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Harris Savides
1957 - 2012

Harris Savides, one of the most gifted and influential cinematographers in film history, has passed away at the age of fifty-five. He collaborated with several of the most brilliant visual stylists of our time, and exploded the potential of digital filmmaking with his work on David Fincher's ZODIAC. What he accomplished on that film may well be his most important contribution to the medium, but the painterly precision with which he shot on film is just as impressive.



Nine Inch Nails: Closer (Uncensored) (1994) from Nine Inch Nails on Vimeo.



Savides's control and versatility were apparent early on in Mark Romanek's videos for artists like Nine Inch Nails, Michael Jackson and Fiona Apple. The dingy, damaged look of "Closer" couldn't be more different from the sleek, space-age sheen of "Scream". This was a remarkably fertile period for music videos, what with directors like Romanek, Fincher, Michel Gondry, Spike Jonze and many others thriving, but it was all a high-paying means to an end. Ultimately, these guys wanted to make movies.

When Savides made the leap to film (with Phil Joanou's underrated HEAVEN'S PRISONERS), he initially favored a moody, underexposed aesthetic that tended to emphasize browns and yellows. I remember listening to James Gray's audio commentary for THE YARDS, and being blown away as he identified the subtle shadings of sienna and ochre. What would've been visually drab in a lesser cinematographer's hands was wondrously deep and distinct. No one was doing anything like this. It was clear then that Savides was a master.

With Gus Van Sant's GERRY in 2002, Savides headed to Utah for some of the most visually arresting long takes of actors wandering aimlessly in the desert. It was a bright, spatially expansive shift from the dim claustrophobia of THE GAME and THE YARDS; I love how the vast beauty of the landscape becomes quietly terrifying as the characters' situation grows increasingly hopeless. GERRY may be a demanding sit, but if you can cut off the umbilical to the outside world for two hours, I think you'll be captivated. (I also recommend checking out the DVD featurette "Salt Lake Van Sant", which finds Savides operating on one of the longest dolly tracks I've ever seen.)

After GERRY, Savides belonged to that very short list of what Drew McWeeny calls "rock star cinematographers". When you went to see BIRTH, AMERICAN GANGSTER or GREENBERG, you were as excited to see Savides's work as you were the actual movie. Judging from the below interview with the Criterion Collection, I get the feeling Savides might've discouraged such exaltation. In discussing the masterful opening sequence of Krzysztof Kieslowski's BLUE, Savides reveals a reverence for concise visual storytelling. For him, filmmaking was about engaging the viewer by elegantly depicting only the essential details.

And that was Savides's genius: though his images were never less than indelible, they always served the story. We'll get to witness this genius one last time when Sofia Coppola's THE BLING RING comes out next year. It's depressing to consider the future of film (and digital) without Savides helping to guide it, but I'm grateful he brought us this far. He will be missed.

Our condolences to his family and friends.



I love that he singles out Edward Yang's YI YI. It's heartbreaking to realize that both of these amazing artists are gone.

Readers Talkback
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  • Oct. 11, 2012, 3:20 p.m. CST

    Sad, the guy was only a couple of years older than me...

    by Terry Powell

    ...but still, gotta ask, where's the obits for Herbert Lom and Alex Karras. i mean, Karras was Mongo for God's sake. And Lom, Inspector Dreyfus should merit that alone. Then all the genre work. And The Dead Zone which I think may be the best Stephen King adaptation of them all. His work with Hammer, well, shit, you do an obit on The Phantom of the Paradise but not one on The Phantom of the Opera. As far as this guy, Zodiac was brilliant and I agree about Heaven's Prisoners, but haven't seen most of his other stuff. Still, kinda young, what happened to him?

  • Oct. 11, 2012, 3:21 p.m. CST


    by shartron

    That's terrible news. He was very gifted.

  • Oct. 11, 2012, 3:23 p.m. CST

    no love Fiona's CRIMINAL?

    by Robert Evans

    or The Stone's cover of Like a Rolling Stone?

