I’ve never attended the Oscars but I did go to the 24th Annual ASC Awards honoring cinematographers, which was held at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel on Avenue of the Stars in Century City. It’s my third year attending this huge event where there’s an estimated 1,500 people in attendance. There are celebrity presenters like Charlize Theron, Ryan O’Neal, Timothy Dalton and Board of Governors Award recipients have included Annette Bening, Morgan Freeman and Clint Eastwood.
It was a bit of a surprise when Christian Berger, AAC, won for the foreign film WHITE RIBBON, over Barry Ackroyd, BSC, for THE HURT LOCKER, Mauro Fiore for AVATAR and Robert Richardson for INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS. Fiore, however, did win the Oscar for Best Cinematography. But then my choices for best cinematography didn’t win in previous years, either. At the 2007 ASC Awards, Roger Deakins, dually nominated for THE ASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD and NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, lost out to Robert Elswit for THERE WILL BE BLOOD.
This year, though, Alar Kivilo, ASC, CSC, won for TAKING CHANCE on HBO. I loved the movie and was moved by its quiet, subtle dignity and the outstanding performance of Kevin Bacon as Lt. Col. Mike Strobl, who volunteered to escort the body of 19-year-old PFC Chance Phelps to his hometown in Wyoming. Despite being criticized for not taking a stance on the war in Iraq, the film based on a true story written by Stobl (retired) opened a window to a process that most of us don’t ever get to see. Sure, it was a tribute and easier than seeing how the country treats veterans, who sacrifice and fight on our behalf and often come home alive but plagued by what they saw and what they had to do.
My younger brother was a Marine. I remember this skinny kid going off to boot camp at Camp Pendleton and then seeing him on graduation day handsome, buff with a thick neck. My family attended his graduation at Quantico before he was stationed at the U.S. Embassies in Rome, Italy, and Cairo, Egypt. I visited him both places and met other Marines, these young men with their lives ahead of them. I digress.
After attending the 2007 ASC Awards, I wrote a piece where I criticized the length of Allen Daviau’s acceptance speech for winning the Lifetime Achievement Award. He spoke for at least 40 minutes but it seemed like two hours. Displeased, he called my editor and asked to speak to me but I said no. This year I don’t think he attended…he wasn’t a presenter and I heard from someone at my table that he was having some health issues. So I felt bad. As the cinematographer on CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND and E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRAL, he has shot some of the most iconic images on film. I remember watching E.T. the first time in the theater and sobbing at the end only to find that my brother, who even now will hardly ever go to a theater, fell asleep. I had no idea then that I would end up meeting and writing about cinematographers, directors, writers and producers.
The only other time that someone called me angry about a piece was Michael Seitzman, who wrote the screenplay for NORTH COUNTRY, starring Theron. It was she, coincidentally, who presented Daviau with his award. They had met when he was the cinematographer on THE ASTRONAUNT’S WIFE. She is so beautiful it’s distracting but not in her Academy Award winning role as serial killer Aileen Wuornos in MONSTER I loved her in The VALLEY OF ELLAH, about the murder of a U.S. Marine by his fellow Marines. And remember Kevin Bacon played a lawyer prosecuting two U.S. Marines for doing a Code Red on a fellow Marine in A FEW GOOD MEN, based on Sorkin’s play that he adapted into the screenplay. See, the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game is alive and well and now SixDegrees.org is a site where people can make charitable donations.
One of the most touching moments at this year’s ASC Awards was the presentation of the Lifetime Achievement Award to Caleb Deschanel by his daughters Emily (BONES) and Zooey (500 DAYS OF SUMMER). Both actors, they looked classy, and told personal, touching stories. Deschanel received five Academy Award nominations for cinematography on THE RIGHT STUFF (1983), THE NATURAL (1984), FLY AWAY HOME (1996), THE PATRIOT (2000) and THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST (2004).
I also loved ANNA AND THE KING (1999), which he shot, starring Jodie Foster as British Schoolteacher Anna Leonowens and Chow Yun-Fast as the King of Siam. This love story, shot on location in Malaysia, was powerful and layered even during sweeping historical changes. And I recently watched FLY AWAY HOME (1996), directed by Carroll Ballard on one of the premium cable channels. The scenes of the Canadian geese flying beside Anna Paquin remind me of the spirituality found in nature. Who knew that she would grow up to play a vampire lover on HBO’s TRUE BLOOD.
Deschanel’s first feature, THE BLACK STALLION (1979) was also directed by Ballard. In his acceptance speech at the ASC Awards, Deschanel recalled a day on location when Ballard wasn’t happy because they couldn’t get a good shot due to it being overcast or something. So they wrapped for the day. Later when he and his wife, Mary Jo Weir, were driving away from the set to their hotel the sky cleared. The cinematographer in him wanted to rush back to location to set up for a shot. Instead Weir said, this sunset is just for you and me. I love that!!! Always keep something for yourself!