László Kovács (cinematographer)


László Kovács (cinematographer)

László Kovács, A.S.C. (May 14, 1933 – July 22, 2007) was a cinematographer, most famous for his award-winning work on "Easy Rider" and "Five Easy Pieces". He was also the recipient of many other awards, including three Lifetime Achievement Awards. He was an active member of the American Society of Cinematographers and was part of the organization's board of directors.

Biography

Early life

Born in Cece, Hungary, Kovács studied cinema at the Academy of Drama and Film in Budapest between 1952 and 1956. Together with Vilmos Zsigmond, a fellow student and lifelong friend, Kovács secretly filmed the day-to-day development of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution on black and white 35mm film, using an Arriflex camera borrowed from their school. In November of that year, they smuggled the convert|30000|ft|m of film into Austria to have it developed, and they arrived in the United States in March 1957 to sell the footage. By that time, however, the revolution was no longer considered newsworthy and it was not until some years later, in 1961, that it was screened on the CBS television network, in a documentary narrated by Walter Cronkite.

Kovács settled in the United States, becoming a naturalized citizen in 1963. He worked at several manual labor jobs, including making maple syrup and printing microfilm documents in an insurance office, before making several "no-budget" and "low-budget" films with Vilmos Zsigmond, including The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies.

Film career

His breakthrough came with the Academy Award-nominated 1969 film "Easy Rider", starring and directed by Dennis Hopper. Kovács was reluctant to work on this film at first, having already worked on a number of B movie biker films, such as "Hells Angels on Wheels". Hopper ultimately convinced Kovács that his film would be different and, impressed with the project, he signed on as the film's director of photography. He earned 2nd place for the Best Cinematographer Golden Laurel at the 1970 Laurel Awards for his work on "Easy Rider" and worked with Hopper a second time on "The Last Movie" the following year. That same year, Kovács earned 3rd place in the same category for "Five Easy Pieces".

In total, Kovács filmed over 70 motion pictures. Among these were six films for director Peter Bogdanovich: "Targets", "What's Up, Doc?", "Paper Moon", "At Long Last Love", "Nickelodeon", and "Mask". Bogdanovich worked with Kovács more times than any other cinematographer. [ [http://www.latimes.com/news/obituaries/la-me-kovacs24jul24,1,7113749.story?coll=la-news-obituaries Obituaries - Laszlo Kovacs, 74; cinematographer shot key New Hollywood films such as `Easy Rider' - Los Angeles Times ] ]

Other notable films Kovács photographed

Other notable films Kovács photographed include "For Pete's Sake", "Shampoo", "New York, New York", "Ghostbusters", "Say Anything", "Radio Flyer", "My Best Friend's Wedding", and "Miss Congeniality". He also did additional photography on acclaimed, classic films like "Close Encounters of the Third Kind", "The Last Waltz", and "". His final work was "Torn from the Flag", a 2006 feature documentary about the 1956 Hungarian Revolution which incorporates the footage he and Zsigmond filmed during the conflict.

When working on "The Last Waltz," camera operators were instructed to turn their cameras off on different intervals, in order to save battery life. One of these instances was during Muddy Waters's set, but Waters's outstanding performance led director Martin Scorsese to spontaneously change his mind, and ordered all cameras to be turned on. Because the cameras took several minutes to fully warm up, most caught only the last few bars of Waters's performance. Kovács, however, either did not hear or disregarded orders to shut down his camera, and was the only cameraperson on set who managed to film Waters's entire performance. Because of this happy accident, not only does Waters's set survive on film, but it also is shot almost entirely from a single angle, thereby visually complementing the power of the performance.

Awards and honors

Kovács was honored with Lifetime Achievement Awards from Camerimage (1998), WorldFest (1999), and the American Society of Cinematographers (2002). The Lifetime Achievement Award from the ASC is the organization's highest honor. In addition, Kovács received an Excellence in Cinematography Award from the 1999 Hawaii International Film Festival and a Hollywood Film Award at the 2001 Hollywood Film Festival.

Death

In 2007, at the age of 74, Kovács died at his home in Beverly Hills, California of an undisclosed illness. He is survived by his widow, Audrey, and their two daughters, Julianna and Nadia. It has been reported that the 2008 ASC Student Awards will be known as Laszlo Kovacs Student Heritage Awards, in his honor.

Further reading

*"Masters of Light - Conversations with cinematographers" (1984) Schaefer, S & Salvato, L., ISBN 0-520-05336-2
* [http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/hr/content_display/news/e3i26dfe10292c4995ee1ea9e599a11acef Cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs dies at 74] (2007) Carolyn Giardina, [http://www.hollywoodreporter.com The Hollywood Reporter]
* [http://www.latimes.com/news/obituaries/la-me-kovacs24jul24,1,7113749.story?coll=la-news-obituaries Laszlo Kovacs, 74; cinematographer shot key New Hollywood films such as 'Easy Rider'] (2007) Dennis McLellan, Los Angeles Times
* [http://www.cinematographers.nl/PaginasDoPh/kovacs.htm László Kovács] at the [http://www.cinematographers.nl/PaginasDoPh/kovacs.htm Internet Encyclopedia of Cinematographers]

Bibliography

*Ray Zone, "New Wave King, The Cinematography of Laszlo Kovacs, ASC" (2002), ASC Holding Corp., ISBN 0-935-57819-6

References

External links

*imdb name|id=0004088|name=László Kovács
* [http://www.beer1.freeler.nl/PaginasDoPh/kovacs.htm Brief biography and credits]
* [http://www.filmdailies.com/archives/mardi-gras-easy-rider/ László Kovács' work on "Easy Rider"]
* [http://www.cameraguild.com/magazine/stoo1298a.htm International Cinematographers' Guild Biography]


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