  • Oct. 11, 2012, 3:25 p.m. CST

    so did Spike Jonze get Lance Acord in the divorce from Sofia Coppola?

    by Robert Evans

  • Oct. 11, 2012, 3:28 p.m. CST

    RIP Harris

    by Robert Evans

  • Oct. 11, 2012, 3:33 p.m. CST

    His work on Zodiac was amazing

    by Samuel Fulmer

    The first and one of the few times I've watched a film that was shot digitally and thought it looked amazing, not just amazing for being shot digitally and looking good.

  • Oct. 11, 2012, 3:52 p.m. CST


    by Ricardo

  • Oct. 11, 2012, 3:54 p.m. CST

    Who wrote this obit?

    by Thomas

    I liked it. Very sad news though.

  • Oct. 11, 2012, 3:54 p.m. CST

    The Game

    by conbarba

    I thought at the time and I still think, "The Game" has the best cinematography of the 90´s. Just saw the Criterion blu-ray and I still think the same. This is such a tragedy...

  • Oct. 11, 2012, 3:56 p.m. CST

    So we're crying over camera operators now?

    by googamooga

    I mean sure, this is tragic for his family and friends, but to Hollywood in general? Not so much...

  • Oct. 11, 2012, 3:58 p.m. CST

    Damn, RIP mate. :/

    by frank

  • Oct. 11, 2012, 3:59 p.m. CST

    camera operators? he is a cinematographer...

    by frank

  • Oct. 11, 2012, 4:02 p.m. CST

    Well said and well written, whoever you are.

    by SlappyBones

    Not that obituaries necessarily need attribution, but if you add personal remembrances, please add your handle too. Thanks.

  • Oct. 11, 2012, 4:07 p.m. CST

    Alex Karras died too

    by Walton Goggins Giant Breasts

    Mogo from Blazing Saddles, or Webster's foster dad if you prefer, is no more. Talkbackers just pawn in game of life.

  • Oct. 11, 2012, 4:08 p.m. CST

    Mongo even.

    by Walton Goggins Giant Breasts

    Damn it.

  • Oct. 11, 2012, 4:11 p.m. CST

    Brain Cancer

    by Emit Brown

    Friends who worked with Harris said brain cancer was the cause of death. He had been sick for some time.

  • Oct. 11, 2012, 4:17 p.m. CST

    I'm glad I have no talent; I shall live forever...

    by Simpsonian

  • Oct. 11, 2012, 4:29 p.m. CST

    Where is the Alex Karras obit?

    by Mark Williams

  • Oct. 11, 2012, 4:32 p.m. CST


    by This_is_the_Zodiac_speaking

    Long admirer of Mr. Savides work. His particularly masterful touch behind the camera will be sorely missed by this here cinephile. My thoughts go out to his family, friends, and collaborators during this brutal turn of events. FUCK CANCER.

  • Oct. 11, 2012, 4:37 p.m. CST

    I just watched the "Scream" video the other day.

    by Cotton_Mcknight

  • Oct. 11, 2012, 4:52 p.m. CST

    I Wrote It

    by mrbeaks

    Just didn't want to do a clunky "Beaks here..." or "Faithfully submitted" sign off. Wanted this to be about Savides.

  • Oct. 11, 2012, 4:58 p.m. CST

    this is a major body blow...

    by Darkness

    As a cinematograhy enthusiast, and an admirer if Mr. Savides' contribution to the world of cinema...actually I'm speechless.

  • Oct. 11, 2012, 5:11 p.m. CST


    by Thomas

    Understood. But that was a lovely obit. So thanks.

  • Oct. 11, 2012, 5:12 p.m. CST

    damn, sad news.

    by mojination

    beautifully written, thanks Beaks. I'll have my work cut out for me this weekend. I'm gunna try and look up a few key titles of Savides' work. Like it said though, as depressing as it is to lose folks like this, it's wonderful they contrubuted what they did, and we should be enjoying their work as tribute.

