#1: From interview [2009]

#2: 2005

 

   


  VILMOS ZSIGMOND

Born: 16 June 1930, Szeged, Hungary.

Died: 1 January 2016, Big Sur, Calif., USA.

Education: Szinház- és Filmmüvészeti Föiskola [SzFF], Budapest [Cinematography, 1951-55; his teachers were György Illés, János Badal, a.o.].

Career: 'Vilmos Zsigmond was in his early teens when the Russian army installed a puppet government in Hungary answerable to the communist regime in Moscow. He wasn't allowed to continue his education or pursue an interest in becoming a photographer because his family was considered bourgeois. Zsigmond was put to work in a factory, where he saved money to buy a camera and taught himself how to take pictures. He organized a camera club for factory workers. That impressed the commissars who sent him to the Academy of Theatre and Film Art in Budapest to learn cinematography. Zsigmond completed his formal education in 1955, and was working as an apprentice at the state film studio in October 1956, when a popular uprising spilled into the streets of Budapest.' [From the ASC website.]

Zsigmond and his film school classmate László Kovács 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 shown on CBS-tv in 1961]. He [and Kovács] arrived in the USA in March 1957 as a political refugee. He spent time in a refugee camp in New Jersey, and worked briefly in Chicago, before moving to Los Angeles hoping to find a job in the film industry. Worked as laboratory technician and as still photographer [for 5 years] on educational films. Owned his own 16mm Arriflex camera modified for Techniscope.

Ph a number of doc's [dir by Frank Gardonyi, Gábor Nagy, Veronika Pataki, a.o.] during the 1960s.

Ph and dir commercials.

Was also active as director.

Was one of the 'masters' at the 'International Masterclass [1999 & 2001], Budapest.

Was an active member of the ASC since 1973, honorary member of the HSC and associate member of the SOC.

In 2012, Zsigmond, along with doph Yuri Neyman, co-founded the Global Cinematography Institute in Los Angeles with the mission to educate cinematographers, and to preserve and extend the role of cinematographer as the major expert and contributor in the image building process in all current and future variations of the complex mix of artistry and technology.

Appearances/interviewee: 'Visions of Light: The Art of Cinematography' [1991], 'Big Guns Talk: The Story of the Western' [1997, Len Morris; ph: Alicia Weber], 'Wiecej swiatla. Festiwal Operatorów Filmowych Camerimage '97' [1997, Piotr Lazarkiewicz; ph: Adam Sikora; 54m], 'The Making of 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind'' [1998, Laurent Bouzereau], 'Ljuset håller mig sällskap/Light Keeps Me Company' [2000, Carl-Gustav Nykvist], 'Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex, Drugs and Rock 'N' Roll Generation Saved Hollywood' [2002, Kenneth Bowser; ph: Paul Mailman; 119m], 'Elszállnak a felhők... - Zsigmond Vilmos hazatérései/The Clouds Are Drifting Away... - Vilmos Zsigmond's Frequenting Home' [2006, Béla Paczolay & István Dala; ph: Zsolt Tóth, I. Dala & Sándor Várkonyi; tv-doc/28m; ep series 'Szerelmes földrajz'] & 'No Subtitles Necessary: Laszlo & Vilmos' [2007, James Chressanthis; ph: Anka Malatynska; 105m].

Awards: 'Oscar' AA [1977] for 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind'; 'Oscar' AA nom [1978] & BAFTA Film Award [1979] for 'The Deer Hunter'; Camerimage Lifetime Achievement Award [1997]; ASC Lifetime Achievement Award [1999]; 'Corvin Chain' [2001; given by the Hungarian Government]; 'Emmy' Award nom [2002] for 'The Mists of Avalon' [Part 1]; HSC 'A Legenda' Award [2005]; ICFF Manaki Brothers Life Achievement Award 'Golden Camera 300' [2010].

