Owen Roizman, Cinematographer For The Exorcist And Network, Has Died At 86

Owen Roizman, the cinematographer who shot some of the most notable films of the 1970s New Hollywood era, has died. The Hollywood Reporter confirms the news that the Oscar-nominated director of photography, who worked often with William Friedkin, Lawrence Kasdan, and Sydney Pollack, passed away in his home in Encino on Friday night, at the age of 86.

Roizman shot over 30 films and music videos across his decades-long career, including some of the most acclaimed cultural touchstones of the '70s and '80s. Friedkin's "The French Connection," a movie that famously includes one of cinema's most exhilarating car chase sequences, was only the second film Roizman ever worked on as a cinematographer.

In an interview with American Cinematographer, the artist once explained that he undercranked the camera for the famous (and infamous) chase scene, using only 18 to 20 frames per second instead of the typical 24 in order to give the effect of high speed. "My theory about photography is that you should use whatever is necessary to make the particular shot," he told the outlet. Roizman was known for doing just that, frequently employing available and single-source lighting that made movies feel more real than ever before.

According to THR, Roizman learned about the magic of movies early on, since his father, Sol, worked as a newsreel photographer and a camera operator on the popular early TV show "The Phil Silvers Show," more commonly known as "Sgt. Bilko." Born in 1936, Roizman attended Gettysburg College and took his first cinematography gig in 1970 with the unreleased film "Stop!"

He was a pillar of New Hollywood cinema

Roizman earned the first of five Oscar nominations for his work on "The French Connection," and followed it up with a series of wide-ranging projects, including an impressive five-film streak of "The Heartbreak Kid," "The Exorcist," "The Taking of Pelham 123," "The Stepford Wives," and "Three Days of the Condor." Roizman could shoot action, intrigue, and comedy alike, all with a striking point of view that captured moments that would shape film history. The nightmare-inducing exorcism scenes in "The Exorcist," the "mad as hell" speech from "Network," and Dustin Hoffman's transformation in "Tootsie" all were caught by Roizman's lens.

The filmmaker had a hand in memorable musical projects, too. He shot the Beatles-inspired jukebox comedy "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," and two of Madonna's music videos, "Crazy For You" and "Gambler." Roizman's last cinematography credit came in 1995, with Kasdan's "French Kiss," but he made interesting career choices until the end, seemingly never doing the same sort of project twice. In his latter years on the job, he shot the dark comedy "The Addams Family" as well as 1994's Western epic "Wyatt Earp."

In 1976, he moved to Los Angeles and created a TV commercial production company, but eventually returned to making features. The filmmaker was celebrated in 2017 with an honorary Oscar, and earned the American Society of Cinematographers' Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997.

Roizman had reportedly been in hospice care since August of 2021. He is survived by his wife Mona, sister Frankie, and son Eric, who has taken after his father and grandfather, working as a camera operator on film and TV projects. Roizman's indelible work moved and thrilled millions, and the classics he made will continue to do so, even now. He will be missed.