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RIP Haskell Wexler, Oscar-Winning Cinematographer: Where To Stream His Most Admired Films

Where to Stream

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

This past weekend, Hollywood became a little less beautiful. Haskell Wexler, one of the world’s most accomplished cinematographers, died at age 93. Wexler was nominated five times for an Academy Award and won twice: once for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and another Bound for Glory.

Wexler’s work spanned across a wide swath of genres and styles, ranging from beloved indie classics to mainstream hits and empowering documentaries, from stark black and white to color. However, perhaps what set Wexler apart from his peers more than his extraordinary cinematography talents was his dedication to his convictions. Though Wexler’s career spanned several genres and styles of filmmaking, his work remains relatively consistent, and a long and intelligent list of innovative documentaries are attached to his name. Though most of Wexler’s films are currently unavailable for streaming, here is a rundown of some of Wexler’s most masterful additions to film.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

Though this film did not win Wexler an Oscar, it did win five Oscars, including the award for Best Picture, and is perhaps Wexler’s most well-known film. Jack Nicholson’s restrictive exploration of the horrors of mental institutions is one of the most haunting portrayals of psychiatric ward abuse in recent years. Without Wexler’s entrapping visuals and on-set guidance, this masterpiece wouldn’t be as masterfully terrifying as it remains to this day. Wexler was fired from the feature halfway through filming due to “artistic differences” with director Milos Forman. He was then replaced by Bill Butler, and the paired was jointly nominated for best cinematography.

[Where to stream One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest]

In the Heat of the Night (1967)

This thriller combined Wexler’s cinematography talents with his passion for social justice in a way you wouldn’t expect. In the Heat of the Night follows an African-American Philadelphia police detective as he’s blamed by a racist Mississippi police chief for a murder he didn’t commit. Sidney Poitier’s portrayal as the lead paved the way for other African-American actors in Hollywood, but his groundbreaking work was heavily assisted by Wexler. Though few other cinematographers at the time cared about the special lighting darker skin required, Wexler did. He employed several innovative techniques to ensure Poitier’s performance was captured as clearly as possible.

[Where to stream In the Heat of the Night]

The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)

This cat-and-mouse thriller demonstrated just how talented Wexler was at his craft. Wexler utilized split screens, multiple images, and strategic zooms to complement the complicated plot behind this heist movie. Starring Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway, this bank heist film about a bored billionaire and an investigator wouldn’t have been as big of a mainstream hit if it wasn’t for its tension-building shots and angles.

[Where to stream The Thomas Crown Affair]

American Graffiti (1973)

One of George Lucas’ best known breakout pictures would have been much more flawed without Wexler’s expertise. The only selection on this list where Wexler wasn’t credited as a cinematographer, Lucas brought his friend in for lighting assistance when he was having trouble capturing the gleaming chrome and tail lights of 1950s old American cars. Wexler was later credited as a visual consultant, and the resulting film’s box office success made Lucas into an instant millionaire, allowing him to pursue his space opera pet project. Your guess is correct. That pet project was Star Wars.

[Where to stream American Graffiti]

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)

Though Bound for Glory, Wexler’s other Oscar-winning film, is not available to stream, this award-worthy cinematic masterpiece is. The film adaptation of the beloved play combines booze, alcoholism, academics, and deep-seated marital angst, but the resulting tense mood of the entire film would not be possible without Wexler’s stark, black and white camerawork. Wexler was also the last to win the Academy Award for Black and White Cinematography before that category was eliminated. The film would not be the same without Wexler’s intelligent use of unflattering close-ups as stars Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton argued.

[Where to stream Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?]

Photos: Everett Collection

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