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Allen Daviau, the five-time Oscar-nominated cinematographer who worked for Steve Spielberg and Barry Levinson on films including E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Empire of the Sun and Bugsy, died Wednesday of complications from the coronavirus. He was 77.
His death was announced by the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital, where he lived. Daviau, who had surgery in 2012 that caused him to use a wheelchair for the rest of his life, is the fourth resident at the MPTF facility in Woodland Hills to die from the virus.
Daviau was introduced to Spielberg in 1967 and worked on two of the director’s early short films, and the pair went on to collaborate on E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982); “Kick the Can,” a segment from Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983); Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) — he worked with DP Douglas Slocombe on that; The Color Purple (1985); “Ghost Train,” a 1985 episode of the NBC anthology series Amazing Stories; and Empire of the Sun (1987).
He then served as Levinson’s cinematographer on Avalon (1990) and Bugsy (1991).
Daviau also shot John Schlesinger’s The Falcon and the Snowman (1985), the Spielberg-produced Harry and the Hendersons (1987), Albert Brooks’ Defending Your Life (1991), Peter Weir’s Fearless (1993), Frank Marshall’s Congo (1995), Rand Ravich’s The Astronaut’s Wife (1999) and Stephen Sommers’ Van Helsing (2004), his final feature.
He received lifetime achievement awards from the Art Directors Guild in 1997 and the American Society of Cinematographers in 2007.
John Toll, a two-time Oscar-winning cinematographer and Daviau’s camera operator for several years early in his career, said in a statement that Daviau “was as creative and knowledgeable of the art, craft and history of cinematography as anyone I’ve ever known. He was always gracious and happy to share his knowledge and experience with his peers.”
Born on June 14, 1942, in New Orleans and raised in Los Angeles, Daviau was introduced to Spielberg in 1967. “Steven had seen some of my 16mm work,” he said in a 2007 interview. “He and I shared a great love of movies.”
“I wanted to break into the film business, and my 8mm and 16mm films weren’t doing the trick,” the director said. “When I was about 18, I’d worked with Allen on a short film that was never finished called Slipstream; it was shot by Serge Haignere, but Allen operated the B camera, and Allen and I became good friends.”
Daviau was the cinematographer on the 26-minute long Amblin’ (1968), which Spielberg said in 2007 “was a pretty big break for both of us. I don’t know how crazy we are today about our individual work in that film, but I always think of Allen as a terrifically versatile cinematographer.”
Daviau shot thousands of commercials as well as documentaries, industrials and educational films — and created psychedelic special-effects lighting for Roger Corman’s The Trip (1967) — before he gained entry into the International Photographers Guild.
While doing a lawnmower commercial in Arizona, he learned that Spielberg was looking for a cinematographer for E.T. and sent the director a tape of a 1980 CBS telefilm that he shot, The Boy Who Drank Too Much, starring Scott Baio. “It had a lot of mood, and it’s about kids, so I knew Steven would watch it!” Daviau said.
Recalled Spielberg: “I did something I rarely do. I didn’t think twice; I picked up the phone and asked Allen if he would photograph my next feature.”
When news reached Spielberg recently that Daviau was ill, he sent a letter to him that recounted their years of friendship and collaboration together. It was read to Daviau several times at his bedside just before he died, the MPTF said.
Said Spielberg: “Allen and I started our careers side by side … [he] was a wonderful artist, but his warmth and humanity were as powerful as his lens. He was a singular talent and a beautiful human being.”
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