Vilmos Zsigmond

Active - 1962 - 2017  |   Born - Jun 16, 1930   |   Died - Jan 1, 2016   |   Genres - Drama, Thriller, Comedy, Film, TV & Radio

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Biography by Bruce Eder

Hungarian-born cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, who graduated from the Budapest Film School, emigrated to the United States following the brutal Russian repression of the 1956 Hungarian uprising. He moved up from still photographer and laboratory technician to cinematographer during the next seven years, making his debut with the Arch Hall Jr. exploitation film The Sadist (1963). Throughout the next few years, he worked in low-budget movies, including The Time Travelers (1966) and The Monitors (1969), before moving up to serious major pictures in 1971 with James Goldstone's Red Sky at Morning, produced by Hal Wallis at Universal. That same year, Zsigmond photographed Robert Altman's McCabe and Mrs. Miller, a high-profile failure that was widely reviewed and taken very seriously by critics despite its lack of box-office success, and Peter Fonda's The Hired Hand. His next notable appearance behind the camera was in John Boorman's Deliverance (1972), which became a huge hit, widely acclaimed for all of its production details. Altman's The Long Goodbye (1973) and Steven Spielberg's theatrical debut, The Sugarland Express (1974), followed. And in 1977, Zsigmond served as photographer of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Spielberg's enormous science fiction hit, for which Zsigmond earned an Oscar. His work after that, in pictures such as The Last Waltz, The Deer Hunter, Heaven's Gate, The River, and The Witches of Eastwick, kept him among the most visible of cinematographers. He maintained a strong working relationship with Brian De Palma, collaborating with the director on Obsession, Blow Out, the infamous The Bonfire of the Vanities, and The Black Dahlia. Zsigmond continued to work as well with a variety of different directors such as Richard Donner, Kevin Smith, and Woody Allen. Well-rounded, he also photographed the work of actors turned directors Sean Penn and Jack Nicholson and directed one movie, The Long Shadow (1992), a joint Israeli-Hungarian production. His latter work included acting as the cinematographer for the TV series The Mindy Project. Zsigmond died in 2016, at age 85.

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