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Ed Hall

Ed Hall

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Widely feted for his willingness to take artistic chances, Conrad L. Hall ranked high on the list of great American cinematographers working in the 1960s and 1970s. His list of credits was daunting, encompassing such exceptional movies as "The Professionals" (1966), "Cool Hand Luke" (1967), "In Cold Blood" (1967), and "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" (1969) for which he won his first Academy Award. Challenging the cinematic norms of the time, he sometimes utilized overly hot contrasts that obscured detail and instances where light caused the camera lens to flare. Such things were previously deemed mistakes, while Hall's usage of such aberrations aided the atmosphere of the piece. He was also instrumental in increasing the believability of night sequences by obtaining excellent results in very low light, rather than the rarely convincing "day for night" technique. After additional duties on such pictures as "The Day of the Locust" (1975) and "Marathon Man" (1976), he took a decade-long break in order to produce commercials with fellow camera expert Haskell Wexler. The later years of his career featured some of Hall's most exemplary craftsmanship and he was rewarded with additional Oscars for...

Widely feted for his willingness to take artistic chances, Conrad L. Hall ranked high on the list of great American cinematographers working in the 1960s and 1970s. His list of credits was daunting, encompassing such exceptional movies as "The Professionals" (1966), "Cool Hand Luke" (1967), "In Cold Blood" (1967), and "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" (1969) for which he won his first Academy Award. Challenging the cinematic norms of the time, he sometimes utilized overly hot contrasts that obscured detail and instances where light caused the camera lens to flare. Such things were previously deemed mistakes, while Hall's usage of such aberrations aided the atmosphere of the piece. He was also instrumental in increasing the believability of night sequences by obtaining excellent results in very low light, rather than the rarely convincing "day for night" technique. After additional duties on such pictures as "The Day of the Locust" (1975) and "Marathon Man" (1976), he took a decade-long break in order to produce commercials with fellow camera expert Haskell Wexler. The later years of his career featured some of Hall's most exemplary craftsmanship and he was rewarded with additional Oscars for "American Beauty" (1999) and "Road to Perdition" (2002), which proved to be his final effort. An innovative cinematographer whose talents bridged the more formal style of older Hollywood and the wave of experimentation that blossomed during the late 1960s, Hall made some of the most exceptional use of shadow and contrast ever captured on film.

Conrad "Connie" Lafcadio Hall (a name chosen in tribute to writers Joseph Conrad and Patrick Lafcadio Hearn) was born in Papeete, Tahiti, French Polynesia on June 21, 1926 to a part-Polynesian mother. His father was writer James Norman Hall, best known for co-authoring the Bounty Trilogy, which included 1932's renowned Mutiny on the Bounty, with Charles Nordhoff. After spending part of his childhood on the island, Conrad Hall attended private school in California and was accepted at the University of South California. He had initially planned to become a journalist, but eventually decided to switch his studies to film, which he figured would be an easier route to a degree. To his surprise, Hall soon developed a genuine passion for the power of cinematic imagery and decided to seek a career as a cameraman. After apprenticing under various seasoned cameramen, Hall earned his first motion picture DP credit with the crime drama "Edge of Fury," which was made in 1953 but sat unreleased for five years. Recurring employment came when producers Leslie Stevens and Joseph Stefano enlisted him as a regular director of photography on their classic horror/science fiction series "The Outer Limits" (ABC, 1963-65). Hall shot 15 episodes of the program, including such highly-praised episodes as "The Architects of Fear" and "The Man with the Power." Limited television budgets and schedules did not allow for the formal perfection that distinguished major studio production from the Golden Age of Hollywood, thus creative people were needed who could think on their feet and do the best with what was available. Hall's time on the program no doubt encouraged him to experiment and test the limits of what he could do with lighting and film stock, which would become one of his most distinctive trademarks.

