Recently, within about five days of each other, Haskell Wexler and Vilmos Zsigmond passed away, at the ages of 93 and 85 respectively. They’re not household names, though they worked with plenty — Spielberg, Altman, Cimino, Malick, Mike Nichols, Woody Allen. It’s a lot easier to discuss films in terms of directors than in terms of cinematographers — the latter are always distinctly yoked (at least in American and most European filmmaking; Polish cinema is something of an exception) to the former’s thematic/conceptual/aesthetic preoccupations, which is the stuff we like discussing; and it isn’t cinematographers who get final cut. Cinematographers might simply be seen as capital: useful tools for realising the vision of the auteur.
It’s true that directing, writing, acting and editing are much easier aspects of cinema to discuss over pints in the pub (or over a small table at the BFI bar — take your pick). But next time the credits begin to roll on a movie whose images have moved you, wait ’til the cinematographer’s credit climbs slowly up the screen. And remember their name, and look out for them again; for they are the undersung heroes of the moving image.
Here‘s the famous “match cut” from Lawrence of Arabia, which should really only be seen on a big screen — and preferably in a 4K or 70mm print!