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Haskell Wexler

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Also Known As: Died:
Born: June 2, 1922 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Chicago, Illinois, USA Profession: director of photography, producer, screenwriter, director

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Haskell Wexler initiated his feature filmmaking career as a cinematographer in the late 1950s, having previously shot educational and industrial films. The Chicago native had traveled to California to attend Berkeley, but dropped out after one year. He served as a merchant seaman during WWII and then returned to Illinois. Wexler and his father purchased and refurbished an armory in Des Plaines, turning it into a film studio. The venture was unsuccessful and Wexler set out to learn about film production, beginning as a cameraman and eventually working up to cinematographer."Stakeout on Dope Street" (1958) marked his first (although uncredited) work as a cinematographer. He went on to shoot several features, many, like "The Hoodlum Priest" (1961), noted for their social themes. Wexler has stated that Elia Kazan's "America, America" (1963) marked the turning point in his Hollywood career and includes "some of the best photography" that he shot. He went on to shoot the intense, claustrophobic black and white images of Mike Nichols' "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" (1966), which earned him an Oscar, as well as providing memorable and distinctive looks to Norman Jewison's "In the Heat of the Night"...

Haskell Wexler initiated his feature filmmaking career as a cinematographer in the late 1950s, having previously shot educational and industrial films. The Chicago native had traveled to California to attend Berkeley, but dropped out after one year. He served as a merchant seaman during WWII and then returned to Illinois. Wexler and his father purchased and refurbished an armory in Des Plaines, turning it into a film studio. The venture was unsuccessful and Wexler set out to learn about film production, beginning as a cameraman and eventually working up to cinematographer.

"Stakeout on Dope Street" (1958) marked his first (although uncredited) work as a cinematographer. He went on to shoot several features, many, like "The Hoodlum Priest" (1961), noted for their social themes. Wexler has stated that Elia Kazan's "America, America" (1963) marked the turning point in his Hollywood career and includes "some of the best photography" that he shot. He went on to shoot the intense, claustrophobic black and white images of Mike Nichols' "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" (1966), which earned him an Oscar, as well as providing memorable and distinctive looks to Norman Jewison's "In the Heat of the Night" (1967), George Lucas' "American Graffiti" (1973) and Milos Forman's "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" (1975). His beautiful rendering of the muted tones of the American Dust Bowl (including several storms) in Hal Ashby's "Bound for Glory" (1976) earned him a second Oscar for Best Cinematography. Wexler also lensed Ashby's Vietnam-era "Coming Home" (1978), John Sayles' union-busting tale "Matewan" (1987), the urban gang drama "Colors" (1988), the biopic "Blaze" (1989) and "The Babe" (1992), Sayles' Irish fable "The Secret of Roan Inish" (1994) and the period crime drama "Mulholland Falls" (1996).

Wexler has also produced, written, directed and/or photographed a number of documentary films in his long career. Among the highlights are "The Bus" (1965) and its sequel, "Bus II" (1983), the Oscar-winning short "Interviews With My Lai Veterans" (1970), "Brazil: A Report on Torture" (1971), "Introduction to the Enemy" (1974), co-directed with Jane Fonda, Tom Hayden and Bill Yahrans, "CIA: Case Officer" (1978) and "At the Max" (1991), which recorded the 1990 European tour of the Rolling Stones. Wexler was also one of several directors of photography interviewed for the superlative "Visions of Light: The Art of Cinematography" (1992).

A passionate liberal, Wexler produced, directed, wrote and photographed one of the most devastating and technically sophisticated anti-establishment films ever made, "Medium Cool" (1969). Drawing on the stylistic and theoretical advances made by such vanguard figures as Jean- Luc Godard, and taking its title almost straight from the mouth of media guru Marshall McLuhan, "Medium Cool" was set and filmed during the 1968 Chicago Democratic convention. It chronicles-- in striking, neo-documentary style--the affairs, both professional and amorous, of a detached TV news cameraman (Robert Forster) as he becomes increasingly aware of the political ramifications of his work. The film remains a landmark of political cinema, and an insightful essay on the "cool medium."

Wexler also helmed "Latino" (1985), a taut drama about an Hispanic Vietnam veteran (Robert Beltran) assisting in the training of the US-backed Contras in Nicaragua. The film divided critics and audiences along partisan political lines.

For TV, Wexler shot footage of the Special Olympics included in the Beau Bridges- directed longform "The Kid From Nowhere" (NBC, 1982), worked with renowned cinematographer Robert Richardson on the second unit work of the thirty-minute film "To The Moon, Alice" (Showtime, 1990) and was primary director of photography for the Japan tour sequences of the documentary "Benny Carter: Symphony in Riffs" (A&E, 1992). Meanwhile, Wexler was the subject of the documentary, "Tell Them Who You Are" (2005), directed by his son, Mark. The film was shown at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival and was set to be released in theaters on May 13th.

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Filmographyclose complete filmography

DIRECTOR:

1.
2.
  Bus Riders Union (2000) Director
3.
  Latino (1985) Director
4.
  Bus II (1983) Director
5.
  No Nukes (1980) Documentary Footage Director
6.
7.
  Medium Cool (1969) Director
8.
  The Bus (1965) Director
9.
  Marc Anthony: The Concert From Madison Square Garden (2000) 2nd Unit Director (2nd Unit)

CAST: (feature film)

3.
5.
6.
 Tell Them Who You Are (2004) Himself
8.
 At Sundance (1995) Himself
10.
 Underground (1976)
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Milestones close milestones

:
Merchant Seaman during World War II (spent two weeks in lifeboat after ship was sunk)
:
With father, purchased armory in Des Plaines, IL and started a film studio
:
Closed studio and began working as cameraman
:
Worked as cameraman and later cinematographer on industrial and educational films
1958:
First film as director of photography (uncredited), "Stakeout on Dope Street"
1959:
First on-screen credit for cinematography, "Five Bold Women"
1965:
Co-produced (with John Calley) Tony Richardson's "The Loved One" (also director of photography)
1965:
Documentary directing and screenwriting debut, "The Bus" (also producer; director of photography)
1969:
Feature film writing and directing debut (also director of photography; producer), "Medium Cool"
1976:
First film appearance in "Underground" (documentary)
:
Co-founded with Conrad L Hall, Wexler-Hall, Inc., a TV commercial production company, in mid-1970s
1996:
Received Star No. 2062 on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (February 28)
2001:
Earned Emmy nomination for lensing of the HBO movie "61*"
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Education

University of California at Berkeley: Berkeley , California -
Francis W Parker School: -

Notes

"I think that film, motion picture film, and I'm including television because television is what people see, is the most potent force to influence people's habits. . . . the media have an opportunity to change people's ideas about what is propoer, what is right, what is desirable. THe potential for social change is there." --Wexler quoted in "Masters of Light: Conversations with Contemporary Cinematographers" by Dennis Schaefer and Larry Salvato (University of California Press, 1984)

Companions close complete companion listing

wife:
Nancy Ashenhurst. Divorced; mother of two of his children.
wife:
Marian Witt. Divorced.
wife:
Rita Taggart. Actor. Married in 1989.

Family close complete family listing

father:
Simon Wexler.
brother:
Jerry Wexler. Real estate magnate.
daughter:
Katherine Wexler. Mother, Nancy Ashenhurst.
son:
Jeffrey Wexler. Mother, Nancy Ashenhurst.
son:
Mark Wexler. Mother, Marian Witt.
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