With one swift push of a firing button, Vilmos Zsigmond's existence could have ended in 1956 as Russian tanks pushed their way through Hungary during its revolution. Not a man to be trifled with, however, Zsigmond found himself shooting over 10,000 feet of black and white documentary footage while dodging those tanks—film which was later smuggled out with him and his colleagues to Austria. Needless to say, his film career started out with a bang.
A native of Szeged, Hungary and son of a celebrated soccer player and coach, Zsigmond developed an interest in photography while in high school. After his graduation from the State University of Motion Picture and Theater Arts in Budapest, the Hungarian Revolution hit. His escape from the country and pilgrimage to the United States were underway. Eventually making connections with U.S. filmmakers, Zsigmond had the chance to develop his new style of lighting—a combination of the "old" classical style and the "new" flexible soft lighting. It was soon apparent, however, that he could do much more than shoot a picture. With a brash, outspoken approach to filmmaking, his pursuit of excellence offered directors a specific look, surpassing the limits of his more conservative contemporaries.
His rich, emotional texture on Robert Altman's McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971), Images (1972) and The Long Goodbye (1973) drew public and critical acclaim. Quickly becoming one of today's most visible cinematographers, Zsigmond's evocative look and "altering eye" found outlets in such masterpieces as John Boorman's Deliverance (1972), Mark Rydell's The Rose (1979), Richard Donner's Maverick (1994), Sean Penn's The Crossing Guard (1994) and Steven Hopkins' The Ghost and the Darkness (1996). His long-overdue Academy Award came in 1977, with his powerful achievements on Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The following year found Zsigmond's dark and disturbing work on Michael Cimino's The Deer Hunter (1978) receiving an Oscar nomination, and another nomination appeared for the daring and powerful look he brought to Mark Rydell's The River (1983).
In film after film, Zsigmond's cinematography has shown him to be a master at evoking the intended visual mood and ambiance of a given story. His innovations also led the way for many others in expanding the limits of creative cinematography. Zsigmond unquestionably can be classified as one of the finest and most efficacious cinematographers working in today's cinema. Because he approaches his art with a perfect balance of authority, excellence and a strong sense of integrity, Vilmos Zsigmond's images are some of the most indelible. Mr. Zsigmond will be appearing for this very special night with a rarely seen big screen presentation of Deliverance. - Mike Rabehl