Magazine article American Cinematographer

A Document in Motion

Magazine article American Cinematographer

A Document in Motion

Article excerpt

Haskell Wexler, ASC concludes his trilogy about the politics of public transport with The Bus III.

Though he is one of the most re vered cinematographers working in theatrical motion pictures, Haskell Wexler, ASC has also been the director and/or cameraman on over 80 documentaries. In fact, in addition to earning Academy Awards for two of his features (WIw's Afraid of Woolf? in 1966, and Bound for Glory in 1976) and nominations for five others, he has received two Best Documentary Oscars, for The Living City (1953) and Interviews with My Lai Veterans (1970).

The titles of some his other non-fiction films help indicate to what extent Wexler has spent the better part of over 50 years behind the camera as a committed humanitarian in pursuit of social justice and reform: Brazil: Report on Torture (1971), An Intervieiv with President Allende (1971), Underground (1972), An Introduction to the Enemy (1974) The CIA case Officer (1978), No Nukes (1980), War Without Winners (1982), Enhanced Radiation (1982), Target Nicaragua: Inside a secret War (1983).

At one time, Wexler's films were so controversial at the federal level that documents acquired through the Freedom of Information Act comprise a veritable book on government surveillance of his documentary work. In 1972, some of his footage was subpoenaed by the Department of Justice (a move which was resisted).

The FBI even went so far as to critique his professional aptitude in a document dated May 4, 1964: "Wexler is considered to be a good cameraman if allowed to take his time and fuss around. He is not too good as a cameraman for commercial, feature motion pictures or television work for this reason." (Less than two years later he would earn his first Academy Award. So much for what the FBI knows about cinematography.)

But times have changed. Whereas Wexler and his crew once fought with Chicago police to get their images of the riotous 1968 Democratic Convention for his docu-style feature Medium Cool, he was invited back last year as a member of the press. His assignment: to report on the more tranquil atmosphere at the recent Democratic National Convention for ABC's Nightline with Ted Koppel.

If that weren't enough of an overture from the television mainstream, Wexler, observed shooting on the convention floor, was subsequently solicited by the Democratic Party to light Bill Clinton at the podium before the Arkansas state capitol in Little Rock for 2,000 international camera crews when the newly re-elected president of the United States gave his victory speech on the night of November 6, 1996.

Despite all this, Wexler continues to tirelessly pursue his activist filmmaking efforts. While completing two features (Mulholland Falls and The Rich Man's Wife) and numerous commercials in 1996, he also worked on two documentaries: TIic Sixth Sun: Maynn Uprising in Ctiiapns and The Bus III, the final segment of a trilogy about public transport which he began in 1963. "I've always been interested in the subject of buses," Wexler says. "You get people in a confined area on a journey who may have something in common, and the longer they're together, the more they discover about each other and the more likely it is that something dramatic will develop."

The first film in Wexler's trilogy (and his own documentary favorite), is simply entitled TIw Bus. This initial installment observes as a diverse congregation travels from San Francisco to participate in the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C., where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his now-famous "I Have a Dream" speech before 250,000 people. The second, The Bus II depicts another group, riding from Los Angeles to New York's United Nation's Plaza to support the 1982 U.N. Special Session on Disarmament. Nearly a million people gathered for the event. The film also documents their stops along the way to organize in various towns and cities, in addition to a visit to the site of the first nuclear weapons test in Alamogordo, TX. …

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