Updated With Statement from Cinematographers Guild president 11:31 AM and 7:15 PM: Cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, winner of an Oscar for Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, has died. The Hungarian-born Zsigmond was 85 and passed away New Year’s Day.
Zsigmond was also Oscar nominated for Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter, Mark Rydell’s The River and Brian De Palma’s The Black Dahlia. He rose to fame with a string of iconic 1970s movies including Robert Altman’s McCabe And Mrs Miller, Images and The Long Goodbye, plus John Boorman’s Deliverance, Spielberg’s The Sugarland Express and Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate.
Born in 1930, Zsigmond attended film school in Budapest and later worked locally as a DP. During the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, he began filming a documentary on the events. But when Soviet forces invaded, he told France’s Premiere a few years ago, he was concerned the film would be used as a pretext to send him to “Siberia or I don’t know where.” So he headed west. “I needed to work and Hollywood seemed like a good option.” Some of the footage from the uprising forms part of the 2008 documentary about Zsigmond and lifelong friend László Kovács, No Subtitles Necessary: Laszlo & Vilmos, which screened at Cannes in 2008.
Zsigmond settled in Los Angeles and eventually became a US citizen. He shot some B movies inlcuding The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living And Became Mixed-Up Zombies in 1964. In 1968, he shot the short film Prelude, which was nominated for an Oscar and, he has said, gained the attention of Peter Fonda. Together they made 1971’s The Hired Hand. (Kovács had been cinematographer on Fonda’s Easy Rider.) That same year brought McCabe And Mrs. Miller, followed by such seminal films as Deliverance, The Sugarland Express, Obsession, Close Encounters, The Deer Hunter, Heaven’s Gate, and Blow Out.
In later years, Zsigmond’s credits included The Witches Of Eastwick, Maverick, Sean Penn’s The Crossing Guard, Kevin Smith’s Jersey Girl and a series of films with Woody Allen including 2010’s You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger.
Zsigmond recently said of his own style, “Let’s call it poetic realism. I don’t want to be contented by just shooting reality, I want it to be more than that. More beautiful than reality.”
According to Steven Poster ASC, President, International Cinematographers Guild (IATSE Local 600), “The cinematography world lost a great talent today.Vilmos’ genius was not only in his images, but in his sense of duty to honest storytelling.As one of our most esteemed members, Vilmos was an inspiration and mentor to many of us in the International Cinematographers Guild. In 2003, our members voted him one of the top 10 influential cinematographers of all time.
“I was privileged to work as his 2nd unit DP on three of his movies. We all knew what a giant he was as an artist at the time. But working up close with him, I also learned about perseverance and an obligation to the story from the master.
“There is not a member at the International Cinematographers Guild who has not been impacted by his brilliant photography and his personal story. His brave beginnings providing footage from the Hungarian revolution will always be an important part of his legacy and to future generations of cinematographers and film students. He made a difference. He will continue to be an inspiration to cinematographers everywhere.”