Ken Kelsch, the tenacious cameraman and Vietnam War veteran who shot the seedy classic Bad lieutenant and 11 other features for iconoclastic director Abel Ferrara, has died. He was 76.

Kelsch died Monday at Hackettstown Medical Center in New Jersey after a battle with COVID and pneumonia, his son Chris Kelsch said The Hollywood Reporter.

“If you knew him you probably would have a story about him,” Chris wrote on Facebook. “He was truly a great man who was loved by many. A war hero who filled every room with his presence. An artist who has never stopped being himself. A caring father who would do anything for his children and grandchildren. He shared his experience, wisdom and love with everyone. Our family will miss him deeply and love him always, and I’m sure many of you will too.”

Kelsch was also a cameraman Big night (1996), co-director, co-writer and starring Stanley Tucci, and 100 feet (2008) starring Famke Janssen and directed episodes of the first two seasons of the NBC drama Mediumstarring Patricia Arquette, 2005-06.

Kelsch had just graduated from NYU film school when he first collaborated with Ferrara on the low-budget slasher film The Driller Killer (1979). However, the two had a falling out and didn’t work together again until they achieved spectacular success with the NC-17 rating Bad lieutenant (1992) starring Harvey Keitel as a twisted, drug-addicted New York cop.

“It was almost all handheld, it was a rickety old 35mm BL [camera]but the concept was that we would make a documentary,” Kelsch said in a fascinating 2019 interview with Evan Louison for filmmakers Magazine.

“The camera didn’t want to be judgmental. We would hold him [Keitel] in medium close-up, and he would do whatever he wanted. Dennis Livesey, my assistant at the time, aged 10 years just from all the focusing. We shot wide open most of the time. The Mayflower Hotel stuff, I built bay lights and that gave us complete freedom to go wherever we wanted. When I came to work in the morning I had no idea what was going to happen.”

Harvey Keitel in 1992’s “Bad Lieutenant” Everett

Kelsch and Ferrara would then form a partnership Dangerous game (1993) starring Keitel and Madonna, filmed at American Zoetrope in LA; The addiction (1995); the Christopher Walken lead role The funeral (1996), for which Kelsch received an Independent Spirit Award nomination; The power failure (1997); New Rose Hotel (1998); ‘R Christmas (2001); Chelsea on the rocks (2008); the Willem Dafoe lead role 4:44 Last day on earth (2011); Welcome to New York (2014) with Gérard Depardieu; and his final credit, the documentary The projectionist (2019).

He described his shooting style: “Put the camera on your shoulder, be unfiltered and unfettered, go out there and do what needs to be done. I have always considered myself a minimalist and a naturalist.”

Kenneth Arthur Kelsch was born on July 8, 1947 in Brooklyn and grew up in East Newark, New Jersey. He was the son of a German-born father who served in the United States during World War II and a Scottish mother.

After a year at Rutgers, he joined the U.S. Army and was a team leader with special forces in Vietnam and Laos. He made two tours and took part in so-called SLAM operations, short for Search, Locate, Annihilate and Monitor.

“I thought being a Green Beret would get me chicks, and then I came back and it was the height of the anti-war movement, and let’s just say people didn’t exactly appreciate my service,” he told Louison. “And that’s what I’ve learned all my life: God laughs when you make plans. It’s the irony of everything I’ve done.”

Kelsch served as gaffer for Wes Craven The last house on the left (1972); went to Montclair State University and made his first film; became an expert in kickboxing and taekwondo; worked at Johnson & Johnson for a year making gaffer tape; and earned his master’s degree in film studies from NYU Tisch School of the Arts in 1977.

“Abel called down [to NYU] and said, “Look, we’re making this movie, Drill Killer. Who is the best DP there?’ “They said Ken Kelsch,” he said in a 2016 interview with Ray Longo. “I met him, we smoked a joint at five, chatted and I got hired. The next day I started filming.”[Kelsch’sthen-wifeofthelateDaleDenningwasoneofthefilm’smainactors.)

After Drill Killer — he said he was paid $100 a day for 20 days for the film, which was made for about $34,000 — he and Ferrara argued over a bottle of Jim Beam over how much he should be paid for the director’s next feature , Woman 45 (1981), and they didn’t talk for 8 1/2 years.

That silence ended when Kelsch received a call from Ferrara at 4 a.m. one morning and they met again for the planned $2.5 million budget Bad lieutenant.

In addition to their films, they worked on parts of the 1997 HBO anthology Subway Stories: Stories from the underground (1997). He noted that Ferrara was not on the recording list for any of their joint projects.

Kelsch’s resume included starring in James Woods Killer: A Diary of Murder (1995), Montana (1998), A Brooklyn state of mind (1998), it had to be You (2000), Missing in America (2005) and The Brooklyn Banker (2016).

He also taught filmmaking at Montclair State and Five Towns College in New York.

In addition to his son, survivors include his daughters Joy and Nina and his grandchildren Gavin and Quinn.

“Filmmaking is like fighting,” he said. “It’s 90 percent boredom, 5 percent panic and 5 percent terror. Especially on an Abel Ferrara project.”

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