Following in the footsteps of such iconic directors of photography as Sven Nykvist, Gordon Willis, Haskell Wexler and Conrad Hall, Hungarian-born d.p. Vilmos Zsigmond has become the 12th recipient of the American Society of Cinematographers’ Lifetime Achievement Award.
“The body of Vilmos’ work will stand the test of time,” said ASC president Woody Omens during a Thursday luncheon at the ASC Clubhouse in Hollywood.
Others who spoke warmly on Zsigmond’s behalf included previous ASC Lifetime recipient Owen Roizman and fellow Hungarian emigre Lazlo Kovacs, with whom Zsigmond recorded the 1956 Hungarian uprising against the Russian occupation in Budapest, and subsequently smuggled the film out of the country.
An Academy Award winner for his visualization of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” directed by Steven Spielberg (with whom he shot the director’s first feature, “Sugarland Express”), Zsigmond also has received Oscar nominations for his work on “The Deer Hunter” and “The River.”
Ever since his collaboration with director Robert Altman on “McCabe and Mrs. Miller” in 1971, Zsigmond has been considered one of the premier artists in his field. “McCabe” is notable for Zsigmond’s pioneering method of “flashing” the film’s color stock, which pre-exposes the film to reduce the contrast and gives greater emphasis to shadows.
Zsigmond also shot Altman’s neo-noir adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s “The Long Goodbye,” as well as the director’s avant-garde character study “Images.”
Other directors with whom Zsigmond has enjoyed a fruitful partnership include Michael Cimino (“Deer Hunter,” which earned Zsigmond a BAFTA award, the British equivalent of the Oscar, and “Heaven’s Gate”), Brian DePalma (“Obsession,” “Blow Out,” “Bonfire of the Vanities”), Mark Rydell (“Cinderella Liberty,” “The River”) and John Boorman (“Deliverance”).
“I always choose stories that say something about the human condition,” said Zsigmond when pressed about the works of which he’s most proud.
Zsigmond previously won an Emmy and an ASC award for lensing the miniseries “Stalin” and was nominated in the feature category in 1997 for “The Ghost and the Darkness.” Last year he received the Lifetime Achievement Award at Poland’s CamerImage, the international festival of the art of cinematography.
But clearly Zsigmond views his latest ASC triumph as the pinnacle of his career. “The Academy Award is a great honor, but the ASC Lifetime Achievement Award is probably the biggest honor anyone could get,” said Zsigmond from the clubhouse dais.
ASC will make its formal presentation to Zsigmond and 1998’s other honorees at the 13th Annual ASC Outstanding Achievement Award ceremonies Feb. 21 at the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles.