"Shampoo" [1974]

               

 LÁSZLÓ KOVÁCS

Born: 14 May 1933, Cece [near Budapest], Hungary.

Died: 22 July 2007, Beverly Hills, Calif., USA.

Education: Szinház- és Filmmüvészeti Föiskola [SzFF], Budapest [1952-56; one of his teachers was doph György Illés].

Career: Filmed, together with his film school classmate Vilmos Zsigmond, the Hungarian Uprising of October 1956. They took an Arriflex camera from their school and filmed the battle between the Budapest citizens and the Russian troops and tanks. In November 1956 they fled to Austria where the film was processed and sold to a producer [the film was aired by CBS-TV in 1961]. He [and Zsigmond] arrived in the USA in March 1957. He was naturalized in 1963. He had a variety of jobs in New York and Seattle before moving to Hollywood in 1958. He [and Zsigmond] began shooting 16mm medical, training and educational films before moving into 'no-budget' and 'low-budget' narrative features.

Ph music videos.

Was one of the 'masters' at the '6th International Masterclass' [2001] in Budapest.

In 2007, the Plus Camerimage [formerly Camerimage] festival added the inscription 'Laszlo Kovacs Student Award' to its 'Golden Tadpole' Award. The ASC dedicated the 2008 'Heritage Award' to the memory of László Kovács.

Was a member of the ASC & HSC.

Book about him: 'New Wave King, The Cinematography of Laszlo Kovacs, ASC' by Ray Zone.

Appeared in the doc's 'Visions of Light: The Art of Cinematography' [1991], 'Cinéma! Cinéma! The French New Wave' [1992, Charles Spencer; ph: Simon Kossoff; 51m], 'Ljuset håller mig sällskap/Light Keeps Me Company' [1999, Carl-Gustav Nykvist], 'I Love New York' [2002, Jorge Ortiz de Landázuri Yzarduy; ph: Eduardo Mangada], 'Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex, Drugs and Rock 'N' Roll Generation Saved Hollywood' [2002, Kenneth Bowser; ph: Paul Mailman; 119m], 'Cinematographer Style' [2005, Jon Fauer; ph: J. Fauer, Jeff Laszlo, Brian Heller & David Morgan] & 'No Subtitles Necessary: Laszlo & Vilmos' [2007, James Chressanthis; ph: Anka Malatynska; 105m].

Awards: Laurel Award 'Golden Laurel' [1970, Runner up] for 'Easy Rider'; Laurel Award 'Golden Laurel' [1971, 3rd place] for 'Five Easy Pieces'; Camerimage 'Lifetime Achievement Award' [1998]; WorldFest Flagstaff 'Lifetime Achievement Award' [1999]; Hollywood FF 'Discovery Award for Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography' [2001]; ASC 'Lifetime Achievement Award' [2002]; HSC 'A Legenda' Award [2005].


László Kovács: 'In the Hollywood of the 1960s, everyone started on the same level: ground zero. Didn't matter if you were a graduate from New York University or a refugee from Hungary. It was the end of the big studio era; fly-by-night independent producers were everywhere, eagerly supplying the drive-in cinemas with cheap 'product'. A new generation of filmmakers cut their teeth on exploitation films; and alongside them, a new generation of cinematographers. After shooting newsreel and medical films on 16mm [where Vilmos Zsigmond and I were often each other's only crew], we became part of the gang working for Roger Corman. His 'factory' was both sweatshop and film school. Corman exploited us, sure, but - and he knew this as well as any of us - we were getting the greater benefit. We usually had around 8 days to complete a 70-90 minute picture. And although they were mostly formulaic schlock, the more talented directors and writers always tried to sneak something interesting into the story, or experiment visually. There was something of the pioneer spirit about that time in our lives. We were all in filmmaking heaven. We worked around the clock, grabbing a few hours' sleep in a sleeping bag on the set or the location.

