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Conrad Hall

Conrad Hall

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Also Known As: Died: January 4, 2003
Born: June 21, 1926 Cause of Death: complications from bladder cancer
Birth Place: Profession: director of photography, camera operator, screenwriter, TV commercial director, camera assistant

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Widely feted for his willingness to take artistic chances, Conrad L. Hall ranked high on the list of great American cinematographers working in the 1960s and 1970s. His list of credits was daunting, encompassing such exceptional movies as "The Professionals" (1966), "Cool Hand Luke" (1967), "In Cold Blood" (1967), and "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" (1969) for which he won his first Academy Award. Challenging the cinematic norms of the time, he sometimes utilized overly hot contrasts that obscured detail and instances where light caused the camera lens to flare. Such things were previously deemed mistakes, while Hallâ¿¿s usage of such aberrations aided the atmosphere of the piece. He was also instrumental in increasing the believability of night sequences by obtaining excellent results in very low light, rather than the rarely convincing "day for night" technique. After additional duties on such pictures as "The Day of the Locust" (1975) and "Marathon Man" (1976), he took a decade-long break in order to produce commercials with fellow camera expert Haskell Wexler. The later years of his career featured some of Hallâ¿¿s most exemplary craftsmanship and he was rewarded with additional Oscars for...

Widely feted for his willingness to take artistic chances, Conrad L. Hall ranked high on the list of great American cinematographers working in the 1960s and 1970s. His list of credits was daunting, encompassing such exceptional movies as "The Professionals" (1966), "Cool Hand Luke" (1967), "In Cold Blood" (1967), and "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" (1969) for which he won his first Academy Award. Challenging the cinematic norms of the time, he sometimes utilized overly hot contrasts that obscured detail and instances where light caused the camera lens to flare. Such things were previously deemed mistakes, while Hallâ¿¿s usage of such aberrations aided the atmosphere of the piece. He was also instrumental in increasing the believability of night sequences by obtaining excellent results in very low light, rather than the rarely convincing "day for night" technique. After additional duties on such pictures as "The Day of the Locust" (1975) and "Marathon Man" (1976), he took a decade-long break in order to produce commercials with fellow camera expert Haskell Wexler. The later years of his career featured some of Hallâ¿¿s most exemplary craftsmanship and he was rewarded with additional Oscars for "American Beauty" (1999) and "Road to Perdition" (2002), which proved to be his final effort. An innovative cinematographer whose talents bridged the more formal style of older Hollywood and the wave of experimentation that blossomed during the late 1960s, Hall made some of the most exceptional use of shadow and contrast ever captured on film.

Conrad "Connie" Lafcadio Hall (a name chosen in tribute to writers Joseph Conrad and Patrick Lafcadio Hearn) was born in Papeete, Tahiti, French Polynesia on June 21, 1926 to a part-Polynesian mother. His father was writer James Norman Hall, best known for co-authoring the Bounty Trilogy, which included 1932â¿¿s renowned Mutiny on the Bounty, with Charles Nordhoff. After spending part of his childhood on the island, Conrad Hall attended private school in California and was accepted at the University of South California. He had initially planned to become a journalist, but eventually decided to switch his studies to film, which he figured would be an easier route to a degree. To his surprise, Hall soon developed a genuine passion for the power of cinematic imagery and decided to seek a career as a cameraman. After apprenticing under various seasoned cameramen, Hall earned his first motion picture DP credit with the crime drama "Edge of Fury," which was made in 1953 but sat unreleased for five years. Recurring employment came when producers Leslie Stevens and Joseph Stefano enlisted him as a regular director of photography on their classic horror/science fiction series "The Outer Limits" (ABC, 1963-65). Hall shot 15 episodes of the program, including such highly-praised episodes as "The Architects of Fear" and "The Man with the Power." Limited television budgets and schedules did not allow for the formal perfection that distinguished major studio production from the Golden Age of Hollywood, thus creative people were needed who could think on their feet and do the best with what was available. Hallâ¿¿s time on the program no doubt encouraged him to experiment and test the limits of what he could do with lighting and film stock, which would become one of his most distinctive trademarks.

Hall returned to motion picture assignments, earning his first Academy Award nomination for the World War II drama "Morituri" (1965). A second nomination came via Richard Brooksâ¿¿ superb "men on a mission" Western "The Professionals" (1966), for which Hall captured the various scorching desert vistas in impressive fashion while also doing an excellent job with low light exterior sequences filmed in actual near darkness, rather than the old "day for night" ruse that rarely convinced. He also provided somewhat less distinctive, but highly professional work on the Paul Newman hits "Harper" (1966) and "Cool Hand Luke" (1967). The latter was notable for including shots where sunlight shone into the camera creating "lens flare," something that was previously considered a photographic error and was almost always edited out. However, its use in "Luke" helped to emphasize the oppressively hot location where the storylineâ¿¿s prisoners were forced to labor and such flares eventually became a fairly common cinematic device. By 1967, Hollywood was moving away from black and white, but Hallâ¿¿s striking widescreen monochrome compositions were a highlight of "In Cold Blood" (1967), Richard Brooksâ¿¿ stark adaptation of the Truman Capote bestseller. The film was one of the strongest of its year and Hallâ¿¿s widely praised camerawork (which made superbly atmospheric use of contrast and deep black shadows and included an iconic set-up where reflected rain streamed down star Robert Blakeâ¿¿s face) earned him another Oscar nomination.

