"In order to shoot real movies, they should go back to the past."
January 3, 2016 11:24 AM   Subscribe

Vilmos Zsigmond, master cinematographer, has died aged 85.

Zsigmond Vilmos was born the son of a famous Hungarian football player in 1930. He had no idea what he wanted to be, but knew he wanted to go to university, so he worked his connections with the party secretary and managed an appointment to the Academy of Film and Theatre Arts, where he studied with Lásló Kovács. The two film students shot thirty thousand feet of film of the anti-Soviet Hungarian Revolution, made copies, and escaped to Austria with the footage in November 1956. From there they both made their way to Hollywood.
Q: For ten years you did not even have the chance to get close to filmmaking.

A: In America, you count as somebody if you can prove your track record. First I learned to speak good English and set out to work in photo studios. Later on, we shot university exam films, followed by commercials and documentaries, then some horrible things, for example, The Sadist. The first leap forward was The Hired Hand, directed by Peter Fonda.
From there, Zsigmond worked with Robert Altman on McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971), John Boorman on Deliverance (1973), and a little-known director named Steven Spielberg on a Goldie Hawn vehicle called The Sugarland Express (1974).
As evidenced by the film’s most famous sequence, Spielberg ultimately seeks to liken his characters to Looney Tunes figures: Clovis and Lou Jean are holed up in an RV next to a drive-in movie theater, and Clovis watches and appears to identify with a violent Coyote vs. Road Runner cartoon (Chuck Jones’s Beep, Beep) reflected in the window. It makes sense, then, that it’s the colors surrounding them that seem to matter most: the gorgeously faded sunspots and yellow and violet glares on Vilmos Zsigmond’s lenses; perfect azure skies stretched out over dusty highways; the flashing crystal blues and candy-apple reds of the endless parades of cop cars, dotting the landscape like Christmas lights.
Spielberg and Zsigmond worked together again on 1977's other sci-fi hit, Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
I made a big mistake at the Oscar Awards ceremony: I did not thank the director and the producers for letting me work on that movie. I was stupid, I had not prepared for that occasion. I only thanked my teachers.
For the rest of his career, he enjoyed an excellent reputation even though his films tended to underperform at the box office. He worked with directors as varied as Martha Coolidge, George Miller, Kevin Smith, Brian DePalma, Jack Nicholson, Richard Donner, and Woody Allen. Even in his 80s, he was a go-to cinematographer for television, lensing 24 episodes of The Mindy Project.
posted by infinitewindow (14 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
posted by Thorzdad at 11:35 AM on January 3, 2016

He shot a lot of movies that I like, and his films didn't have a signature style but instead reflected what the picture needed.

posted by hippybear at 11:39 AM on January 3, 2016

Some his shots in "Heaven's Gate" rival Kubrick's "Barry Lyndon" for the most gorgeous cinematography of all time, IMHO.
posted by hwestiii at 11:43 AM on January 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


Damn, two greats in one week (Haskell Wexler on December 27). Depressing.
posted by blucevalo at 12:27 PM on January 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Well worth watching is No Subtitles Necessary: Laszlo & Vilmos (mentioned in the Wikipedia link) to see two great friends, movie-makers and Hungarians talk about their art and their friendship.

posted by vac2003 at 12:30 PM on January 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

His work on 'Heaven's Gate' is one thing, but for me what he did on 'McCabe and Mrs. Miller' was perfection. Nothing will ever look like that.
posted by Jessica Savitch's Coke Spoon at 2:06 PM on January 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

Dear God, I still haven't seen McCabe and Mrs. Miller. Correcting that omission shortly.

posted by Sheydem-tants at 3:10 PM on January 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 4:50 PM on January 3, 2016

One of my favourite cinematographers.

posted by smoke at 5:22 PM on January 3, 2016

posted by Spatch at 6:00 PM on January 3, 2016

posted by juv3nal at 2:00 AM on January 4, 2016

posted by On the Corner at 3:09 AM on January 4, 2016

One of the very few DPs whom, in production circles, can be identified in conversation by his first name with the speaker being readily understood as to the person being referenced. As in "no, I worked with Vilmos on that one." A truly incredible career...
posted by ivanthenotsoterrible at 8:01 PM on January 4, 2016

« Older A sensible rebuttal to "Stop Liking What I Don't...   |   Funny people who died last year Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments