The Life and Times of Vilmos Zsigmond

Hearing about the death of Vilmos today struck me pretty hard…We weren’t very close but we had a mutual understanding of each other as men, more so than as professionals. Over the years I heard many tales of Vilmos back in the day, but this isn’t about war stories and such. It is about the man and the art.

If you haven’t had a chance to read this article…please read. It starts on page 22. It’s probably one of the best articles on cinematography and Vilmos that you will ever find courtesy of his partner and dear friend, Yuri Neyman http://gammadensity.com/journal/GD-JOURNAL-MAR-2011.pdf

Hollywood is and always will be a business. But Vilmos was one of the guys who kept his integrity and put his life on the line to become the man he is and was. This wasn’t about making cool shit. For Vilmos this was a lifetime journey…and fortunately I spent some time with him in his later years where I learned about the business, the art, efficiency and how to deal with the bullshit. BUT it was always about the Art for Vilmos and he did whatever he needed to do, to get there.

You may or may not know about the early years or Vilmos’s past, particularly of his time in Hungary, but it was here that I heard what someone would do for the Art. The quick version is that Hungary was being invaded by the USSR Communist regime and Vilmos had to go over enemy lines to get his film developed. His livelihood was on the line!

By today’s standards that would be a little extreme, but in this instant gratification and entitlement era, it’s important to convey a story like this. Further, when he finally made it to New York, he was told “the best you will ever do is sell shoes”. A tough admonition considering what he had to do prior to and once arriving in New York. Then there is the perrenial story of Vilmos getting fired on Close Encounters of the Third Kind, multiple times. Well, it was easy for Vilmos, because it was for the Art…not the business.

As I mentioned, I knew him mainly in his later years and I can recall a time when we were sitting next to each other and he was trying to open his water bottle and couldn’t. He looked up to me and there were all these veterans, and great young, fertile minds waiting to hear what Vilmos had to say next. It was there that I realized that the body was going but the mind was still creating, loving the art of cinematography and he did so until the very end.

This very thing that Vilmos provided… a person who really wanted to be _______ and did everything he could and did it as best he could until the very last day is something that should warrant respect and admiration, as that can be a rare quality nowadays.

Vilmos seemed to always get a kick out of things I was doing. I would tell him about some crazy shit…and he would always respond with a smile…and a nod of approval.

He was a mentor and a colleague. Good-bye, my friend.

Lawrence