Monday, January 4, 2016

Goodbye To Two Masters of Cinematography: Haskell Wexler and Vilmos Zsigmond

The past week has been hard on the art of cinematography. Two of its mightiest masters have gone. First, last week Haskell Wexler died, then a few days later Vilmos Zsigmond followed. They were both advanced in age and had done enough good work for ten normal lives, but they have left a mighty example for those to follow. When the members of the International Cinematographers Guild were polled in 2012 both men were included on their list of Most Influential Cinematographers of all time, alongside the likes of Gregg Toland, James Wong Howe, Vittorio Storaro and Sven Nykvist.

These were giants. Wexler shot such immaculate films as THE LOVED ONE, WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF, IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT, MEDIUM COOL (which he also wrote and directed), BOUND FOR GLORY, ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST and MATEWAN, among many others. He won two Oscars and was given the Lifetime Achievement Award by The American Society Of Cinematographers. He was also an outspoken activist and campaigner for social justice.

Zsigmond was a well respected Cinematographer in his native Hungary but when he emigrated to America in the early '60s there were few opportunities open to him so he made his living shooting industrial films and low budget films such as THE SADIST and THE INCREDIBLY STRANGE CREATURES WHO STOPPED LIVING AND BECAME MIXED-UP ZOMBIES. Robert Altman gave Zsigmond his big break in the U.S., hiring him for McCABE & MRS. MILLER. He went on to shoot THE HIRED HAND, DELIVERANCE, THE LONG GOODBYE, SUGARLAND EXPRESS, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, THE DEER HUNTER, HEAVEN'S GATE and many more.

Here is a candid master-class with Zsigmond from 2014 where he shares his thoughts, experiences and opinions:

A sample: "It (cinema) is an art form. And unfortunately today we are losing it. We think now that with special effects we can do everything... effects are overtaking everything. And I think the problem is that (in the past) films started to be about images, and we forgot about that. Also they started to be stories about people, and we forgot about that. And you know the effects are becoming the people. I don't know how many explosions, how many killings... it's amazing. What happened to my darling artistic movies, you know? It was gone. It is gone. So how do we get it back?"

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