Vilmos Zsigmond, one of the all-time great cinematographers, known for his extraordinary work with natural light and his subtlety to tone, died Jan. 1 at the age of 85.
(This is a little unnerving as the cinema world lost Haskell Wexler Dec. 27 at the age of 93.)
Zsigmond has one of the most dazzling careers in later-20th century Hollywood, picking up an Oscar for this work on Steven Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” but also scored nominations for his work on Michael Cimino’s “The Deer Hunter” (1978), Mark Rydell’s “The River” (1984) and, more recently, Brian De Palma‘s “The Black Dahlia” (2006), the latter of which was gorgeous but terrible. (He also shot “The Bonfire of the Vanities” for DePalma, one of the all-time great Hollywood cautionary tales).
Zsigmond shot a lot of movies for a lot of people, but let’s take a quick look at his run from 1971 to 1981 (these are just the major films):
- McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)
- The Hired Hand (1971)
- Deliverance (1972)
- The Long Goodbye (1973)
- Scarecrow (1973)
- The Sugarland Express (1974)
- Obsession (1976)
- Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
- The Deer Hunter (1978)
- The Rose (1979)
- Heaven’s Gate (1980)
- Blow Out (1981)
This is a ’70s run as good (or far, far better) than any director in the New Hollywood.
The Hungarian-born Zsigmond attended the Budapest Film School and became friends with fellow student and future-American cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs. Both came to the U.S. as political refugees in ’57.
Zsigmond shot industrial films and low-budget stuff before lensing “McCabe & Mrs. Miller,” whose burnt and burnished colors blew minds. His career went well into the 2010s; the last feature he shot was Arthur Allan Seidelman’s “Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks” starring Gena Rowlands.