'Everybody thinks that my big break was with 'Easy Rider', but not really. That film was really a result of something that already started happening. You're a filmmaker, you're making movies! Jack Nicholson did three bike movies before that and nobody had heard of them… 'Rebel Rousers', 'Hells Angels on Wheels' and so on… anyway. You sort of look to find a director who likes to work with you. It's very important to "team up". Early on I was teamed up with Richard Rush, and we did all kinds of crazy bike movies and psychedelic movies like 'Psych-Out' which was about the flower children in San Francisco. That was significant to me; one night back in 1967, it was playing the Aquarius Theatre in Los Angeles on Sunset Boulevard, and Dennis Hopper just happened to see this crazy movie. It was actually very rough and raw, but it was visually very, very interesting. He knew a production manager that I also worked with, and Dennis said, "Look. I want to find the guy who shot this movie 'Psych-Out', and I want him to shoot my first picture."*

'This production manager comes to me and asks if I know Dennis Hopper. I said that I knew him well; he was already a name by then as an actor. He then told me that Dennis was about to make a bike movie, and I went, "You said bike? I don't want to hear about it… I mean how many bike movies do you want to see the rest of your life? I'm sick and tired of it." "No, no," the manager said, "This is a different kind of bike movie." "How is it different?" I asked. "They have bicycles, but you ought to listen to Dennis who is coming from Toronto where they finished writing the script. He's going to come into a meeting and explain the whole thing." And he did, and he grabbed the script pages and threw it up in the air all over the place. "This guy is totally crazy," I thought. "Don't worry about it," he said, "I'll tell you what the story is about." And so he began, he started talking about these two guys who take this incredible journey. And that's what basically grabbed my imagination which made me beam. Finally, I could do something really interesting here. And then he finished the story that sounded like a Greek tragedy. There was silence in the room; everybody was impressed. I said to Dennis, "When do we start?" He was blown away that I liked it. Every person who was there was a future crew member. That's how 'Easy Rider' was born. In those days when it hit like a bomb, and shook like an earthquake, that they thought it was a bunch of kids who grabbed a camera, went out, filmed some bikes and they got lucky! We had a very serious script, everything scripted for the dialogue, especially the campfire sequence. Only the riding shots were unscripted. Jack had his big monologue, and he was unbelievable; he was stoned, of course, but he's got such incredible control as an actor that he made it work for the scene. He never missed a letter of the monologue. A couple of times he broke up then he left it in because it was very funny.*

'By this time, you know, my name was all over the place. The film went to the Cannes Film Festival and Dennis got his first director prize. I went as well and it was the only time I ever went; I paid my own way because the studio wouldn't pay. I couldn't believe that the night before we were nobodies; you know, a bunch of hippies. But after the showing, suddenly we were the celebrities. The rest of it is history.*

'One of the movies of which I'm most proud is Peter Bogdanovich's 'Paper Moon'. We wanted to evoke the classic b&w Hollywood tradition pioneered by cinematographers like Arthur Miller, John Alton and Gregg Toland. 'Citizen Kane' was our biggest influence; I had seen it for the first time in Budapest in 1948 and it had made an indelible impression. Orson Welles and Peter were very close friends, and I got to meet my 'god' while we were preparing our film. I'd been testing b&w film with various filters but still hadn't found the right look. Orson said, "Use red filters, my boy." And I did, because although the filters reduced the film speed and meant I had to use big arc-lights to achieve the deep-focus look Peter wanted, the red filters created incredibly beautiful, dramatic skies and gave us exactly the expressionistic look we were after.'

'When I'm lighting, I like to feel that every light has a dramatic logic and function in the composition. It really is like painting; each piece of light is a brush-stroke, giving different emotional values, defining and texturing each part of the shot from foreground to background, highlighting what's important for the audience to see. This is the aesthetic heart of my work and it gives me the most responsibility and pressure, because the tempo of the shoot, and the morale of the unit, depends on how quickly you work. The cinematographer has to be a strong leader. I have my own repertory company of lighting and camera crew who I've worked with over decades, which gives us a kind of mutual respect and trust. We have a shorthand after all this time and that enables us to work together like a well-oiled machine.' [Using excerpts (*) from interview 'The Storytelling of László Kovács, Cinematographer' by Jason Whyte published on the EFilmCritic.com website.]

