Sunday, January 3, 2016

RIP, Vilmos Zsigmond

Damn.  It's been a rough week for great cinematographers.  Back on the 27th of December, the great Haskell Wexler died (his work on One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,  and Bound for Glory being real standouts) and now news comes down today that the legendary Vilmos Zsigmond passed away on January 1st.
Zsigmond was 85.
Born in 1930 in Hungary, escaping after the 1956 Russian Invasion, Zsigmond came to America where he worked his way through low budget exploitation pictures (such as the excellent The Sadist [1963], which I wrote about HERE) before getting a break on his first high profile picture, McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971) for director Robert Altman, which was quickly followed by Peter Fonda's The Hired Hand (also 1971).  Both films would announce the arrival of a true master cinematographer, with McCabe's beautiful gauzy and hazy imagery and the marvelous lighting work and stunning crossfades found in Hired Hand.

At this point, I'm just going to list some of the great films he's worked on.  You might not know the name Vilmos Zsigmond, but you've more than likely seen his work:

McCabe & Mrs. Miller
The Hired Hand
The Long Goodbye
The Sugarland Express
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
The Deer Hunter
The Rose
Heaven's Gate
Blow Out
Real Genius
The Witches of Eastwick
The Two Jakes
The Crossing Guard
The Ghost and the Darkness
The Black Dahlia

Zsigmond worked with directors like Atlman, Fonda, Boorman, Spielberg, De Palma, Cimino, Rydell, Miller, Nicholson, Donner, Penn, and Allen.  He won an Oscar for his work on Close Encounters and was nominated for Deer Hunter, The River, and Black Dahlia.  He received a lifetime achievement award from The American Society of Cinematographers in 1999 and, more recently, one from The Cannes Film Festival in 2014.  I'm not overstating things here when I say that Vilmos Zsigmond was one of the greatest cinematographers in the history of cinema.

He lived a long life and produced some great work.  We can all hope to be so lucky.

McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)
The Hired Hand (1971)
Images (1972)
Deliverance (1972)
The Long Goodbye (1973),
one of my all-time favorite movies, a lot of which has to do with the amazing cinematography work of Zsigmond.  I love it so much I posted two photos!

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
The Deer Hunter (1978)
Behind the scenes on The Deer Hunter
Heaven's Gate (1980)
Blow Out (1981)
The Two Jakes (1990)
The Crossing Guard (1995) 
The Ghost and the Darkness (1996)

Pictured here is Vilmos with long time friend, fellow Hungarian, and fellow cinematographer László Kovács.  The two of them studied film together in Budapest and escaped when the Russians came in.

They barely made it out with footage they shot of the invasion, footage which later was incorporated in Zsigmond's documentary Hungary Aflame.  The footage also appears in a doc detailing the friendship of Kovács and Zsigmond, No Subtitles Necessary: László and Vilmos (2008).

Vilmos Zsigmond

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