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Owen Roizman, Oscar Nominated ‘French Connection’ and ‘The Exorcist’ Cinematographer, Dead at 86

Through his collaborations with directors like William Friedkin, Roizman played an essential role in creating what would come to be recognized as the aesthetic of 1970s American cinema.

Owen Roizman

Owen Roizman

Getty Images

Owen Roizman, the Oscar-nominated cinematographer who helped shape the aesthetic of 1970s American cinema through his collaborations with William Friedkin and Sidney Lumet, has died at the age of 86. The news was announced by the American Society of Cinematographers on its official social media channels.

Born in Brooklyn in 1936, Roizman was drawn to cameras from a young age. His father was a camera operator for news broadcasts, and Roizman began working in a camera rental store as a teenager before making his feature film debut as a cinematographer on Bill Gunn’s “Stop!” in 1970.

His 1970s filmography included some of the most influential works in multiple genres. William Friedkin’s “The French Connection,” Roizman’s second feature film behind the camera, has long been heralded as one of the greatest car chase movies ever made. The way that Roizman and Friedkin were able to combine spectacle and realism during the film’s iconic chase scenes through the streets of New York City continues to influence filmmakers to this day.

The two men found similar success in the horror genre when they re-teamed two years later on “The Exorcist,” a film that still contains some of the most recognizable shots in the history of horror movies.

Roizman continued to work steadily on some of the most popular films of the 1970s, including “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” and “Three Days of the Condor.” His career reached another artistic high point when he shot Sidney Lumet’s newsroom satire “Network” in 1976, famously juxtaposing the synthetic brightness of TV news studios with dark colors in a way that created a disorienting effect.

Roizman was an active member of the cinematography community throughout his life, serving on the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and as president of the American Society of Cinematographers.

While Roizman did his most famous work in the 1970s, he continued to be a prominent cinematographer until his retirement in 1995. Some memorable credits in his later years included Sydney Pollack’s “Tootsie,” Barry Sonnenfeld’s “The Addams Family,” and Lawrence Kasdan’s “Wyatt Earp,” which earned him his fifth and final Oscar nomination. He received an honorary Academy Award in 2017.

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