Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The shooters...


Had a busy day yesterday. Looks like my 1980 movie, Ghostkeeper, is going Blu-ray finally, not that it's been forgotten or overlooked. But it's also helping to make Ghostkeeper 2 which just might get into production this year.

But that's not really what I want to talk about.
I just read today that Vilmos Zsigmond passed away. For those of you who are into movies you already know. Vilmos was one of two Hungarians, the other being Lazlo Kovacs, both of whom brought a fresh, new look to movies.

They were DP's, or the more formal Directors of Photography. They're the guys who "shoot" the film. Both Vilmos and Lazlo were in Hungary in 1956 and secretly filmed anything they could to show the Soviet invasion. They escaped to America and brought with them a different style of filmmaking.

Vilmos shot The Deer Hunter while "Laz" filmed Easy Rider, two of the signature films of the late 1960's.

What was different, however, is how they shot movies. The late 60's were already changing how studios would shoot films, it was usually big color movies with tons of gear.

But for the two Hungarians, who were accustomed to make movies with a handful of friends, they created their own "look."

Vilmos often used filters and loved to streak natural light into places that the big studios never dared. He shot Close Encounters Of The Third Kind for Spielberg and then would turn around and make a small movie.

I always remembered how he would "flash" film, exposing a roll of film with light and which gave a film a soft look. Their experiments left the old studio look forever.  

He was 85.

A few weeks before, another DP passed away, someone who had a little more controversy about him. This was Haskell Wexler, who shot One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest with Jack Nicholson and a beautiful looking Bound For Glory, a movie set in the 1930's. It's one of the best-looking films ever.

But Wexler was someone you didn't fool around with. For one thing, he was very political in the sense of getting the studios to not demand long working days in which now and then crewmembers sometimes were so tired they had accidents.  He shot a documentary about the dangers of overworked film crews called Who Needs Sleep.

He also directed a feature film called Medium Cool, about a TV cameraman (similar to me, actually!) in Chicago in 1968 at the time of the Democratic Convention. The movie gained interest when the riots started and Wexler and his crew were right into the heart of it.

There's a scene in the movie, with cops smashing kids, were you can hear someone say to Wexler "It's real Haskell".  However the movie never really went anywhere.

As I mentioned, Wexler was a tough guy, didn't take crap from anyone, but when his son decided to do a documentary on his dad, it was almost difficult to watch. Wexler kept telling his son how to make a movie and anyone who's had an overbearing father knows how much fun that was.

You should really try to find the doc, it's sure to be around somewhere. It's called Tell Them Who You Are.

So why would I, a writer, care about these two guys?

Because I started in this business as a cameraman and still shoot little docs. My best short film, Cooperage, was shot with my partner Phil Borsos, who was the real genius. We won several awards with the film about barrel-making and a finalist in the 1976 Academy Awards.

So long to Vilmos and Haskell, both brilliant DP's whose work will always shine.

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