 


Obituary: Hollywood studios have good reason to be grateful to repressive European governments for having provided them with refugee filmmakers who made hugely significant contributions to the American film industry. The cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, who has died aged 85, arrived in the US in 1957, having fled his native Hungary as Russian tanks put down the Hungarian revolution. Over the next few decades, he became associated with many leading American directors, notably Robert Altman, Steven Spielberg, Brian De Palma, Michael Cimino and Woody Allen.

From 1963, Zsigmond worked in Hollywood on dozens of features, credited as William Zsigmond, until László Kovacs, who had shot 'Easy Rider' for Peter Fonda [producer] and Dennis Hopper [director], recommended his friend to Fonda for the western 'The Hired Hand', the actor's first feature as a director. "I got the idea of how to light 'The Hired Hand' from the villages in Hungary where there was no electricity and they used kerosene lamps," Zsigmond explained. But his breakthrough came when Robert Altman hired him for 'McCabe and Mrs Miller', thus beginning the most rewarding decade of his career, which coincided with "the new Hollywood" of young independent filmmakers, influenced by European cinema. "Creating the mood is more important than making everything look beautiful," he said. "László and I sort of created the 'nouvelle vague' in the US - simple lighting, but more realistic."

Altman continued to use Zsigmond as his director of photography on 'Images', set against misty and frosty Irish landscapes, which skilfully conveys a schizophrenic woman's point of view, when she [played by Susannah York] confuses real and imagined events.

In contrast, 'The Long Goodbye' is a neo-noir shot in pastel colours in Los Angeles, much of it seen through the eyes of the private detective Philip Marlowe [Elliott Gould], whose vision is often obscured by trees, windows, mirrors and the sides of buildings. The film was a good example of Zsigmond's use of flashing, which exposes the film to a controlled light in order to mute colours. He liked working with Altman, who gave him carte blanche to set up the lighting, his preference being to light the actors rather than the background.

John Boorman's 'Deliverance' was Zsigmond's first film shot entirely on location, namely the Appalachian mountains of northern Georgia and South Carolina. The use of desaturated film stock gave the picture a certain gritty realism, added to which there were no special effects or stuntmen, so that Zsigmond had to film the actors shooting the rapids while actually doing so himself.

Steven Spielberg asked Zsigmond to photograph his first big-screen feature, 'The Sugarland Express', a road movie set in Texas, which was the first feature to be shot with the new lightweight Panaflex camera. After refusing to shoot 'Jaws' because he thought it was a stupid script, Zsigmond worked with Spielberg again on the science-fiction extravaganza 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind'. "It was difficult to shoot because of the lighting," he recalled. "We had huge amounts of lighting to get the special effects - which would be done by computer-generated imagery today, but in those days we had to do it in the camera." Out of the eight Oscar nominations the film received, only the cinematographer collected the statuette.

Perhaps his striking Oscar-nominated work on Cimino's 'The Deer Hunter' was even more deserving of an award. Zsigmond provided the three-part epic, shot in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Thailand [standing in for Vietnam], with visual continuity - particularly the autumnal look of the first section.

From the wide acclaim for 'The Deer Hunter', which caught the mood of the time, Cimino's career plunged to almost total condemnation with 'Heaven’s Gate'. The sprawling epic, set in 1890s Wyoming, cost $40m to make and was noted for the extravagance of its vast sets. But it turned out to be one of cinema's most expensive flops. The influential critic Roger Ebert described Zsigmond's attempt to make the movie look like faded period photos as being "so smoky, so dusty, so foggy, so unfocused and so brownish yellow that you want to try Windex on the screen". It rang the death knell for the American "new wave".

Although Zsigmond was complicit in the creation of 'Heaven's Gate', his career did not suffer noticeably. Still much in demand from younger directors, Zsigmond also linked up with Woody Allen to shoot 'Melinda and Melinda', 'Cassandra's Dream' and 'You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger'.

He is survived by his second wife, the writer and director Susan Roether, and by his daughters, Julia and Susi, from his marriage to Elizabeth Fuzes, which ended in divorce. [From obituary by Ronald Bergan in The Guardian, 4 January 2016.]

