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Entries in Koenekamp (1)

Tuesday
Jun132017

REMEMBERING FRED J. KOENEKAMP

One of the great journeyman cinematographers of the last half-century, Fred J. Koenekamp passed away on May 31, aged 94. At a time when Hollywood was opening its doors to continental artists like Vittorio Storaro, Laszlo Kovacs and Vilmos Zsigmond, Koenekamp was a local craftsman who graduated from television (Gunsmoke; The Lieutenant; The Man from U.N.C.L.E.; Mission Impossible) to become a master of bigscreen spectacle.

Debuting as an assistant on the Jane Russell vehicle Underwater! (1955), Koenekamp would work the studio roster, shooting such films as the Sandra Dee/George Hamlton romp Doctor, You’ve Got to Be Kidding? (1967), Elvis Presley’s trippy Live a Little Love a Little (1968) and the western comedy The Great Bank Robbery (1969). When 20th Century Fox asked him to meet with director Franklin J Schaffer and discuss a project that would become an American cinema classic, a career of high-profile projects was set in motion…

PATTON
“Frank asked me how I worked on a set. ‘Do you like multiple cameras?’ ‘Yes, I’ve always liked multiple cameras, and I like a handheld camera on the set all the time. You never know when you’ll need it.’ We probably talked for an hour, and it seemed to go very smoothly. About a week later I got a call, and they said they wanted me for Patton.” – Interview, American Cinematographer, February 2005

BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS
Koenekamp signed on for his first film after Patton, convinced (as was much of the industry, including 20th Century Fox) that bad boy Russ Meyer’s sinful and sordid shocker would be the new decade’s cause celebre. The DOP clashed badly with the director, who was used to lensing his own low-budgeters; Koenekamp found himself framing X-rated scenes that were unlikely to make the final edit. He ultimately dodged many of the bullets critics aimed at the notorious film, and reaffirmed his post-Patton/pre-Dolls buzz with films such as Billy Jack (1971), Skin Game (1971) and the Raquel Welch hit, Kansas City Bomber (1972).

PAPILLON
"To this day, I still think Papillon is one of the best pictures I shot. I think it had a good look, the actors were terrific. There were no battling egos on the set, which I thought might have happened, but it didn't. They would talk to each other, off to the side, then come and talk to the director. I think Dustin made Steve work harder and, I think, that made Steve do one of the best jobs he has ever done." - Cinema Misfits, October 2011. 

THE TOWERING INFERNO
“I got a call saying Irwin Allen wanted to talk to me at Fox. Oddly enough, I’ve been a fire truck buff all my life. I don’t know why, I just love them. I talked to Irwin, and he said he wanted me to do Towering Inferno. They already had Joe Biroc on it, and Irwin said, ‘Joe’s going to do the second unit with you, but you’ll do the first unit with director John Guillermin.’- Interview, American Cinematographer, February 2005. Koenekamp shared the Academy Award for Cinematography with Biroc, and would go on to work with Irwin Allen on the Swarm (1978) and When Time Ran Out… (1980)

THE AMITYVILLE HORROR
Koenekamp (who had the Sydney Poitier/Bill Cosby comedy smash Uptown Saturday Night in cinemas alongside …Inferno) parlayed Oscar glory and his strong commercial instincts into years of top-tier US studio work. His directorial collaborators throughout the 1970s included Michael Anderson (Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze, 1975); Kirk Douglas (Posse, 1975); Jonathan Kaplan (White Line Fever, 1975); Ralph Nelson (Embryo, 1976); Ted Kotcheff (Fun with Dick and Jane, 1977); his Patton partner, Franklin J. Schaffer (Island in The Streams, 1977); Stanley Kramer (The Domino Principle, 1977); Charles Jarrot (The Other Side of Midnight, 1977); Stuart Rosenberg, (Love and Bullets, 1979); and, Franco Zeffirelli (The Champ, 1979). The decade ended with his biggest hit since The Towering Inferno, the horror classic The Amityville Horror (1979, for Rosenberg).

THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI ACROSS THE 8TH DIMENSION
Koenekamp kept working thoughout the1980s, although the projects he aligned with found all manner of notoriety. He shot a clearly unwell Steve McQueen in his final film, Buzz Kulik’s The Hunter (1980); Buck Henry’s little-seen satire First Family (1980), with Bob Newhart; the racially-themed comedy Carbon Copy, featuring a young Denzel Washington; and, Ronald Neames’ First Monday in October. He helmed two critically mauled star vehicles – the reteaming of Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta, Two of a Kind, for John Herzfeld; and, once again for Schaffer, the Luciano Pavarotti showpiece, Yes Giorgio. Cult film devotees will always hold Koenekamp in high regard for his work on W.D. Richter’s The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, a project that allowed him a rare opportunity to experiment in the early days of genre film special effects technology.

FLIGHT OF THE INTRUDER
His final work would be John Milius’ gung-ho military actioner, Flight of The Intruder, in 1991, retiring at the age of 67. “When I walked off the set that last night, it was a real sad night. My wife was out of town, and I went home and sat there and had a drink. I thought, ‘Is it really over?’ For six or eight months after I retired, I’d get calls every once in awhile, and finally everyone realized I wasn’t working anymore. I didn’t miss a lot of things, but what I did miss, and still miss, is the camaraderie of the crew.” - Interview, American Cinematographer, 2005. (Pictured, right; Milius and crew farewell the DOP on his final shooting day. Photo copyright: American Cinematographer, 2005)