Cinematographer Allen Daviau, a five-time Academy Award nominee for films including Steven Spielberg’s “E.T. the Extra Terrestrial” and “Empire of the Sun,” died Wednesday in Los Angeles. He was 77.
Food editor and writer Colman Andrews wrote on Twitter that Daviau had died of coronavirus at the MPTF hospital. “RIP Allen Daviau, my friend of almost 60 years, cinematographer and bon vivant, five-time Academy Award nominee, dining companion extraordinaire, pure soul, who left us last night at the MPTF Hospital, his longtime home, after contracting COVID-19. Salut, mon ami.”
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Daviau, a New Orleans native, was nominated for best cinematography Oscars for Spielberg movies “The Color Purple,” “Empire of the Sun,” and “E.T. the Extraterrestrial” — along with two Barry Levinson films, “Avalon” and “Bugsy.” He also shot the Gobi desert sequence for Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”
Spielberg said in a statement, “In 1968, Allen and I started our careers side by side with the short film Amblin. Allen 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.”
Daviau started out in the profession by shooting pre-MTV-era musicvideos of such groups as the Animals and the Jimi Hendrix Experience. He teamed up with Spielberg in 1968 to make Spielberg’s first 35mm film, the 26-minute “Amblin” with no dialogue, just music and sound effects.
In 1983, he talked to American Cinematographer magazine about prepping the “E.T.” shoot, “We sat down with Steven and started screening movies together. This is the best way I know to get started, watching our own movies and other people’s movies, discussing them, evolving the style we want. We watched Night of the Hunter, Alien, Apocalypse Now, Last Tango in Paris — I forget what all.”
Daviau described his favorite scene in “E.T.” to the magazine: “It would be the one in which the youngster [Henry Thomas] says, ‘I’m keeping him.’ The little girl [Drew Barrymore] walks forward, there are highlights in E.T.’s eyes, no detail in the face, and the light is yellow, the effect is very much that of a Maxfield Parrish painting.”
Daviau’s other credits include John Schlesinger’s “The Falcon and the Snowman,” Albert Brooks’ “Defending Your Life” and Peter Weir’s “Fearless.” One of his final credits was the 2004 “Van Helsing.”
Kees van Oostrum, president of the American Society of Cinematographers, also confirmed Daviau’s passing in a statement:
“It is with great regret and sadness that I have to announce the passing last night of my friend and a great member of the society, Mr. Allen Daviau, ASC. Allen started his career shooting the early movies of Stephen Spielberg, including Amblin (1968), and went on to an impressive career as a cinematographer with movies that have deeply inspired us all. He was honored with 5 Academy Award nominations, was bestowed our Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007 and won our Outstanding ASC Achievement in Cinematography for Bugsy (1991) and Empire of the Sun (1987). He amassed an impressive body of work: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), The Color Purple (1985), and Avalon (1990), just to mention a few.”
“Allen was active in our society in many ways like chairing our membership committee for several years,” van Oostrum said. “Also, his commitment to teaching our craft and being very accessible for young cinematographers will forever be engraved in our memories. He will be remembered fondly for his sense of humor, his taste for the best of foods and his laugh that unmistakably marked his presence from far away.
“Allen was 77 years old and I am proud that we were able to host him during our 100-year celebration last year. He told me then that it was for him “one of the best of gifts life had to offer.” His smile that evening was affectionate and many of us were able to pay him respect. You will be missed so much, dear Allen,” van Oostrum concluded.
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