 


 

 FILMS

1953

A föld/The Land [József Zsuffa] b&w; short/10m; prod SzFF

1953

Légy jó mindhalálig/Be Faithful Unto Death [?] ?; short/?m; prod SzFF

1954

Elszállnak a felhök/Gone Are the Clouds/The Clouds Are Drifting Away [József Zsuffa] ?; short/?m; prod SzFF

1954

Az a félelmetes harmadik/The Frightful Third [József Zsuffa] ?; short/?m

1955

Hajnal elött/Before Dawn [József Zsuffa] b&w; short/15m; prod SzFF

1956

Ungarn in flammen/Revolt in Hungary [Stefan Erdelyi] b&w; doc/83m; cph: László Kovács & Ferencz Vass

1958

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

1960

Lullaby [Frank Gardonyi & Ivan Nagy] ?; dance short/13m; cph: László (as Leslie) Kovács; as William Zsigmond

1960

This Is Larry [Robert Aller] ?; doc (one day in the life of a blind man)/?m

1960

The Prom [?] ?; short/?m

1961

Pulse of Life - The Story of Artificial Respiration and Artificial Circulation [Robert Berk] c; instructional doc/24m; revised in 1975 as 'New Pulse of Life'

1962

Wild Guitar [Ray Dennis Steckler] b&w; 2uc (as William Zsigmond); ph: Joseph C. Mascelli

1963

Story of the Wholesale Produce Market [Leonard Greenberg] c; doc/12m

1963

Mark of the Gun [Walter Campos] b&w; cph: László Kovács

1963

The Sadist/Profile of Terror/Sweet Baby Charlie [James Landis] b&w; as William Zsigmond

1963

Living Between Two Worlds [Bobby Johnson] b&w; as William Zsigmond

1963

What's Up Front/The Fall Guy/A Fourth for Marriage [Bob Wehling] c; as William Zsigmond

1963

Summer Children/A Hot Summer Game/It's All in the Game [James Bruner] b&w; lighting: László Kovács & Ernie Reed; as William Zsigmond

1964

Nasty Rabbit/Spies-A-Go-Go [James Landis] ts/c; as William Zsigmund

1964

The Time Travelers/Time Trap/This Time Tomorrow [Ib Melchior] c; as William Zsigmond

1964

Echo of Terror/Psycho-A-Go-Go!/The Man with the Electronic [Synthetic] Brain/The Love Maniac/Blood of Ghastly Horror [Al Adamson] ts/c; as William Zsigmond; prod in 1964 as 'Echo of Terror'; with new scenes in 1965: 'Psycho-A-Go-Go'; new scenes/re-edited: 'The Man with the Electronic [Synthetic] Brain'; re-edited in 1972 as 'Blood of Ghastly Horror'

1964

Tell Me in the Sunlight [Steve Cochran] b&w; uncred ?; ph: Rod Yould

1965

Tales of a Salesman [Don Russell] c; 53m; as William Zsigmond

1965

Canyonland [?] ?; doc/?m

1965

Deadwood '76 [James Landis] ts/c; cph: Lewis Guinn; as William Zsigmond

1965

Rat Fink/My Soul Runs Naked/Wild and Willing [James Landis] b&w; as William Zsigmond

1965

[The] Gun Riders/The Lonely Man/Five Bloody Graves [Al Adamson] ts/c; as William Zsigmond

1966

The Cat/Cat! [Ellis Kadison] c; nature ph (as William Zsigmond); ph: Monroe Askins

1966

Road to Nashville [Will Zens] ts/c; addph (as William Zsigmund); ph: Leif Rise

1966

U.S. Water Polo [Gábor Nagy] ?; doc/?m

1967

The Name of the Game Is Kill!/The Female Trap [Gunnar Hellström] c; as William Zsigmond

1967

Blood of Dracula's Castle/Dracula's Castle [Al Adamson] c; uncred cph (left film early in prod); ph: László Kovács (as Leslie Kovacs)

1967

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

1968

Working Women [Robert Aller] ?

