CINEMATOGRAPHERS are dropping like flies! Around the turn of the new year, two influential cameramen passed on: Haskell Wexler (who won the final Oscar dedicated to black-and-white cinematography for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) and Vilmos Zsigmond (Close Encounters of the Third Kind). A new five-film series showcases exceptional films from these men—and a few other remarkable cinematographers.
Douglas Slocombe (Raiders of the Lost Ark) and Jean Rabier (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) also died recently, so it's a great time to talk about the dudes—they all seem to be dudes, unfortunately—who actually shoot your movies. A talented director of photography can make a good movie and save a bad one; the list of movies nearly ruined by incompetent directors but salvaged by expert DPs is substantial. And a cinematographer just made film history: With The Revenant, Emmanuel Lubezki (Birdman, Gravity) just became the first cinematographer to win three Academy Awards in a row.
If talk about light, shade, color, framing, and depth of field doesn't get your juices flowing, though, simply enjoy the remarkable movies the Hollywood's showing in their month-long Light and Shadows: Masters of Cinematography series. Wexler shot a chunk of Terrence Malick's rapturously gorgeous Days of Heaven (March 19) when the film's original cinematographer, Néstor Almendros, went blind during production. Zsigmond filtered Robert Altman's western McCabe and Mrs. Miller (March 7) with a smeary, smoky lens, softening the edges of a very rough story. James Wong Howe brilliantly captured unease and loss of identity in John Frankenheimer's paranoid body-switch movie Seconds (March 23; Saul Bass' titles are worth admission alone). And László Kovács went on to an unmatched career after breaking through with Peter Bogdanovich's sniper-at-the-drive-in thriller Targets (March 29).
All four of these films are absolutely worth seeing on the big screen, but if you're not sold, the series is rounded out by a 1972 obscurity shot by Gordon Willis called The Godfather (March 14).