Today, thousands of filmgoers enjoyed Star Wars: The Force Awakens and appreciated its style and cinematography which mirrors the work of the franchise’s earlier films. The earlier films, and other others like it, were shot by an older generation that young movie fans may not even know their names.
This last week, Hollywood lost the legendary cinematographer, Vilmos Zsigmond, best known for his work on Close Encounters of the Third Kind, who died on January 1, 2016 just five days after fellow cinematographer, Haskell Wexler who was known his work on numerous documentaries and stress-inducing Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Two great directors of photography – two distinctly different styles of work.
Zsigmond, the Hungarian-born cinematographer was became a U.S. citizen in 1962 and worked steadily ever since. The Hollywood Reporter stated that the Hungarian-born cinematographer was taught “in the European style of cinematography” and was known for his “use of natural light and often subdued palette.” He had a fondness for muting colors and that was very evident in the 1971’s McCabe and Mrs. Miller.
In addition to receiving an Oscar for filming aliens in Close Encounters, Zsigmond received numerous nomination and awards including:
Academy Award nominations for his work on The Deer Hunter (1978), The River (1984) and The Black Dahlia (2006).
Two Lifetime Achievement Awards from Camerimage in 1997 and the American Society of Cinematographers in 1999.
An ASC Award for his work on 1992 TV movie, Stalin as well as nominatons for The Ghost and the Darkness (1996) and The Black Dahlia.
A BAFTA Film Award for The Deer Hunter and nominations for McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Images (1972), Deliverance (1972) and Close Encounters.
A National Society of Film Critics Award for The Long Goodbye (1973).
Even at 85, Zsigmond didn’t believe in slowing down. Currently, IMDB lists five other announced projects, three to be completed in 2016, including, Love Affair, Mediate This, Three Dog Night, At 2:15 and Freedom Flight. The Oscar winner also did work for TV as well including 2006’s Surrender Dorothy and numerous episodes of The Mindy Project.
After Zsigmond’s death, Richard Crudo, president of American Society of Cinematographers said, “A second giant has left us within the same week,” referring to the death of Haskell Wexler. “Vilmos Zsigmond was one of the rare cinematographers who helped redefine not just the way movies look, but the way we look at them as well. Every member and associate of the ASC loved and respected him…and we will always miss him.”
Shortly after his death, Wexler’s son, Jeff, posted, “It is with great sadness that I have to report that my father, Haskell Wexler, has died. Pop died peacefully in his sleep, Sunday, December 27th, 2015. Accepting the Academy Award in 1967, Pop said: ‘I hope we can use our art for peace and for love.’ An amazing life has ended but his lifelong commitment to fight the good fight, for peace, for all humanity, will carry on.”
Wexler too has been recognized as of one of America’s more influential cinematographers who has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He said that his work was heavily influenced by French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard.
Wexler won his first Oscar for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) Instead of filming in color, Wexler was tasked with creating the look of the high tension between the film’s two main characters using only shades of black and white.
His second Oscar win followed ten years later for Bound for Glory (1976). In addition, Wexler received high praise for his work on The Best Man (1964), The Heat of the Night (1967), his work as a consultant for American Graffiti (1973), Coming Home (1978), Days of Heaven (1978), the documentary, Richard Pryor Live on the Sunset Strip (1982) and Mulholland Falls (1995). Wexler also received numerous other nominations and awards including:
Oscar nominations for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) Matewan (1987) and Blaze (1989).
He won the American Society of Cinematographer’s top honor in 1989 as well as a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1993.
Wexler was also known for his work on numerous political and social documentaries including Introduction to the Enemy (1974), No Nukes (1980), Target Nicaragua: Inside a Covert War (1983), Latino (1985) and Canadian Bacon for Michael Moore in 1995. His most recent work was for the upcoming made-for-TV documentary, To Begin the World Over Again: The Life of Thomas Paine due sometime this year.
[Photos by Chad Buchanan and Andrew Toth/Getty Images]