1968

The Monitors [Jack Shea] c; as William Zsigmond

1968

The Picasso Summer [Serge Bourguignon & Robert Sallin] c; addph: Henri Alekan & David Shore

1968

Jennie: Wife – Child/Tender Grass [James Landis & Robert Carl Cohen] b&w; cph: R.C. Cohen; as William Zsigmond

1968

Prelude [John Astin] c; short/?m

1969

Futz! [Tom O'Horgan] c

1969

Hot Rod Action [Gene McCabe] c; doc/72m; cph: Mario Tosi & Vilis Lapenieks; as William Zsigmond

1969

The Ski Bum/Point Zero [Bruce Clark] c

1969

Satan's Sadists/Nightmare Bloodbath [Al Adamson] c; uncred cph; ph (+ ed): Gary Graver

1969

Horror of the Blood Monsters/Creatures of the Red Planet/The Flesh Creatures/Vampire Men of the Lost Planet [Al Adamson] c; cph: William Troiano; as William Zsigmond

1970

Threshold [J. Maynard Lovins & Stan Wells] c; short/26m; as William Zsigmond

1970

The Hired Hand [Peter Fonda] c

1970

Red Sky at Morning [James Goldstone] c

1970

McCabe and Mrs. Miller [Robert Altman] p/c; 2uc: Rod Parkhurst

1970

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

1971

Soul to Soul [Denis Sanders] tao/c; concert film/96m; cph: Erik Daarstad, David Myers, Jeri Sopanen, a.o.; filmed 6 March (Ghana)

1971

Deliverance [John Boorman] p/c; 2uc: Bill Butler

1971

Images [Robert Altman] p/c

1971

The Argument [Donald Cammell] cs/c; short/14m; released in 2000

1972

The Master [Richard Colla] ?

1972

The Long Goodbye [Robert Altman] p/c

1972

Scarecrow [Jerry Schatzberg] p/c

With Steven Spielberg [hat] - "The Sugerland Express"

Photo Thys Ockersen Archive

 

1973

The Sugarland Express [Steven Spielberg] p/c

1973

Cinderella Liberty [Mark Rydell] c

1973

The Girl from Petrovka [Robert Ellis Miller] p/c

1974

Funny Lady [Herbert Ross] replaced by ph James Wong Howe during shooting

1975

Dandy, the All-American Girl/Sweet Revenge [Jerry Schatzberg] p/c

1975

Death Riders [James Wilson] c; doc/84m; cph: J. Wilson

1975

Obsession [Brian De Palma] p/c

1975

Iron and Horse [Karoly Bardosh] p/c; short/28m; prod AFI (USA)

With Steven Spielberg [left] - "Close Encounters of the Third Kind"

 

1976 

Close Encounters of the Third Kind [Steven Spielberg] p/c; 135m; ph India seq: Douglas Slocombe; ph add scenes USA: William Fraker; addph: John Alonzo & László Kovács; 2uc: Steven Poster; UFO ph: Dave Stewart; spec pfx: Richard Yuricich (ph) & Douglas Trumbull (superv); optical ph: Robert Hall; mothership ph: Dennis Muren; see 1980

1976

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

1976

Winter Kills [William Richert] p/c; addph: John Bailey; production halted, but resumed in December 1978

1977

A Wedding [Robert Altman] announced as doph, but replaced by Charles Rosher Jr.

1977

The Deer Hunter [Michael Cimino] p/c; replaced William Fraker during production

1978

The Rose [Mark Rydell] c; addph concert scenes: Bobby Byrne, Conrad Hall, László Kovács, Haskell Wexler, Owen Roizman, David Myers, Jan Kiesser, a.o.

