No Subtitles Necessary: Laszlo & Vilmos tells the story of two Hungarian film students who escaped communist Hungary in 1956, with little more than a camera and a shopping bag full of film. Over the next 50 years, Laszlo Kovacs and Vilmos Zsigmond would reinvent Hollywood movies for an entire generation, shooting some of the most notable films in American cinematic history: The Deer Hunter; Close Encounters of the Third Kind; Deliverance; Paper Moon; Five Easy Pieces; What’s Up, Doc; New York, New York; Heaven’s Gate; Frances; and dozens more. The two also maintained an iron-clad friendship along the way.
No Subtitles Necessary: Laszlo & Vilmos airs on SundayArts on Sunday, November 22nd at 3 p.m. WLIW21 spoke with the film’s director, James Chressanthis.
Q. Was it intimidating for you to film two men who practically defined a genre of American cinema?
A. Though I am an experienced cinematographer (2 Emmy® Nominations, Additional Photography on the Oscar-winning Chicago) it was a daunting task. I felt a great responsibility to get their story right while doing justice to their amazing canon of work.
Q. So why profile Laszlo and Vilmos? Why now?A. I met Laszlo first as a student then apprenticed to Vilmos early in my career as a cinematographer. I saw them together during the filming of The Witches of Eastwick (1987) commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution and said to myself: “What an amazing story, someone should do that.” However, the stars and circumstances did not align until twenty years later when I decided to do the film in 2006. I believe their fiercely independent artistic approach, coupled with an optimistic faith in themselves, was the reason they had such an impact on American cinema. In their story, I believe young people can see a path to their own future in these uncertain times which is ripe for new innovative ways of making films.
Q. Laszlo and Vilmos worked on classics like Easy Rider, Deliverance, Paper Moon, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, to name a few … which of their films inspire you the most, and why?
A. McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Paper Moon, Close Encounters of The Third Kind, Frances, The Deer Hunter are some of my favorites. All share the trait of portraying unique individual stories without romanticizing their characters and without sentimentality. At their best, the films of both cinematographers achieve what Vilmos Zsigmond calls Poetic Realism.
Q. What challenges did you face making the film?
A. Dealing with the staggering number of masterpieces or notable films they each shot; structuring the film which has several layers/storylines: The Hungarian Revolution; the struggle of two outsider immigrants trying to achieve the American dream; the change in American cinema and how Laszlo & Vilmos were critical to the “American New Wave”; and most importantly the evolution of a deep friendship that spanned more than fifty years.
Q. How did you get access not only to Laszlo and Vilmos, but all the other big names featured in the film – Dennis Hopper, Peter Bogdanovich, Peter Fonda, Jon Voight, and others?A. All these film artists have a great love of their craft and for their two colleagues and they were very generous with their time. All participants wished to correct the record, so that history will recognize the terrific contribution Laszlo & Vilmos made to our movies.
I wish to thank not only the those mentioned but also give a shout out to Sandra Bullock, John Williams, Richard Donner, Graeme Clifford, Allen Daviau, Owen Roizman, Haskell Wexler, Sharon Stone and the late “Grindhouse King” Ray Dennis Steckler. For me the unanticipated pleasure was having so many wonderful conversations with filmmakers I have been influenced by and admire.