The statuette was finally his thanks to Hallâ¿¿s stellar lensing of the Newman and Redford blockbuster "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" (1969), a production also important in Hallâ¿¿s personal life, as female lead Katherine Ross would soon become his second wife. After taking a break from motion picture duties, Hall returned for John Hustonâ¿¿s "Fat City" (1972) and "Electra Glide in Blue" (1973), two offbeat efforts from the days when major studios routinely took chances on potentially uncommercial projects. Both were triumphs on technical and performance levels, but failed at the box office. Hall was also behind the camera for actor Patrick MacGoohanâ¿¿s directorial debut "Catch My Soul" (1974), but the rock opera version of Othello failed to find an audience and became virtually impossible to see in later years. Another nomination came Hallâ¿¿s way for "The Day of the Locust" (1975), and the thriller "Marathon Man" (1976) would be among the most widely seen of the movies he shot that decade. Following the made-for-television feature "It Happened One Christmas" (1977), Hall decided to try his hand in other areas and went into partnership with fellow DP Haskell Wexler at a company that produced commercials. The venture was a success, but Hall did encounter some disappointments. Attempts to launch a new career as a screenwriter and director went nowhere and his marriage to Ross ended in divorce.

The mystery/thriller "Black Widow" (1987) marked Hallâ¿¿s return to features and his gorgeous compositions for Robert Towneâ¿¿s "Tequila Sunrise" (1988) earned yet another nomination. Hallâ¿¿s credits in the 1990s were on films whose plots generally did not call for dazzling camerawork, but "Class Action" (1991), "Jennifer Eight" (1992), and "Searching for Bobby Fischer" (1993) were among the movies that benefitted from his skills and a pair of additional nominations resulted. "American Beauty" (1999) was the directorial debut of Sam Mendes, who found an ideal collaborator in the veteran DP and the visually intoxicating drama won five Oscars, including Best Picture and a Best Cinematography statue for Hall â¿¿ who gave audiences one of the decadeâ¿¿s most memorable and ethereal shots with a naked Mena Suvari surrounded and covered by red rose petals. In light of their excellent relationship, Hall signed on to the directorâ¿¿s next project, "Road to Perdition" (2002). Set in 1930s Chicago, the graphic novel adaptation was well served by Hallâ¿¿s camerawork, which often dazzled without overwhelming the storyline or the performances. While it failed to duplicate the success of "American Beauty," "Road" was certainly a professional triumph for Hall and resulted in a third Oscar. Sadly, it proved to his final feature film credit as he succumbed to liver cancer on Jan. 4, 2003. In the months following his passing, Hall was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and was chosen by the International Cinematographers Guild as one of the 10 Most Influential Cinematographers alongside such distinguished lensers as Gordon Willis, James Wong Howe, Haskell Wexler and Vilmos Zsigmond. His son, Conrad W. Hall, went on to establish his own career as a DP, with such features as "Panic Room" (2002), "The Punisher" (2004), and "Olympus Has Fallen" (2013) to his credit.

By John Charles

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

DIRECTOR:

