In terms of sheer public recognition, the director of photography, screenwriter, and occasional helmer Gary Graver gained greatest infamy for his work with Orson Welles, and for his dogged attempts to complete Welles' final film, The Other Side of the Wind, decades after the legendary artist's passing. But the scope of Graver's career -- and his ambitiousness -- extended far beyond his collaborative efforts with Welles, and the diversity of the genres in which the cinematographer worked is, in retrospect, astonishing.
Born July 20, 1938, in Portland, OR, Graver launched himself industriously, with a now-forgotten feature called The Great Dream (1963), which he starred in, wrote, and directed at the tender age of 24. Although the film (and Graver's work in it) received generally devastating reviews, a Variety assessment, at the time, portentously compared Graver's ambitions to those of Welles, then lauded Graver's prodigious intelligence as a director and producer and his "resourcefulness" in pulling together various aspects of the production. The film itself tells the story of two Tinseltown wannabes, a boy and a girl, who experience a brief encounter before he is beaten up by a cadre of Arbussian freaks at the intersection of Hollywood and Vine.
Graver's follow-up, The Embracers (1966), tells essentially the same story, but ups the quotient of sexual violence and overdoses on suicidal desperation; The Motion Picture Guide calls it "a relentlessly grim story of disillusion and loneliness." The director's tertiary outing, the low-budget thriller Kill (1968), is essentially an exploitationer about a detective hired by a girl to find her brother, now a member of a heroin-smuggling ring.
Perhaps distraught over the public reactions to his work (The New York Times failed to acknowledge any of the films and Variety's critics snubbed Graver after The Great Dream), Graver stuck to cinematographic duties for the next half-decade, on such Z-grade exploitationers as Al Adamson's Satan's Sadists (1969, which he also edited) and Gregory Corarito's Hard Time (1970).
1970 marked a pivotal year for Graver. Mirroring Henry Jaglom (who had an almost identical experience with Orson Welles in the early '70s, and a mentor-protégé relationship with Welles that also stretched on for years), Graver phoned up Welles at his residence, the Beverly Hills Hotel, and boldly expressed interest in working with him. Delighted and impressed, Welles admitted that the last cinematographer to do this was Gregg Toland, who shot Citizen Kane in 1940. He invited Graver to visit and to shoot some photographic tests, that very same day, for a current project -- a feature called The Other Side of the Wind, starring Oja Kodar, Peter Bogdanovich, and John Huston.
Welles and Graver collaborated on innumerable projects throughout the 1970s, including the brilliant essay film F for Fake and the documentary Filming 'Othello'. They never were able to finish The Other Side of the Wind, however, and although the men ultimately wrapped principal photography, they needed an estimated 3.5 million dollars (in current dollars) to complete post-production, which never happened. Graver spent decades attempting to realize this dream, laboring long after Welles' death in 1985 and using the director's copious notes to determine exactly how he had planned to edit it. On one occasion (c. 2002), Graver sat poised on the verge of signing a deal with Showtime to complete the film -- then Welles' daughter threatened to sue and the network recanted. At the time of Graver's death, in November 2006, he was purportedly right on the cusp of signing another deal with Showtime, and many insiders felt that, had Graver lived only a year or two longer, he almost certainly would have realized this dream.
Graver continued to turn out occasional films as a director, and did extensive cinematographic work on dozens of features and documentaries throughout the '90s, including second-unit work on such acclaimed arthouse fare as A Woman Under the Influence (1974) and Always (1985), and the occasional mainstream release, such as Pee-Wee's Big Adventure (1985). But unfortunately, he sank ever deeper into exploitative material -- and drifted away from the mainstream -- as the years rolled on, particularly after Welles' death. Even a partial list of cinematographic credits reveals this progression, beginning with such "respectable" fare as Grand Theft Auto (1977), Smokey Bites the Dust (1981), The Kid with the Broken Halo (1982), Chattanooga Choo Choo (1984), and Love Leads the Way (1984), and then bleeding into such drive-in (and direct-to-video) fare as Moon in Scorpio (1987), Wizards of the Demon Sword (1991), Bikini Drive-In (1994), Midnight Tease II (1995), Bikini Traffic School (1997), Veronica 2030 (1999), Lust on Demand (2001), and Countess Dracula's Orgy of Blood (2003). Interestingly, Graver's career intersected with that of arthouse-turned-softcore director Walerian Borowczyk (who followed a similar trajectory) when he did second-unit work on that director's opus Rites of Love in 1988.
Up until the end of his life, Graver traveled the world in support of Orson Welles' legacy, and repeatedly held public screenings of a collection of film clips called The Unseen Welles. Gary Graver died of cancer in Rancho Mirage, CA, on November 16, 2006, at the age of 68. Familial survivors include his wife, Jillian; his mother, Frances; his brother, Geoff; his sons, Chris and Sean; his granddaughters, Stephanie and Nicole; and his nephew, Adam.