Oscar-Winning Cinematographer Conrad Hall Dies

The lights dim on the set as Hollywood loses a legend.

Oscar-winning cinematographer Conrad Hall, whose expertise and daring experiments with light and color could be seen in films such Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and the most recent Road to Perdition, died Saturday at a Santa Monica, Calif., hospital from bladder cancer. He was 76.

Hall filmed nearly three dozen movies in a career that spanned 50 years. He was also nominated for nine Academy Awards, winning twice for the 1969 Butch Cassidy and the 1999 American Beauty. Many insiders peg Hall to receive his tenth Oscar nomination for his work on last year’s Road to Perdition, starring Paul Newman and Tom Hanks.

“I’m devastated,” American Beauty and Perdition director Sam Mendes told Reuters. “Conrad was not only one of the greatest cinematographers who ever lived but was also a wonderful man who touched everyone he worked with. I will miss him more than I can say, both as a collaborator and as a friend.”

“Every film that he worked on was something beautiful to the eye, and very imaginative,” Road to Perdition producer Richard D. Zanuck, who was also head of production at 20th Century Fox when Hall made Butch Cassidy, told Reuters.

“With Road to Perdition you could virtually take every frame of his work and blow it up and hang it over your fireplace. It was like Rembrandt at work,” Zanuck said. “Connie was not known for speed, but neither was Rembrandt. He was known for incredible genius. And that he did, and that he was in that field.”

Hall was best known for his innovative use of light and color, claiming he preferred black and white to color when telling a story. He also perfected the technique of overexposing the film for a distinctive look, most evident in Butch Cassidy.

Director Robert Towne, who worked with Hall on Without Limits and Tequila Sunrise, told Reuters, “He was always concerned about the story. In that sense, he was his father’s son [Hall’s father James wrote the classic Mutiny on the Bounty]. He would always say, ‘Tell me the story. Let me see what you see, and then I’ll show you how everyone’ll see what you see.'”

A USC graduate of film, Hall began his career in television but moved into film, earning his first Oscar nomination for the 1965 Morituri, a film shot aboard a freighter where Hall lit all the equipment on the set, shooting day for night.

He went on to lens such classics as 1967’s Cool Hand Luke and In Cold Blood, the 1976 Marathon Man and the 1993 Searching for Bobby Fischer.

In 1994, Hall was honored by the American Society of Cinematographers with a lifetime achievement award. He also received an unprecedented three outstanding achievement awards from the guild for Tequila Sunrise, Searching for Bobby Fischer and American Beauty.

“He was feisty,” Towne told Reuters. “He was the most relentlessly honest man. You couldn’t get anything but an honest response. It was unsettling for some, but for some of us, including me, it was very reassuring. He was a generous man, but he could also be as cranky as an old sea captain,” he added. “If he didn’t like something, it was ‘Jesus! God! That’s terrible!’ But if he loved it, he would say, ‘That’s wonderful!’ He’s simply irreplaceable.”

Hall is survived by his second wife, Susan and three children, including Panic Room cinematographer Conrad W. Hall. His first wife was actress Katharine Ross, who starred in Butch Cassidy.