  • Oct. 11, 2012, 5:31 p.m. CST

    No obit for ... Sammi Kane Kraft?

    by DrMorbius

    Amanda Whurlitzer in 'Bad News Bears'. 20 years young ...

  • Oct. 11, 2012, 5:47 p.m. CST

    Tom Bosley for the win. Closer, amazing.

    by moorE12

  • Oct. 11, 2012, 6:05 p.m. CST


    by Monty Cristo

    You goddamned genius, stick your name at the end. I can tell when it's you writing something, but if you don't plug something at the end, people may never know who you are.

  • Oct. 11, 2012, 6:38 p.m. CST

    The cinematography of The Game is simply astounding

    by MrWonka

    So precise, and so great, and yet it never calls attention to itself, and never does anything but serve the story. The subtle ways the the shots which are memories of Douglas' character's childhood are blown out, slightly stretched, sort of a memory version of home movies...just amazing. This guy was a genius, and so unassuming. RIP sir.

  • Dust in the wind and all that.

  • Oct. 11, 2012, 6:49 p.m. CST

    Very sad, Zodiac is truly great work for a Cameraman

    by MattHooper

    One of the most wonderfully photographed movies ever. Very sad. He deserved to live much longer for what he gave us.

  • Oct. 11, 2012, 6:52 p.m. CST


    by AntonStark

    this sucks

  • Oct. 11, 2012, 6:58 p.m. CST


    by Glenn

    This may be the first time I saw an obit notice and screamed out a little "Oh NO....." This man was a genius. And each film looked different depending on who was directing, but was always technically precise. You never saw a black that dipped wildly into the knee or saw a highlight that was blown-out just because they didn't have time to filter or flag or fill... he knew the limitations of the technology and the media with which he was working. Personally, "Zodiac" is the disc I show people when testing a Home Cinema setup. But his work for Gus Van Sant, Ridley Scott, J Glazer, et al, blew me away for its diversity. I got to meet the guy and watch him work, and interact with his crew on "The Yards" and witnessed just how meticulous he was, not only with the lighting at hand but with the detailed recording of his method; he had one asst whose sole job was to take notes on everything regarding the setup: light position, scrim, flag, filters, above and beyond what the script supervisor recorded -- should they need to go back for reshoots later -- and then all this was digitally archived into a CAD-like piece of software that emulated the set/location. Like I said: precision epitomized. Harris was easily in the top 5 best DPs working. I was luckily able to talk to him once about a now-defunct camera format, Techniscope, and that was a fun conversation, listening to him wrestle with how he would shoot it if it were still a viable process (it wasn't by that point). Anyway, I'm gonna share a little individual toast to Mr. Savides tonight and put on Zodiac...

  • Oct. 11, 2012, 7:05 p.m. CST

    I'm sorry.. but WHO?!!!

    by mcgillj

    WTF man.. seriously? This guy that NO ONE knows the name to.. and yet NOTHING for Alex Karras? I understand.. this site does rightfully acknowledge those we SHOULD know (but sadly don't).. but you ignore Mongo?!! For.. at least my generation (and I would guess alot of the staff and long time readers) Alex Karras was a HUGE part of that.. from Mongo in Blazing Saddles, George in "Webster" and a couple years later (or before.. which really complicated things) we saw the old battered and horribly tracked copy of "Porky's" with George and his wife as a skanky STRIPPER?!! a major WTF in my life.. I remember that much. I think I saw them within maybe a year or so of each other.. I know.. I was a messed up kid. But seriously.. No love for the man and his "choo choo"???!! so.. I will say farewell to Porky's stormtrooper, the sheriff of Wallace town.. and the only man I've ever seen KO a horse.. LOL.. rest well Mr. Karras.

  • Oct. 11, 2012, 7:07 p.m. CST

    The Game is a fantastic film, and a fantastic looking film too

    by Col. Tigh-Fighter

    One of my favourites from that time. I remember being blown away by first time I saw it, and its stunning look had a lot to do with that. Sad news indeed.