·····

Obituary: Internationally acclaimed cinematographer László Kovács, who lensed the landmark cinematic achievement 'Easy Rider' and compiled more than 70 credits, has died at his home in Beverly Hills. Kovács, who died Sunday, was 74.
'He was one of the great wave of cinematographers in the 1970s who basically changed the way movies had looked up until that time,' said Richard Crudo, past president of the American Society of Cinematographers. 'His roots were in the low-budget independent world, and he took a lot of that ethic to another level. Years later, he became a master of the high-gloss studio look. But no matter what he did, there was always a tremendous amount of heart in his work. He was loved by everyone at the ASC, and there are legions of students and young cinematographers who owe a tremendous debt to László's generosity of spirit.'
ASC president Daryn Okada added that Kovács had 'incredible generosity to give back - to students, to other cinematographers and to the ASC. László inspired me to do the same,' Okada said. 'It is a great loss, not just to cinematographers, but to anyone who has seen the movies he photographed.'
The Hungary-born cinematographer never won an 'Oscar' but carried during his career a remarkable story of courage that occurred 50 years ago during his country's revolution.
Kovács was born to Imre and Julianna Kovács and raised on a farm in Hungary when that country was isolated from the Western world, first by the Nazi occupation and later during the Cold War. Kovács was in his final year of school in Budapest when a revolt against the communist regime started on the city streets.
He and his lifelong friend Vilmos Zsigmond - who also went on to become one of Hollywood's leading directors of photography - made the daring decision to document the event for its historic significance. To do this, they borrowed film and a camera from their school, hid the camera in a paper bag with a hole for the lens and recorded the conflict.
The pair then embarked on a dangerous journey during which they carried 30,000 feet of documentary film across the border into Austria. They entered the U.S. as political refugees in 1957.
'As a man I loved him,' said Zsigmond, reached in North Carolina where he is shooting the film 'Bolden!' 'We always had a great time together.'
Their historic film was featured in a CBS documentary narrated by Walter Cronkite.
After working on several smaller films during the 1960s, Kovács was approached by Dennis Hopper in 1968 to film 'Easy Rider'. Kovács turned it down, but Hopper was persistent and met with him to act out all the scenes.
'At the end of that meeting, I asked when we could start shooting,' Kovács recalled in a 1998 interview with the International Cinematographers Guild. 'That's how I happened to shoot 'Easy Rider'. We knew it was something special, but none of us realized that it would win awards and become so influential.'
The counterculture classic, also starring Peter Fonda and Jack Nicholson, was shot during a 12-week journey from Los Angeles to New Orleans, entirely on location.
'That was the style of Poetic Reality, basically making movies that look real,' Zsigmond said. 'The lighting is real, and the people in the theater think they are seeing the real thing.'
Kovács worked with many of the leading directors of his time, among them Peter Bogdanovich, Martin Scorsese, Robert Altman and Bob Rafelson.
During Kovács' professional career, he was an active member of the ASC, and in 2002, he received the ASC Lifetime Achievement Award, the organization's highest honor.
Kovács also was a member of the ASC's board of directors and demonstrated a commitment to education by leading the ASC Education Committee.
Kovács is survived by his wife, Audrey; two daughters, Julianna and Nadia; and a granddaughter, Mia. [From the obituary by Carolyn Giardina in 'The Hollywood Reporter', 07/24/2007.]