1979

Heaven's Gate/Johnson County Wars [Michael Cimino] p/c

1980

Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Special Edition [Steven Spielberg] 132m; addph 'Special Edition': Allen Daviau; see 1976

1980

Blow Out [Brian De Palma] p/c; uncred addph: László Kovács

1981

The Border [Tony Richardson] p/c; addph; ph: Ric Waite

1981

Jinxed! [Don Siegel] c

1982

Table for Five [Robert Lieberman] c; addph: Jan Kiesser; 2uc: Victor Goss; aph: Rex Metz

1983

Predator: The Concert/Grizzly II: The Predator [André Szöts] was originally hired as doph, but quit due to creative differences; prod was ph by László Kovács

1983

The River [Mark Rydell] c; 2uc: Steven Poster & (add) Rex Metz; matte ph: Bill Taylor

1984

No Small Affair [Jerry Schatzberg] c

1985

Real Genius [Martha Coolidge] p/c; 2uc: Frederick Elmes

1985

The Witches of Eastwick [George Miller] p/c; vfx ph: Kim Marks & Patrick Turner

1988

Journey to Spirit Island [László Pal] c

1988

Fat Man and Little Boy/Shadow Makers [Roland Joffé] J-D-C Scope/c

1989

The Two Jakes [Jack Nicholson] s35-to-35mm/c

1990

Scared of Guns [Alan Bloom] c; music video/5m; stage ph; loc ph: James Chressanthis

1990

The Bonfire of the Vanities [Brian De Palma] s35-to-35mm/c

1992

Sliver [Phillip Noyce] p/c; 2uc: Michael Benson & László Kovács

1992

Intersection [Mark Rydell] c; 2uc: László George; uwph: Pauline Heaton

1993

Maverick [Richard Donner] p/c; 2uc: John Connor; + small part

1994

The Crossing Guard [Sean Penn] c; 2uc: John Connor

1995

Assassins/Day of Reckoning [Richard Donner] c; 2uc: Gary Holt; aph: Frank Holgate

1995

The Ghost and the Darkness [Stephen Hopkins] p/c; 2uc: Gabriel Beristáin; Kenya ph: Jack Couffer

1995

Porthole to Paradise [Ivan Passer] ?

1997

Fantasy for a New Age [Richard Caesar] c; dram corporate film/35m; prod for Siemens AG

1998

Illegal Music [Zane Zidel] ?

1998

Playing By Heart/Intermedia [Willard Carroll] p/c; 2uc: John J. Connor & Joseph Urbanczyk

1999

Byron [Charles Jarrott] announced

1999

Mr. Hughes [Brian De Palma; based on scrpl by David Koepp] announced, but prod was cancelled

1999

The Body [Jonas McCord] p/c; 2uc: Avi Karpick & Gideon Porath

2000

Life as a House [Irwin Winkler] p/c; addph: Johnny E. Jensen

2001

Bánk bán [Csaba Káel] c; opera film/118m; 2uc: Tamás Lajos, László Bille & Tibor Vagyóczky

2002

Timeline [Richard Donner] s35/c; co-2uc; ph: Caleb Deschanel

2002

Jersey Girl [Kevin Smith] p/c

2003

Melinda and Melinda [Woody Allen] c

2004

The Medicine Chest [Douglas Busby] c/V; mus short/25m

[Right] with 1st c.asst 'a' cam Alexander Bscheidl - "The Black Dahlia" - photo by Rolf Konow

 

2005

The Black Dahlia [Brian De Palma] s35/c

2005

Torn from the Flag [Endre Hules & Klaudia Kovács] HD/c; doc/95m; ; cph: Zoltán Honti, László Kovács (Los Angeles & Hungary) & Justin Schein; + co-exec prod; filmed October 2004-December 2005

2006

Cassandra's Dream [Woody Allen] c

2007

Bolden! [Dan Pritzker] s35/c; 2uc: Frank Godwin; aph: David B. Nowell

2007

Louis/The Great Observer [Dan Pritzker] b&w/silent; short/60m; 2uc: Frank Godwin; + small part

2008

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

2009

King Shot [Alejandro Jodorowsky] scheduled to start filming in June, later October; prod cancelled due to lack of funds

[Left] with Woody Allen - "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger"

 