1.
  Love Affair (1994) Director (2nd Unit) (Tahiti)
2.
  Jennifer Eight (1992) 2nd Unit Director (2nd Unit)

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Tell Them Who You Are (2004) Cast
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Born on family estate in Tahiti
:
Formed Canyon Films, a small production company with two USC classmates (Marvin R Weinstein and Jack C Couffer); made industrials, commercials, etc; entered industry by selling prize-winning class project, "Sea Theme", to television
:
Shot footage for feature films including Disney's "The Living Desert" (1953)
1956:
First film as director of photography, "My Brother Down There/Running Target"; also shared screenplay credit with director Weinstein and producer Couffer
1958:
Shared cinematography credit on "Edge of Fury" with Weinstein and Couffer
:
Served as an assistant cameraman and camera operator for Robert Surtees, Ted McCord and Ernest Haller, among other directors of photography
:
Worked as director of photography on the ABC series "Stoney Burke" (1962-1963) and "The Outer Limits" (1963-1965)
1965:
First mainstream feature as director of photography, "The Wild Seed"
1965:
Received first Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography (Black-and-White) for "Morituri"
1966:
Initial film with actor Paul Newman, "Harper"; also first association with screenwriter William Goldman; marked first film shot in color
1966:
Earned second Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography (Color) for "The Professionals"; first film with director Richard Brooks
1967:
Shot "Cool Hand Luke", starring Newman
1967:
Garnered an Oscar nod for Brooks' "In Cold Blood", shot in black-and-white; first year only one cinematography award given
1969:
Reteamed with Brooks for "The Happy Ending"
1969:
Won Best Cinematography Oscar for "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid", which reteamed him with both Newman and Goldman
1972:
Served as director of phootography for John Huston's "Fat City"
1975:
First film with director John Schlesinger, "The Day of the Locust"; earned a Best Cinematography Academy Award nomination
1976:
Reteamed with Schlesinger for "Marathon Man", scripted by Goldman; last film as director of photography for over a decade
:
With Haskell Wexler formed Wexler-Hall Inc in the mid-1970s; company produced commercials for clients like Buick and Miller Beer
:
Directed TV commercials during his hiatus from feature films
1979:
Contributed additional photography to "The Rose"
1987:
Returned to features as director of photography on "Black Widow"
1988:
Earned sixth Oscar nomination for Robert Towne's "Tequila Sunrise"
1992:
Included as a subject of the documentary "Visions of Light: The Art of Cinematography"
1993:
Served as director of photography for Steve Zaillian's directorial debut "Searching for Bobby Fischer"; earned seventh Academy Award nomination
1993:
Honored with the American Society of Cinematographers Lifetime Achievement Award
1994:
Was director of photography on "Love Affair", the third screen version of this romantic story; directed by Glenn Gordon Caron; Robert Towne was one of the screenwriters
1998:
Again collaborated with Towne for the writer-director's "Without Limits"
1998:
Received eighth Oscar nomination for work on "A Civil Action", written and directed by Zaillian
1999:
Served as director of photography on Sam Mendes' "American Beauty"; garnered second Oscar
2002:
Served as Kodak cinematographer in residence at UCLA's School of Theater, Film and Television
2002:
Acted as director of photography for Mendes' " Road to Perdition"
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

University of Southern California: Los Angeles , California - 1949

Notes

"I think one of the reasons people quit is because they're afraid they won't be able to get better and better; that they have come to a zenith of some kind. You feel like you've done everything and all there is left to do is to just do it well each time. But you know you haven't done it all because everything keeps evolving and changing; and you know you can evolve and change with it if you grow and develop as a human being. But the increments are smaller. I think everybody has that problem whether they're cinematographers or farmers." --Conrad Hall, quoted in "Masters of Light: Conversations with Contemporary Cinematographers" by Dennis Schaefer and Larry Salvato (Berkeley and Los Angeles: The University of California Press, 1984)

On one of his all-time favorite shots from "In Cold Blood": "I was lining up that shot with a light outside the window, which had rain and a little wind machine to mist over the window and keep the rain moving. I go to light the stand-in and I see these lines running down his eyes [shadows from the rain] that look just like tears. Wow! Talk about a happy accident. It was a perfect moment that no one could have ever thought of, let alone planned." --Hall quoted in Moviemaker, June-July 1998

"Lighting is so complex that it's hard to quantify. It's like playing the piano. How did I do that? What did my fingers do? I like to equate cinema to music. I'm performing a musical composition when lighting a scene. There are crescendos, allegros and pizzacatos. The visual language is an undulating language, and, like music it has to have its peaks and valleys. You can't just photograph everything beautifully; otherwise, how would you get the gasps? You can only get a gasp because the audience hasn't been paying attention to anything but the story and the actors. Then, suddenly there's something magical that grabs them. Those instances do something to the story and the individual watching, and its these rhythms [in the visual construction] that are important." --Hall quoted in American Cinematographer, January 1999

About his experience on "Love Affair": "I wanted out of it after Robert Towne [who cowrote it] left. But [producer-star] Warren [Beatty] is one of the most persuasive persons I've ever known. He took me to a Mexican restaurant and plied me with guacamole and margaritas. I felt seduced. I figured, hey, Warren directed 'Reds', how bad could this be? I do love him, and we're friends now, but we had fights like you couldn't imagine. I've never gone so ballistic on a picture in my life. Warren would drag me through relighting him over and over again. But Kate Hepburn sent me a wonderful little note complimenting me on how she looked." --Hall to Entertainment Weekly, October 8, 1999

Paul Newman appeared in four Hall films, starting with 1966's "Harper"; next in 1967's "Cool Hand Luke"; again in 1969's "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"; and ending in 2002 with "Road to Perdition."

"With 'Road to Perdition' you could virtually take every frame of his work and blow it up and hang it over your fireplace. It was like Rembrandt at work. Connie was not known for speed, but neither was Rembrandt. He was known for incredible genius." --"Perdition" producer Richard Zanuck to the Associated Press, January 6, 2003

Companions close complete companion listing

wife:
Katharine Ross. Actor. Together from the late 1960s to the early 70s; married c. 1969; divorced 1975; Hall allowed her to operate a camera on a multi-camera setup during the filming of "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" (1969) resulting in director George Roy Hill banning her from the set except to shoot her scenes.
wife:
Susan Hall.

Family close complete family listing

father:
James Norman Hall. Writer. Co-author of "Mutiny on the Bounty".
sister:
Nancy Rutgers.
daughter:
Kate Hall-Feist. Actor, screenwriter.
daughter:
Naia Hall-West.
son:
Conrad Win Hall. Cameraman. Born November 13, 1958.
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

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