Sad news as reports have come out that iconic cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond has passed away. Heavily influential and admired, the Hungarian-born Zsigmond helped define the look of the Hollywood New Wave of the 1970s with classics that included Robert Altman’s McCabe & Mrs. Miller and Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Zsigmond passed on New Years Day at the age 85.
Zsigmond was born in 1930 in Szeged, Hungary. He attended film school in Budapest and shortly thereafter started working as a director of photography on local projects. It was his work in Hollywood in the 1970s that would soon enough make Zsigmond one of the most well-respected cinematographers in the industry. Highlights of his legendary career include John Boorman’s classic Deliverance (1971), Altman’s The Long Goodbye (1973), Spielberg’s The Sugarland Express (1974) and Michael Cimeno’s Oscar-winning The Deer Hunter (1978).
Later in his career, Zsigmond worked on such films as Brian De Palma’s celebrated Blow Out (1981), George Miller’s The Witches of Eastwick (1987), The Two Jakes (1990) directed by Jack Nicholson and The Crossing Guard (1996), directed by Sean Penn. He also served as director of photography on Cimeno’s infamous (but beautifully filmed) 1981 debacle Heaven’s Gate and De Palma’s panned 1990 misfire The Bonfire of the Vanities. Further cementing the eclecticism of Zwigmond’s career, more recently he collaborated with talented that included Woody Allen (You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, Cassandra’s Dream), Kevin Smith (Jersey Girl) and Mindy Kalling (he shot 72 episodes of The Mindy Project from 2012-2014).
He received four Oscar nominations throughout his career – for Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), The Deer Hunter (1978), The River (1984) and, most recently, for The Black Dahlia (2006)- and won the statue for his work on Spielberg’s extraterrestrial classic. Zsigmond also won an Emmy (for the 1992 mini-series Stalin), and a BAFTA Award (for The Deer Hunter) throughout his career. Steven Poster ASC, President, International Cinematographers Guild wrote:
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.
Zsigmond’s passing less than a week following the death of Haskell Wexler, another prominent director of photography.