Laszlo Kovacs, Cinematographer: 1933-2007

Laszlo KovacsThe first thing I saw when I logged on this morning was that Hungarian born cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs had passed away.

A graduate of Budapest’s Academy of Drama and Film Art, Kovacs came to Hollywood in 1956, fleeing the Hungarian revolution. He had his first notable success working for producer Roger Corman on Hell’s Angels on Wheels starring a young Jack Nicholson. His work with Corman led directly to work with other 70’s luminaries from the Corman stable: Peter Fonda (Easy Rider – Directed by Dennis Hopper), Bob Rafelson (Five Easy Pieces, King of Marvin Gardens), and Peter Bogdanovich (Targets, What’s Up Doc?, Paper Moon, At Long Last Love, Nickelodeon). He would also go on to photograph Hal Ashby’s Shampoo, Martin Scorsese’s New York, New York, Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and many other films.

A cornerstone of the 70s golden age of American Cinema, Kovacs died Saturday night (7/21) in his sleep at his home in Beverly Hills. He is survived by his wife Audrey and his two daughters Jullianna and Nadia.

The blog As Little as Possible contemplates cinema without Kovacs.

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6 thoughts on “Laszlo Kovacs, Cinematographer: 1933-2007

  1. IF nothing else, Close Encounters is my favorite Speilberg film and a huge debt for that goes to the look of the movie. It’s simply beautiful to watch, a nice mix of otherworldly and storybook, well before Speilberg would take storybook to an overwrought level with his later films. Kovacs deserves all the praise for capturing that look and feel.

    The saddest part about Kovacs’ passing is how little reaction it’s actually drummed up amongst the bloggers out there. It’s too easy for the technical genius of Hollywood to slip away unnoticed in a world where Hollywood is now scrutinized so completely and constantly.

  2. Spielberg definitely knew what he was getting with the choice of Kovacs.

    The thing about him for me is he was among the first ‘name’ cinematographers I knew of early on when I was just beginning to understand there was more to a movie than who the stars were.

    It is a little sad a bigger deal isn’t being made about it, but I guess not too surprising since he’s not a star or a director. He’s not a personality.

  3. Nice comments guys. Cinematographers should enjoy greater acclaim, especially the ones from the 1970s and especially ones from the 70s as brilliant as Kovacs. Will films ever look like the ’70s again? I sincerely hope so. Today its either too blocked, too beautiful, or too nothing, shitty for shitty sake verite.
    I long for the beautiful, natural great ’70s look again. Shampoo is not one of my favorites, but that airy look of society lost is haunting (I’m of the opinion that Ashby films are about 80 percent light and cutting anyway, but that’s a different kettle altogether.)

  4. You mean moving the camera around a lot and cutting every few seconds to distract the audience from the fact that the movie is a piece of shit isn’t good cinematography and editing in your book, Chuck? What are you come kind of elitist??!!??

  5. Well I’m an idiot. Kovacs was a camera man on Close Encounters, doing second unit shooting, but Vilmos Zsigmond was the Cinematographer on CE3K.

    I need to pay more attention to what I read.

    Regardless, Kovacs was still brilliant. The thing I appreciate the most about him was that his resume included plenty of standard mainstream films, many of which are notably beautiful regardless of their pedigree.

  6. Hmm…yeah I waffled on that too, but allmovie.com has him listed as one of many cinematographers and IMDB has him listed as ‘additional director of photography’ so I went with it.

    It’s funny though because I’m always mixing up Kovacs and Zsigmond anyway.

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