William A. Fraker RIP
Prince Sirki has been busy taking giants from the Earth. William A. Fraker ASC was always one of my favorite American cinematographers. His list of credits spans from cult classic THE PRESIDENT’S ANALYST (1967) to 1968’s BULLITT (1968) and ROSEMARY’S BABY to PAINT YOUR WAGON (1969) to rarities like DUSTY AND SWEETS MCGEE (1970) and DAY OF THE DOLPHIN (1973) and even Ralph Bakshi’s best film, COONSKIN (1973). He also shot footage for ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST (1975) and GATOR (1976) — which actually has striking photography — then was one of three on CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1978). Not enough? How about extra work on THE DEER HUNTER (1977) and 1941 (1979). Not to mention HOLLYWOOD KNIGHTS (1980) along with SHARKEY’S MACHINE (1980. Throw in WARGAMES (1983) and MEMOIRS OF AN INVISIBLE MAN (1991) for good measure. His style was crisp and clean, long and lean. He also directed a few movies, the most memorable being his debut MONTE WALSH (1970). As I wrote in a previous “Forgotten Films” entry:
This little-seen western directed by the brilliant cinematographer William A. Fraker is one of the handful of elegiac cine-odes to the dying days of the cowboy. A typically 70’s character study punctuated by violence, MONTE WALSH tells the story of a pair of ranch pardners, Lee and Palance, as they find themselves at the end of the century and the beginning of a new one. “I wish I knew more than cowboyin'” one character says after finding himself out of a ranch job. That line fairly sums up the film’s theme. Buttressed by one of John Barry’s most beautiful scores, with an ironic theme song called “The Good Times Are Comin'” by, yes, Mama Cass, the film isn’t the typical 1970 tonal downer as reflective of the era. There’s sadness and longing, but there’s a little hope and humor by the finale. Lee Marvin is fantastic, one of his best movie characters, and Jack Palance has never been more appealing in a nice guy role. And I defy you not to shed a tear when Marvin takes a long stroll through a dying western town soundtracked by Barry’s bittersweet music.
Of course, this is how I’d like to recall William A. Fraker — at his most free-wheelin’ in this breezy very 60’s moment from my beloved THE PRESIDENT’S ANALYST (1967):