time capsule to the ugliness of 1968 and the assault on ossified New Deal Democrats by the radical new left of the 1960s, as I wrote at Ed Driscoll.com back in 2012:
As a result of the Chicago riots that Wexler filmed, the 1972 Democratic convention was a much different affair than Chicago in 1968, as Steve Hayward noted in the first volume of his two-part Age of Reagan series:
The Democrats had chosen Miami as their convention site in 1972 for the same reason the Republicans had chosen it again: The main convention sites were across a causeway from the mainland, which made it easier for police to prevent any large Chicago-style protest or riot from forming. It was unnecessary. In Ben Wattenberg’s memorable phrase, “There won’t be any riots in Miami because the people who rioted in Chicago are on the Platform Committee.” The Leftist writer I.F. Stone agreed: “It was joy to be at the Democratic convention this year. … I felt I had lived to see a miracle. Those who had been in the streets of Chicago were now, only four years and one convention later, in the delegates’ seats in Miami.” Just to make sure, though, Jerry Rubin, one of the leaders of the Chicago riots who was inside the convention hall in 1972, told a reporter: “If George McGovern doesn’t win the nomination, we are going to have Chicago right there on the convention floor.” Wrecking the Democratic Party may have been what many “new politics” activists had in mind all along. Rolling Stone’s Hunter S. Thompson wrote that “the only way to save the Democratic Party is to destroy it.”
Call it fundamental transformation, to coin a phrase.