Owen Roizman

Active - 1970 - 2006  |   Born - Sep 22, 1936   |   Genres - Drama, Comedy, Romance, Western, Thriller

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Biography by Hal Erickson

The patriarchal system which once ruled the American Society of Cinematographers, dictating that practically the only way to join the union was to be born into it, was not an altogether bad thing when it resulted in an Owen Roizman. The son of a newsreel cameraman, Roizman spent the 1960s working on TV commercials, then made an auspicious feature-film debut. It was Roizman who lensed the street-smart, thrill-a-minute The French Connection (1971), earning an Oscar in the process. The contributions made by Roizman for French Connection could fill a cinematography textbook in itself: Using a hand-held Ariflex for the New York street scenes (tracking shots were accomplished not with a heavy dolly but with a lightweight wheelchair), rigging actual interiors to look as though they were being illuminated by "natural light," underexposing certain dramatic scenes to give them a harsh, gray look, and so on. Roizman replicated many of his French Connection effects, notably the famous Brooklyn car chase, in the runaway-subway meller The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1973). More sedate but no less effective was Roizman's work on comedies (Play It Again, Sam, The Heartbreak Kid), Westerns (Return of a Man Called Horse), satires (Network), and musicals (Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band). In a later collaboration with production designer Ken Adam, Roizman faithfully rendered the gloomy hilarity of Charles Addams' New Yorker cartoons in 1991's The Addams Family (1991) -- one of several "comeback" features for Roizman, who'd taken a sabbatical from filmmaking in the 1980s to operate his own TV-ad production firm.

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