Renowned cinematographer Haskell Wexler died peacefully on Sunday at the age of 93, his son Jeff posted at his website, HaskellWexler.com. His camera work on the 1966 film Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? won him his first Academy Award; it was the last awarded for black-and-white cinematography. Wexler received critical acclaim for his work on umpteen films — Elia Kazan’s America, America, In the Heat of the Night, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and John Sayles’s Matewan among them. Wexler won a second Oscar for cinematography in 1976 for Bound for Glory, Hal Ashby’s film about Woody Guthrie.
A self-proclaimed passionate liberal, Wexler produced, directed, or photographed numerous documentaries, including Interviews with My Lai Veterans, which won an Oscar in 1971. He used the documentary style to great effect in a film, Medium Cool, that he wrote and directed and shot in part at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago. His 1985 film Latino, which also incorporated documentary-style footage he shot during the civil war in Nicaragua, won a special nod from the Cannes Film Festival. At the time of his death, the sometime-Montecito resident was working on one last documentary, Wounded Knee: A Line in the Sand.
Born in 1922 in Chicago, Wexler attended UC Berkeley for a year, dropping out to become a merchant seaman during WWII. He survived two weeks in a lifeboat after his ship was sunk. After the war, he opened a film studio with his father in Des Plaines. When that closed, he went on to perfect his craft shooting industrial and educational films, and later forming a television commercial production company with Conrad Hall in the mid-1970s. His many accolades include the American Cinematographers Lifetime Achievement Award in 1992.