Michael K. Bucher, award-winning filmmaker

Posted: November 06, 2012

CAPTURING the speed of Joe Frazier's fists was a piece of cake for filmmaker Michael K. Bucher.

His award-winning documentaries and films included the first Joe Frazier-Muhammad Ali fight, in March 1971, at Madison Square Garden.

His ability to capture the speed and drama of sporting events, including auto racing in Daytona, Fla. ("Winning on My Mind") was hailed by contemporaries and by publications like Sports Illustrated and Car and Driver.

His documentaries and films, including several full-length movies, won six Golden Globe Awards.

Michael Bucher, who worked for Walter Annenberg's Triangle Publications for a time; who was a cameraman for Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr. - famous for directing the locally made cult-film "The Blob" - and who was an Air Force veteran, died Sept. 7. He was 73 and lived in Clancy, Mont.

His documentary on the life and legend of Joe Frazier was called "Heavyweight Incorporated," and was widely shown and praised.

In an era long before computer-generated special effects, Michael used time-study, high-speed cameras and modified World War II cameras, once used by fighter pilots, to capture action footage in a variety of sports.

This ranged from the quickness of Frazier's bob-and-weave style to the surreal expansion of drag-racing tires under stress at Daytona Speedway at 195 mph.

Michael got much of his film training in the Air Force, which sent him to film school in Orlando, Fla. After a year, he was assigned to the Air Force Motion Picture Studio, in Hollywood, Calif. He worked with famed producer/director Jack Haley Jr.

At the tender age of 18, Michael was named first assistant cameraman and found himself filming actor James Stewart, an Air Force officer.

After the Air Force, he moved to Chester Springs, Chester County, and went to work for Yeaworth, whose Valley Forge Films had produced "The Blob."

Michael then went with Annenberg's Triangle Publications as a cinematographer. After Triangle was sold to Capital Cities Communications, he became a director of photography for the company's television-productions division.

He traveled extensively, filming dozens of documentaries, docudramas and other features, and working with many well-known actors from movies and television. One of the films he shot was James Brolin's "My Brother's War," which won best feature at the first Hollywood Film Festival in 1997.

After 15 years with Cap Cities, he moved to Helena, Mont., and became a freelancer.

Michael Bucher grew up in the farm community of Astoria, Ill. He became fascinated by the movies at a local theater, and at age 14 became the theater's projectionist.

He bought an 8-mm movie camera and began shooting amateur films featuring friends and family, including "westerns" shot on the family farm.

It was after high school that he joined the Air Force.

His marriage to Marilyn Rodabaugh ended in divorce. He is survived by a son, Michael K. Bucher II; a daughter, Natalie Bucher; a brother, Roger Bucher; a sister, Ann Robinson; and four grandchildren.

Services: Memorial service will be arranged.

Contact John F. Morrison at morrisj@phillynews.com or 215-854-5573.

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