2009

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger [Woody Allen] c

2009

A Half of Two Lives/Love Affair [Csaba Káel (later Nicholas Meyer)] + co-exec prod; announced; status unknown

2010

The Maiden Danced to Death/A halálba táncoltatott leány [Endre Hules] RED-to-35mm/c; cph: Zoltan Honti

2010

Three Dog Night [Doug Dearth] + exec prod; scheduled for a May 2011 start; later early 2012; later Summer 2013 with doph David Gribble

2011

Freedom Flight [Endre Hules] announced; status unknown

2011

At 2:15 [Maria De Kannon Cle] pre-production; scheduled to start filming in October; later July 2012; status unknown

2012

Compulsion [Egidio Coccimiglio] c

With Frederic Goodich [right] - "Kickstart Theft"

 

2012

Kickstart Theft [Frederic Goodich] HD (Sony F65)-to-D-Cinema/c; comm short/7m; + c.op; for Band Pro Film & Digital Inc. (Burbank/New York/Munich/Tel Aviv)

2013

Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks [Arthur Allan Seidelman] HD/c; addph: Barna Király

2013

God the Father [Simon Fellows] b&w-c; doc + re-enactments + anim/101m; addph: David Kaptein

 TELEVISION

1963

The Story of... [ep 'The Story of a Champion' dir by Robert Aller (RA), 'The Story of a Coach' dir by RA, 'The Story of Debbie' dir by RA & 'The Story of a Basketball Coach' dir by Freddy Schaus] 38-part doc series/b&w/16mm, 1962-63; cph: Vilis Lapenieks ('The Story of a Champion' & 'The Story of Debbie') & Erik Daarstad ('The Story of a Champion'); as William Zsigmond

1965

The Market [Jack Shepard] doc/60m; as William Zsigmond

1966

Wonderful World of Wheels [Gene McCabe (?)] special/40m; cph: László Kovács; for CBS-tv

1966

The Bell Telephone Hour [ep #108 'The Sounds and Sights of San Francisco' dir by Ed Spiegel] mus variety series, 1959-68 (NBC-tv); 9th season, 1966-67; cph (#108): Erik Daarstad

1967

The World of Animals [ep 'Big Cats, Little Cats' dir by Bud Wiser] 3-part series, 1966-68; cph: J. Barry Herron, John Alonzo, David Blewitt, a.o.; as William Zsigmond

1969

[The Bold Ones:] The Protectors [ep #1 'A Case of Good Whiskey at Christmas Time' dir by Robert Day] 6-part series

1969

Baja Marimba Band [Bill Edwards] mus special/60m

1978

Flesh and Blood [Jud Taylor] 2-part tvm

1988

China Beach [ph spec interview seq ep #20 'Vets' (1989) dir by John Sacret Young] 64-part series, 1988-91; 2nd season, 1988-89; this episode features anecdotes of actual Vietnam Veterans telling their wartime experiences mixed with scenes from previous 'China Beach' episodes

1989

China Beach [ph spec interview seq ep #38 'Souvenirs' (1990) dir by John Sacret Young] 3rd season, 1989-90; ph: Richard Thorpe; see 1988

1991

Stalin [Ivan Passer] tvm

2000

The Mists of Avalon [Uli Edel] 2-part tvm

2004

Surrender, Dorothy [Charles McDougall] tvm/s16; 2uc: Jack Garrett

2012

The Mindy Project [pilot dir by Charles McDougall] series, 2012-present

 FILMS AS CAMERA ASSISTANT/OPERATOR

1954

Egy vasárnapi románc története/The Story of a Sunday Romance [Imre Fehér] c.asst; ph: János Badal

1963

The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed Up Zombies!!?/Teenage Psycho Meets Bloody Mary [Ray Dennis Steckler] c.op (as William Zsigmond); ph: Joseph V. Mascelli; see Films (2008)

 FILMS AS DIRECTOR

1958

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

1990

The Long Shadow/A Tékozló apa [feature] ph: Gábor Szabó; filmed 1990-91