 FILMS

1956

Ungarn in Flammen/Revolt in Hungary [Stefan Erdelyi] b&w; doc/83m; cph: Vilmos Zsigmond & Ferencz Vass

1958

Az ég kékje/The Blue of the Sky [László Kovács & Vilmos Zsigmond] ?; short/?m; cph: Vilmos Zsigmond

1963

Holiday in Silk [Leigh Hunt] c; doc/40m; skydiving ph: Bob Buquor

1963

Lullaby [László Kovács & Vilmos Zsigmond] ?; short/?m; cph: Vilmos Zsigmond

1963

Kiss Me Quick!/Dr. Breedlove [Seymour Tuchus (= Bethel Buckalew = Max Gardens & Peter Perry)] c; 70m; as Lester Kovacs

1963

Mark of the Gun [Walter Campos] b&w; cph: Vilmos Zsigmond

1963

A Man Called Dagger/Why Spy? [Richard Rush] c

1965

The Notorious Daughter of Fanny Hill [Arthur P. Stootsberry (= Peter Perry = Bethel Buckalew)] c; 74m; as Art Radford

1966

A Smell of Honey - A Swallow of Brine [B. Ron Elliott (= Byron Mabe)] b&w; 71m; as Art Radford

1966

Single Room Furnished [Matteo Ottaviano (= Matt Cimber)] c; as Leslie Kovacs

196?

A Girl in Daddy's Bikini [?] ?

1967

The Rebel Rousers/The Wild Rider/Limbo [Martin B. Cohen] c; cph: Glen Smith; as Leslie Kouvacs; released in 1970

1967

Hells Angels on Wheels/Leader of the Pack [Richard Rush] c; as Leslie Kovacs

1967

Mondo Mod [Peter Perry (= Bethel Buckalew)] c; doc/72m; cph: Vilmos (as William) Zsigmond; 2uc: Ewing Brown & Edward DePriest; spec pfx: Rolf Jargon; as Leslie Kovacs

1967

The Savage Seven [Richard Rush] c; 2uc: Frank Ruttencutter

1967

Blood of Dracula's Castle/Dracula's Castle [Al Adamson] c; uncred cph: Vilmos Zsigmond (who left the prod early); as Leslie Kovacs

1967

Psych-Out/Love Children [Richard Rush] c

With actor Boris Karloff - "Targets"

1967

Targets/Before I Die [Peter Bogdanovich] c

1967

Hell's Bloody Devils/The Fakers/Operation M/Smashing the Crime Syndicate [Al Adamson] c; cph: Frank Ruttencutter; 2uc: Gary Graver; as Leslie Kovacs

1968

Lila/Mantis in Lace [William Rotsler] c; as Leslie Kovacks

1968

That Cold Day in the Park [Robert Altman] c

With actor Peter Fonda - "Easy Rider"

1968

Easy Rider [Dennis Hopper] c; addph: Barry Feinstein

1969

A Day with the Boys [Clu Gulager] c; short/17m

1969

Directed by John Ford [Peter Bogdanovich] b&w-c; doc/99m; cph: Gregory Sandor, Eric Sherman, Patrick Stewart & Brick Marquard; revised in 2006 (108m)

1969

Getting Straight [Richard Rush] c

1969

The Last Movie/Chinchero [Dennis Hopper] c

"Five Easy Pieces" - photo by Ron Vidor

1969

Five Easy Pieces [Bob Rafelson] c

1970

Alex in Wonderland [Paul Mazursky] c

1970

The Marriage of a Young Stockbroker [Lawrence Turman] c

1970

A Reflection of Fear/Autumn Child/Labyrinth [William Fraker] c; released 1973

1970

Dusty and Sweets McGee [Floyd Mutrux] c; doc + dram seq/95m; co-addph ('Whiskey a Go Go' nightclub scenes); ph: William Fraker

1971

Pocket Money [Stuart Rosenberg] c

1971

Steelyard Blues/The Final Crash [Alan Myerson] c; took over from Stevan Larner, who got injured during filming

1971

What's Up, Doc? [Peter Bogdanovich] c

1971

The King of Marvin Gardens [Bob Rafelson] c

1972

Slither [Howard Zieff] c

1972

Paper Moon [Peter Bogdanovich] b&w

1973

Huckleberry Finn [J. Lee Thompson] p/c

1973

For Pete's Sake/July Pork Bellies [Peter Yates] c

1974

Shampoo [Hal Ashby] c

"Freebie and the Bean"

