I just saw a great documentary entitled “No Subtitles Necessary: Laszlo & Vilmos” about cinematography. I found it on Netflix. Here’s how Netflix describes it. “After improbably chronicling the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, young filmmakers Laszlo Kovaks and Vilmos Zsigmond fled their homeland and ended up in America, where the pals became two of the movie industries most influential cinematographers.”
Zsigmond and his friend and fellow student Laszlo Kovacs both grew up in Hungary. As young adults they borrowed a 35-millimeter camera from their school and surreptitiously filmed the Hungarian Revolution in Budapest by hiding the camera in a shopping bag and shooting footage through a hole they had cut in the bag. The two men shot thirty thousand feet of film and escaped to Austria shortly afterwards. In 1958 Zsigmond and Kovacs arrived in the United States as political refugees and sold the footage to CBS for a network documentary on the revolution narrated by Walter Cronkite.
They moved to Hollywood and began working on low budget films. Vilmos Zsigmond’s first big film was “Easy Rider” with Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda. This launched a big career as a cinematographer.
In 2003, Zsigmond was voted as one of the ten most influential cinematographers in history by the members of the International Cinematographers Guild. He worked with best American directors, such as Robert Altman, Steven Spielberg, Brian De Palma, Michael Cimino and Woody Allen. He changed the look of American movies. Some of the films Vilmos shot include “McCabe and Mrs. Miller,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “The Deer Hunter,” “Deliverance,” and “The Witches of Eastwick.”
“McCabe and Mrs. Miller” is one of my favorite works of cinematography. Robert Altman, the director, insisted that Vilmos use a zoom lens rather than Vilmos insisting on it. But this film shows the best way to use a zoom lens which is to zoom while panning or dollying. This hides the zoom and makes the shot more fluid. For a fascinating analysis of the cinematography of “McCabe and Mrs. Miller” see the Filmmaker Magazine article Old, Faded Pictures: Vilmos Zsigmond on McCabe & Mrs. Miller.