“Bridges To Cross”

The beginning of every year is usually a hopeful time. But 2016 begins on an undeniably bittersweet note, with the very recent loss of four essential and inspiring people – personally, to those who knew them, and to the entire industry at large.

The news of the loss of Haskell Wexler, ASC, on December 27 was bracing. Much has already been said about Haskell’s tremendous passion for working people, his decades-long fight to ensure safety for Union members through reasonable working hours, and, of course, his creative legacy as a two-time Oscar winner, including the last Academy Award handed out for Black & White Cinematography in 1968 (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?). But I will always remember Haskell for his fearless technological and narrative innovation, using cameras and methods that had never been used in Hollywood. Haskell shot and directed a film, Medium Cool, set amidst the turmoil of the 1968 Democratic Convention, that remains one of the most influential of all time. In fact, the first time I met Haskell was in Chicago’s Lincoln Park, on Medium Cool, watching him combine cinéma vérité and some of the best narrative work seen up to that point. Haskell’s journey – from an industrial and education filmmaker in my native city to an unparalleled Hollywood master – is the stuff of legend. His combination of political fierceness and creative daring made him truly one of a kind.

One day later came the loss of legendary publicist Murray Weissman, who, like Haskell, bridged old and new Hollywood. In his nearly 70-year career, Murray worked with everyone from Judy Garland and Alfred Hitchcock to Steven Spielberg. He spent a decade heading up Universal Pictures’ Motion Picture Publicity department, and, more recently, was the leader of Weissman/Markovitz Communications, a firm that devoted countless hours to enhancing ICG’s standing in the industry. Murray was a loving father figure to so many; he skillfully navigated the many transitions of the publicity craft throughout the years – from analog to digital to virtual  – and was just as relevant in his final days, at the age of 90, as he was in the 1960’s.

The passing of Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC, on New Year’s Day, came as a real shock. Vilmos was, without question, one of the most honest and truthful creative instruments filmmaking has ever seen. He was forever linked with fellow Hungarian master and lifelong friend, László Kovács, ASC, when the pair had the courage and temerity to film the Russian invasion of their native land, in 1956, and then flee the country with 30 cans of exposed footage in tow. (They gave the footage to CBS News in New York, making each of them persona non grata in Hungary after the Communist government loosened up reins on the state film industry.) There is a great story about Vilmos and László walking up to the doors of the ASC Clubhouse when they first arrived in Hollywood and being chased away by Stanley Cortez, ASC. Both, of course, went on to careers that essentially defined a naturalistic style of cinematography that many of us, to this day, still try to emulate. I was fortunate to be hired by Vilmos to be his 2nd Unit Director of Photography on three movies. I learned firsthand from watching Vilmos that the dedication to the truth of a story may well be the single most important asset a cinematographer can pursue.

These three giants of our industry were loved and revered by the crews and colleagues with whom they worked. They formed long-standing relationships and engendered a type of loyalty that was so much a key part of a bygone Hollywood era. So, too, did Milton Keslow, who co-founded General Camera with Richard DiBona, ASC, in 1962. Milt, who passed away one day after Vilmos, was one of those guys whom everyone sought for help when starting a project. Milt is why General Camera became the East Coast hub for great gear and great fellowship, and a place where all camera people, young and old alike, were encouraged to follow their dreams with uncompromising passion. Milt was enthusiastic and excited about this industry right up until his passing – he was a mentor, friend, colleague, and peer to generations of filmmakers.

So, yes, there is much to be thankful for as we begin 2016. We have tools never before imagined at our creative disposal; we have an upswing in projects shot on film, proving celluloid is not going away yet; we have a voracious global market for media of all sizes and stripes; and we have a more diverse, youthful and energetic industry than ever before. But let us take a long, serious moment to reflect on the bridges built (and crossed) by these four wonderful men. Those who worked with and knew them personally were fortunate beyond words.

May their legacies be a lasting source of inspiration.

 

Steven Poster, ASC
National President
International Cinematographers Guild
IATSE Local 600

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