1974

Freebie and the Bean [Richard Rush] p/c

1974

At Long Last Love [Peter Bogdanovich] c

1975

Harry and Walter Go to New York [Mark Rydell] p/c

1975

Baby Blue Marine [John Hancock] c

1976

Nickelodeon [Peter Bogdanovich] c

1976

Close Encounters of the Third Kind [Steven Spielberg] p/c; co-addph; ph: Vilmos Zsigmond; see 1980

1976

New York, New York [Martin Scorsese] p/c

1976

The Last Waltz [Martin Scorsese] c; interv + concert film/115m; co-addph; ph: Michael Chapman; concert filmed 25 November (San Francisco)

1977

F.I.S.T. [Norman Jewison] c

1977

Paradise Alley [Sylvester Stallone] c

1978

Butch and Sundance: The Early Days [Richard Lester] c; creative visual cons: Paul Wilson

1978

The Rose [Mark Rydell] c; add concert ph; ph: Vilmos Zsigmond

1978

The Runner Stumbles [Stanley Kramer] c

1978

Heart Beat [John Byrum] c

1980

Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Special Edition [Steven Spielberg] see 1976

1980

Inside Moves [Richard Donner] c; 2uc: Bobby Byrne & Robert Stevens

1980

The Legend of the Lone Ranger [William Fraker] p/c; addph: Bobby Byrne

1980

Blow Out [Brian De Palma] p/c; uncred addph; ph: Vilmos Zsigmond

1981

Frances [Graeme Clifford] c; 2uc: László Pal

1982

The Toy [Richard Donner] c; Chicago ph: William Burch

1983

Crackers [Louis Malle] c

1983

Ghost Busters [Ivan Reitman] p/c; ph New York: Herb Wagreitch

1983

Predator: The Concert/Grizzly II: The Predator [André Szöts] c; replaced ph Vilmos Zsigmond; unreleased sequel to 'Grizzly' (1976, William Girdler; ph: William Asman); the film has never been officially completed, or released in theaters or on home video; the version that exists is a workprint (97m); filmed in Hungary

1984

Mask [Peter Bogdanovich] c

With Robert Redford and Debra Winger - "Legal Eagles"

Photo Thys Ockersen Archive

1985

Legal Eagles [Ivan Reitman] p/c; addph: Bill Butler; sfx ph: Neil Krepela

1987

Little Nikita/The Sleepers [Richard Benjamin] c; 2uc: Rexford Metz

1988

Say Anything... [Cameron Crowe] c

1990

Three Points of View [?] c; comm doc (3 seg)/12m; other ph: Vic Sarin & Billy Williams; demo film Eastman EXR 500T 5293 color negative

1990

Shattered [Wolfgang Petersen] c; 2uc: Bobby Byrne

1990

Radio Flyer [Richard Donner] p/c; 2uc: Bobby Byrne

1991

Ruby Cairo/Deception [Graeme Clifford] c; addph: Paul Edwards; 2uc: David Burr & Michael Gershman

1992

Life with Mikey [James Lapine] announced as doph, but film was ph by Rob Hahn

1992

Sliver [Phillip Noyce] p/c; co-2uc; ph: Vilmos Zsigmond

1993

Living History: Stanley Cortez, ASC [Woody Omens] 16mm/c; interview/?m

1993

The Next Karate Kid [Christopher Cain] c

1993

Wayne's World 2 [Stephen Surjik] c; addph; ph: Francis Kenny

1994

The Scout [Michael Ritchie] c

1994

Free Willy 2 [: The Adventure Home] [Dwight H. Little] p/c; 2uc: Gary Holt; uwph: Pete Romano; wildlife ph: Bob Talbot; aph: Ron Goodman