Hall returned to motion picture assignments, earning his first Academy Award nomination for the World War II drama "Morituri" (1965). A second nomination came via Richard Brooks' superb "men on a mission" Western "The Professionals" (1966), for which Hall captured the various scorching desert vistas in impressive fashion while also doing an excellent job with low light exterior sequences filmed in actual near darkness, rather than the old "day for night" ruse that rarely convinced. He also provided somewhat less distinctive, but highly professional work on the Paul Newman hits "Harper" (1966) and "Cool Hand Luke" (1967). The latter was notable for including shots where sunlight shone into the camera creating "lens flare," something that was previously considered a photographic error and was almost always edited out. However, its use in "Luke" helped to emphasize the oppressively hot location where the storyline's prisoners were forced to labor and such flares eventually became a fairly common cinematic device. By 1967, Hollywood was moving away from black and white, but Hall's striking widescreen monochrome compositions were a highlight of "In Cold Blood" (1967), Richard Brooks' stark adaptation of the Truman Capote bestseller. The film was one of the strongest of its year and Hall's widely praised camerawork (which made superbly atmospheric use of contrast and deep black shadows and included an iconic set-up where reflected rain streamed down star Robert Blake's face) earned him another Oscar nomination.

The statuette was finally his thanks to Hall's stellar lensing of the Newman and Redford blockbuster "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" (1969), a production also important in Hall's personal life, as female lead Katherine Ross would soon become his second wife. After taking a break from motion picture duties, Hall returned for John Huston's "Fat City" (1972) and "Electra Glide in Blue" (1973), two offbeat efforts from the days when major studios routinely took chances on potentially uncommercial projects. Both were triumphs on technical and performance levels, but failed at the box office. Hall was also behind the camera for actor Patrick MacGoohan's directorial debut "Catch My Soul" (1974), but the rock opera version of Othello failed to find an audience and became virtually impossible to see in later years. Another nomination came Hall's way for "The Day of the Locust" (1975), and the thriller "Marathon Man" (1976) would be among the most widely seen of the movies he shot that decade. Following the made-for-television feature "It Happened One Christmas" (1977), Hall decided to try his hand in other areas and went into partnership with fellow DP Haskell Wexler at a company that produced commercials. The venture was a success, but Hall did encounter some disappointments. Attempts to launch a new career as a screenwriter and director went nowhere and his marriage to Ross ended in divorce.

The mystery/thriller "Black Widow" (1987) marked Hall's return to features and his gorgeous compositions for Robert Towne's "Tequila Sunrise" (1988) earned yet another nomination. Hall's credits in the 1990s were on films whose plots generally did not call for dazzling camerawork, but "Class Action" (1991), "Jennifer Eight" (1992), and "Searching for Bobby Fischer" (1993) were among the movies that benefitted from his skills and a pair of additional nominations resulted. "American Beauty" (1999) was the directorial debut of Sam Mendes, who found an ideal collaborator in the veteran DP and the visually intoxicating drama won five Oscars, including Best Picture and a Best Cinematography statue for Hall - who gave audiences one of the decade's most memorable and ethereal shots with a naked Mena Suvari surrounded and covered by red rose petals. In light of their excellent relationship, Hall signed on to the director's next project, "Road to Perdition" (2002). Set in 1930s Chicago, the graphic novel adaptation was well served by Hall's camerawork, which often dazzled without overwhelming the storyline or the performances. While it failed to duplicate the success of "American Beauty," "Road" was certainly a professional triumph for Hall and resulted in a third Oscar. Sadly, it proved to his final feature film credit as he succumbed to liver cancer on Jan. 4, 2003. In the months following his passing, Hall was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and was chosen by the International Cinematographers Guild as one of the 10 Most Influential Cinematographers alongside such distinguished lensers as Gordon Willis, James Wong Howe, Haskell Wexler and Vilmos Zsigmond. His son, Conrad W. Hall, went on to establish his own career as a DP, with such features as "Panic Room" (2002), "The Punisher" (2004), and "Olympus Has Fallen" (2013) to his credit.

By John Charles

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