Remembering Vilmos Zsigmund: A Man of Vision

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

Not many people have gone from working with Grade-Z hacks like Al Adamson to A-list directors like Steven Spielberg. In fact, I can only think of one…cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, who passed away New Years Day at age 85. “Ziggy” was born in Hungary, and emigrated to America with his friend and fellow cameraman Laszlo Kovacs after the Hungarian Revolution in 1956. The pair travelled to Hollywood, and Zsigmond found work as a cinematographer and camera operator in the world of low-budget moviemaking. He lensed epics for independent auteurs such as Arch Hall (WILD GUITAR, THE NASTY RABBIT, DEADWOOD ’76), Ray Dennis Steckler (THE INCREDIBLY STRANGE CREATURES WHO STOPPED LIVING AND BECAME MIXED-UP ZOMBIES), and the aforementioned Adamson (BLOOD OF GHASTLY HORROR, SATAN’S SADISTS, HORROR OF THE BLOOD MONSTERS).

The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies (1964)
The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies (1964)

His big break came when Robert Altman hired him to be cinematographer for his 1971 Western MCCABE & MRS. MILLER, and Zsigmond’s career took off. After working again with Altman in 1973 on THE LONG GOODBYE and Mark Rydell’s CINDERELLA LIBERTY, he shot Steven Spielberg’s first feature, 1974’s THE SUGARLAND EXPRESS. He joined Spielberg again in 1977 for CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, winning an Oscar for his work. Zsigmond was cinematographer on some of the most remembered films of the past 45 years. A partial list of his best would have to include DELIVERANCE (1972), THE DEER HUNTER (1978), BLOW OUT (1981), THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK (1987), THE BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES (1990), and THE BLACK DAHLIA (2006).

The Deer Hunter (1978)
The Deer Hunter (1978)
The Witches of Eastwick (1987)
The Witches of Eastwick (1987)
The Black Dahlia (2006)
The Black Dahlia (2006)

Rest in peace and job well done, Ziggy. You’ll be missed.

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