  • Oct. 11, 2012, 7:18 p.m. CST


    by Glenn

    You know, it's well established that this is a site for people who know about everyone who is involved in the art of making movies, NOT just actors. Your lack of respect for someone who's made an indelible contribution to movies over the past two decades -- not to mention the music video world, too -- puts on display your lack of heart. I liked Alex Karras too, he seemed a compassionate, gentle soul who made a contribution to many a funny film in his day, so I'm sure someone will be posting an obit for him soon. But you need to tamp down on your spaz attack. Your need to demean one artist in order to call attention to another, is nostalgically self-serving and coarse. So you could care less who Harris Savides is. Don't be a jerk about it.

  • Oct. 11, 2012, 7:22 p.m. CST

    Meant to say this is NOT Obit Cool News

    by Cedric Ford

  • Oct. 11, 2012, 7:39 p.m. CST

    A invaluable" is incorrect. Also, please look up "opponent.

    by tomandshell

  • Oct. 11, 2012, 7:49 p.m. CST

    Meant to say component.

    by Cedric Ford

  • Oct. 11, 2012, 7:52 p.m. CST


    by jon pertwee

    a cameraman whos still warm gets an instant same day obit/tribune, yet harry harrison, writer of the stainless steel rat series and the classic Make Room! Make Room! - which turned into the classic Soylent Green - has been dead for two months now and has gotten not so much as a single line in tribute. but then why am i even writing this, its obvious the aint it cool staffers and its leader aren't exactly author or book friendly. come to think of, i doubt the majority of posters here have ever read anything longer than the instructions on a bag of microwave popcorn. hate to see what happens when harlan ellison finally passes on.

  • Oct. 11, 2012, 8 p.m. CST

    one of THE GAME's key tech guys died very young too ...

    by trevanian

    Doc Baily, who did all the CG glass for the fall at the end, and did that amazingly buildings collapse shot at end of FIGHT CLUB, died at age 53. Guy was really pushing digital in a Jordan Belson like way, some of his work is in the SOLARIS remake and, sadly, THE CORE and BATTLEFIELD EARTH as well. still has his stuff up.

  • Oct. 11, 2012, 8:09 p.m. CST

    Fine cinematographer.

    by Darkman

    Loved his work on MILK (the shot reflected in the whistle was a particular highlight) and THE GAME.

  • Oct. 11, 2012, 8:10 p.m. CST


    by broonyin

    don't rise to these minions on how you approached this peice.

  • Oct. 11, 2012, 8:22 p.m. CST

    jon pertwee

    by Glenn

    Wait a minute -- you come on a cineaste site to excoriate it for neglecting to talk about an author? Then insult the editors and readers for their lack of literacy because of this slight? Dude, I can't even begin to explicate how entitled and backwards your thinking is. I'm sure you attend writers' symposiums and visits writing websites -- so would you want us coming in and boohooing your lack of coverage of Film Directors and Cinematrographers? I have seen some cluelessness on this site but yours ranks so high, I actually had to comment. Unbelievable!

  • Oct. 12, 2012, 9:03 a.m. CST

    sorry.. but..

    by mcgillj

    I have to problem with this obit.. in fact, its quite a loss as I LOVE Fincher's films.. but the rationalization is "well Karras will be remembered elsewhere" is WEAK at best. Sorry.. for a site allegedly for, about and run by FILM lovers... I don't know.. an actor (or anyone actually) who was part of the AFI top 100 comedic films of ALL time (and actively probably in the TOP 10 at that, especially remarkable considering Brooks had a very good year that year). I just find it a disservice that.. oh well.. this guy wasn't known so.. so.. you're saying you can't find the time to write two articles in ONE day? I mean.. if Mel Brooks and Co. can turn out two complete COMIC classic films in a single year the multiple contributors here could bother to write something..

  • Oct. 12, 2012, 9:45 a.m. CST

    Really something wrong with you isn't there?

    by Dheep

    by googamooga "tragic,but Hollywood in general? Not so much..."