Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Laszlo Kovacs remembered

I was so sad to hear about the recent death of Laszlo Kovacs.
The Hungarian-born cinematographer was 74. His work includes "Easy Rider," "Five Easy Pieces," "Mask," "Ghostbusters" and (my personal favorite) "Paper Moon."
Peter Bogdanovich called Kovacs: "one of the great cameramen of the New Hollywood era."
"I worked with him more than any other photographer, which speaks for itself," Bogdanovich told the Los Angeles Times yesterday.
One of Kovacs' great achievements was in filming outdoors -- at a time when most films were shot exclusively in a studio.
My favorite Kovacs story concerns his arrival in the West.
He and friend Vilmos Zsigmond were both novice but talented filmmakers in Hungary (Zsigmond's Hollywood work includes "McCabe & Mrs. Miller," "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and "The Deer Hunter").
When the 1956 revolt hit the streets, the pair borrowed a school camera and shot 30,000 feet of film as the Soviets arrived with tanks and steely resolve.
With the Soviets back in control, the film Kovacs and Zsigmond shot was probably enough evidence to get the young filmmakers killed.
So the pair stuffed the film into potato sacks and carried it across the Austrian border into freedom.
Kovacs learned English one word at a time and worked for an insurance company, making prints from microfilm.
In a dozen or so years, however, Kovacs would belong to a vanguard of genius cinematographers who changed the look of films.


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