Haskell Wexler, one of Hollywood’s most famous and honored cinematographers and one whose innovative approach helped him win Oscars for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and the Woody Guthrie biopic “Bound for Glory,” died Dec. 27. He was 93.
His son, Oscar-nominated sound man Jeff Wexler, confirmed the death but did not cite a cause. A liberal activist, Mr. Wexler photographed some of the most socially relevant and influential films of the 1960s and 1970s, including the Jane Fonda-Jon Voight anti-war drama, “Coming Home” (1978), the Sidney Poitier-Rod Steiger racial drama, “In the Heat of the Night” (1967), and the Oscar-winning adaptation of Ken Kesey’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975), starring Jack Nicholson.
He was also the rare cinematographer known enough to the general public to receive a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. When he wasn’t working on higher-budget studio fare, he traveled the world directing and photographing documentaries for favorite causes.
His 1969 “Medium Cool” mixed documentary and dramatic elements, telling the story of a fictional television photographer (Robert Forster) who covers the violence between Chicago police and protesters at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. The real-life unrest was filmed on the spot for the movie, and its “cinema vérité” approach was closely studied by aspiring filmmakers.
“I was under surveillance for the entire seven weeks I was in Chicago, by the police, the Army and the Secret Service,” Mr. Wexler once told a reporter. Throughout his career, he was noted for his versatile and intuitive approach.
For “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (1966), the last film to receive an Oscar for best black-and-white cinematography, he used hand-held cameras to capture the tension of the tirades between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. The film, directed by Mike Nichols, was based on the Edward Albee play of scorching marital relations.