June 16, 2015
Gordon Willis can lay claim to being the American cinematographer of the 1970s. The classics he shot for Coppola, Pakula, and Allen remain in large part what the Hollywood Renaissance was about. Willis, ideal for the Watergate decade, was noir shadow and the concavity of paranoia: ultimate artist of the indoors, and of stories where confinement determined character. But the movies needed his opposite number, and that was VILMOS ZSIGMOND (born 1930), in whose Seventies visions character was usually revealed, or wrenched out, by vastness and exposure. His lensing of John Boorman’s Deliverance (1972) cannot be outdone as a capture of natural beauty in paranoid style, of a green and dappled gorgeousness hungry to devour. Zsigmond could translate the visions of directors as different (or as similar?) as Robert Altman (McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Images, The Long Goodbye), Steven Spielberg (The Sugarland Express, Close Encounters), and Michael Cimino (The Deer Hunter, Heaven’s Gate), while taking lesser craftsmen to levels of finesse and resonance they’d not reach again (Fonda’s The Hired Hand, Schatzberg’s Scarecrow, DePalma’s Blow Out). Filling his frames with texture and feeling, Zsigmond caught the bucolic equivalent to Willis’s urban dread — the malevolence in a twittering forest, the risk of an open road, the possibilities of a starry night: that fear, always and forever, of the hidden within the visible.
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