Last year, October 9, 2012 we lost one of America’s best cinematographers: Harris Savides. He lived in Manhattan and was only 55 years old when he died from brain cancer, leaving his daughter Sophie and his wife Medine behind.
This weekend the last film he shot, The Bling Ring, got a limited release in the United States. I would like to take this opportunity to remember a man who shot some of the most aesthetically interesting films of the last decades.
Starting his career with a Cindy Crawford workout video, Harris moved up in the business working on television and then for Madonna video clips. He then teamed up with video clip director Phil Joanou for his first feature film Heaven’s Prisoner in 1996. Since then he worked with some of the most renowned directors like David Fincher (The Game, where he also has a cameo and Zodiac), Wong Kar-wai (for his BMW short The Follow), Noah Baumbach (Margot at the Wedding and Greenberg), Martin Scorsese (for his short film The Key to Reserva), Ridley Scott (American Gangster), Woody Allen (Whatever Works), Sofia Coppola of course (Somewhere), but most notably Gus Van Sant (from Finding Forrester up to Restless, minus Paranoid Park which was shot by Christopher Doyle).
For me Harris’ style was a mixture of practical look, capturing reality through the honesty of his lens, yet at the same time crafting a captivating and beautiful picture in its simplicity. His sensibilities were most fit for movies that stripped themselves of anything superfluous, trying to frame the essential and at the same time, the essence of objects and people. All the auteurs mentioned clearly recognized his talents and used them to tell stories that needed a realistic, cinéma vérité almost documentarist approach, like Somewhere and Milk. Or when they needed to recount a tale of loneliness and depression like Last Days and Greenberg.
Methodical and precise directors like Fincher; practical, but sentimental ones like Allen and minimalist, but detail oriented ones like Coppola: Harris knew exactly how to fit each and everyone’s needs and make their films look the best they could. He could also be glossy, dazzling and stylish, when he needed to, like in The Follow or even looking at The Bling Ring.
Needless to say, the news of his passing was a sad and devastating one for film fans and especially those among us that appreciate visually refined works. His nuanced vision, his great intuitions and his sense of humor will definitely be missed.
Rest in Peace, Harris Savides.