Celebrated cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, best known for his work on films like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and The Deer Hunter, died Jan. 1. He was 85. Yuri Neyman, who founded the Global Cinematography Institute with Zsigmond, confirmed the news on Facebook.
Zsigmond’s career spanned decades, beginning with his work as a film student in Hungary with his lifelong friend László Kovács. Together, they chronicled the 1956 Soviet invasion of Budapest before fleeing to Austria. After Zsigmond moved to the United States in the early 1960s, he began work on a number of horror B-movies, billed as William Zsigmond. One of his first major successes came with Robert Altman’s 1971 Western McCabe & Mrs. Miller, and he went on to work on acclaimed films like Deliverance and The Long Goodbye.
He headed up cinematography for Steven Spielberg’s directorial debut, The Sugarland Express, in 1974, and the pair teamed up again in 1977 for Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which earned Zsigmond an Oscar. He was also nominated for Academy Awards for his work on The Deer Hunter, The River, and The Black Dahlia. He won an Emmy for the 1992 HBO movie Stalin, and he earned a nomination for the 2001 miniseries The Mists of Avalon.
Kovács and Zsigmond’s influence and lifelong friendship was chronicled in the 2008 documentary No Subtitles Necessary: László & Vilmos. “Zsigmond was the smoky poetic realist,” EW’s Owen Gleiberman wrote in his review of the documentary. “He set the benchmark for what authenticity in a movie could mean — what it could look like, and how it could make an audience feel — with the saturated fine-grain rustic dream images of McCabe & Mrs. Miller, still the most realistic portrait of the West ever created. The two men went on to shoot dozens of classics between them, from Paper Moon and Shampoo and New York, New York (Kovács) to Deliverance and The Long Goodbye and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Zsigmond). What they invented was imitated all over the world and still is.”
Zsigmond worked well into his 80s, and his recent credits include Woody Allen’s You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger and more than 20 episodes of The Mindy Project.