1994

Copycat [Jon Amiel] p/c; addph: Tony Pierce-Roberts

1995

Multiplicity [Harold Ramis] p/c

1996

My Best Friend's Wedding [P.J. Hogan] p/c

[Right] with dir Troy Miller - "Jack Frost"

1998

Jack Frost/Frost [Troy Miller] p/c; 2uc: Clyde Smith

1999

Return to Me/Distance Calls [Bonnie Hunt] c; replaced ph John A. Alonzo

2000

Miss Congeniality/Miss Undercover [Donald Petrie] c; 2uc: Raymond Prado & Ralph Watson

2001

Carolina [Marleen Gorris] scheduled as doph during pre-production; prod was ph by John Peters

2002

Two Weeks Notice [Marc Lawrence] c; addph: Jonathan Mayo

2005

Torn from the Flag [Endre Hules & Klaudia Kovács] HD/c; doc/95m; Los Angeles & Hungary ph; other ph: Zoltán Honti, Vilmos Zsigmond & Justin Schein; + co-exec prod

2008

One More Time [created and edited by Ray Dennis Steckler] c; 66m; as Leslie Kovacs (footage from 1963); cph: Joseph V. Mascelli, William Zsigmond & R.D. Steckler; 'sequel' to 'The Incredibly Strange Creatures...' (1963)


 TELEVISION

1964

National Geographic Specials [Walon Green, Terry Sanders, Bert Haanstra, a.o.] series, 1964-75; other ph: John Alonzo, Vilis Lapenieks, Robert Elfstrom, a.o.

1965

Time-Life Specials: The March of Time [Mel Stuart, William Friedkin, a.o.] series, 1965-66/b&w; other ph: Vilis Lapenieks & Jeri Sopanen

1966

Wonderful World of Wheels [Gene McCabe (?)] special/60m; cph: Vilmos Zsigmond

1968

The Making of the President: 1968 [Mel Stuart] doc/b&w-c/60m; cph: Vilis Lapenieks, Fritz Roland & Richard Blofson

1968

Los Angeles: Where It's At [Jerome Jacobs & Gary Schlosser] doc/b&w-c/50m; co-addph; ph: Robert Cirace; as Leslie Kovacs

1975

Family [pilot 'The Best Years' dir by Mark Rydell] 86-part series, 1976-80; 1st season, 1976 (6 ep); other ph (5 ep): Arch R. Dalzell; for ABC-tv

1984

Elvis Presley's Graceland [Steve Binder] doc/62m; cph: Jeremy Lepard


 MISCELLANEOUS

1963

The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed Up Zombies!!?/Teenage Psycho Meets Bloody Mary [Ray Dennis Steckler] c.asst (as Leslie Kovacs); ph: Joseph V. Mascelli

1963

What's Up Front!/The Fall Guy/A Fourth for Marriage [Bob Wehling] c.op; ph: Vilmos Zsigmond

1963

Summer Children/A Hot Summer Game/It's All in the Game [James Bruner] co-lighting; ph: Vilmos Zsigmond

1964

The Time Travelers/Time Trap/This Time Tomorrow [Ib Melchior] c.op; ph: Vilmos Zsigmond

1964

Nasty Rabbit/Spies-A-Go-Go [James Landis] c.asst (+ small part); ph: Vilmos Zsigmond

1965

Rat Fink/My Soul Runs Naked/Wild and Willing [James Landis] c.op; ph: Vilmos Zsigmond

1965

Tales of a [Traveling] Salesman [Don Russell] c.op; ph: Vilmos Zsigmond


 FILMS AS DIRECTOR

1958

Az ég kékje/The Blue of the Sky [co-d: Vilmos Zsigmond; + cph] see Films

1963

Lullaby [co-d: Vilmos Zsigmond; + cph] see Films

1997

Napfényes Oszkár [c; doc/?m] ph: ?

199?

Kik azok a zöldek...? [c; doc/37m] ph: ?

199?

Öncsöd [c; doc/45m] ph: ?