…an unlikely name. I first became aware of Haskell in a curious way. I used to read the classified columns in the back pages of Road & Track Magazine lusting after great cars and hoping that one day…
There was a great Ferrari listed for a few issues, I think a 275 LM. The seller’s name was strange, Haskell Wexler. There was an unusual rhythm to the pronunciation.
When I went to see WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOLF, I recognized Haskell’s cinematography credit and connected it to the car guy. Cool. This was in the mid sixties and I was in Pittsburgh at WQED doing mostly documentaries and didn’t know much (still?). Haskell got an Academy Award for that film.
Time goes by and we meet on an AT&T documentary commercial project where we are both doing parts of the series. We each had to film a spokesperson for our individual segments and we had that person for a day. I filmed in the morning and Haskell filmed afterwards. We were introduced and chatted a bit and I told him that I left my lighting setup to save him some time. I went to the bathroom before I left and as I passed the setup, his people were tearing down my lighting and replacing it with his.
We had a distant but friendly relationship over the years as Haskell had a humanist approach to films and made some extraordinary documentaries, especially one about the Sandanistas in Mexico, LATINO. An agency guy I kew confronted me one day about Haskell. He said that he asked Haskell how he was going to light a difficult scene in the commercial they were doing. Haskell replied, ‘I’m going to bounce light off my two Academy Awards.’ I think Haskell quit doing the occasional commercial soon after that.
Conrad Hall and I were chatting one day, and I was talking about DAYS OF HEAVEN. Haskell and Conrad were partners in a film production company. The director, Terrence Malick, had run out of time with Nestor Almendros, the original cinematographer and Haskell came in to save the day. Conrad and I discussed favorite scenes and it turned out that Haskell had shot all of them. Conrad then told me that when Haskell saw the finished picture, he had shot more than half the film. Haskell had originally agreed on an Additional Photography credit, and when the film was nominated for an Academy Award for cinematography Haskell asked to have his credit adjusted, and the Academy told him he already had two so don’t be greedy.
Haskell was a political activist. I won’t go into details, but he was scrutinized by the FBI. He did the courageous film, MEDIUM COOL, about the ’68 Democratic Convention in Chicago where there was an unusual amount of violence because of Vietnam War protesters. He also did quite a few documentaries for various causes he espoused. He saved George Lucas’ ass on Lucas’ first successful film, AMERICAN GRAFFITI. Coppola was the producer but must have forgotten the favor because he removed Haskell from THE CONVERSATION. I guess that Coppola and he didn’t get along but Willis didn’t get along with Coppola either and was supremely talented as well, so go figure. So much for gossip, but Haskell was a determined activist to the end, making important statements about what he believed. It was a privilege to have known him.