As part of its “Independent Lens” series, PBS will run what promises to be a fascinating documentary about Vilmos Zsigmond and Lazlo Kovacs, two Hungarian cinematographers who took Hollywood by storm back in the late 60’s and early 70’s. Both had ascended to legendary status by the time I got into the biz, and I never had the chance to do a movie with either man – but I did work one day as an arc operator on a commercial shot by Lazlo back in the early 80's. I can't remember the product we were hawking, but at the end of the day, I was wrapping cable out on the sidewalk as the man himself – nattily dressed and carrying a briefcase – left the set heading for his car. Sensing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I pulled off my gloves and introduced myself as someone who had long been an admirer of his work, and particularly his black-and-white cinematography for the feature Paper Moon. He smiled, put down his briefcase to shake my hand, then stood there for a good ten minutes talking about the fine art of shooting film.
I wish I could tell you I remember what he said. What impressed me -- dazzled me, actually -- was that this living legend was willing to stop and chat with a young juicer who clearly didn’t yet know shit from Shinola, as the saying goes. Although Lazlo Kovacs truly was Hollywood royalty, he didn’t act like it. A wizard behind the lens, he was also a genuinely gracious man. I just wish I’d had the chance to work a few more days on his crew.
The film “No Subtitles Necessary” will air at 9 pm Thursday night (Nov 19) on KCET here in LA. When it will broadcast in other areas or on other stations, I don’t know, nor am I sure of the running time -- so check your local listings, as they say.