The first time a cinematographer truly rocked my cinematic soul was November 1977.
Steven Spielberg's wonder-filled sci-fi adventure Close Encounters of the Third Kind transfixed many of us to the screen with possibilities that we are not alone in the vastness of space. John Williams' five-tone symphonic magnificence brought much to the party, of course, as did director Spielberg.
It wasn't until that afternoon at the movies in 1977, however, that I fully appreciated the contribution a gifted cinematographer adds to the movie magic. I can still remember my insides rattling with the ferocity of those vibrating mailboxes that Richard Dreyfuss, portraying a soon-to-be-befuddled lineman for the county, was experiencing with a mixture of wide-eyed fear and curiosity.
Those unforgettable images in Close Encounters came from the creativity of master cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, who died January 1 at 85, according to published reports.
The Hungary native hop-scotched in and around San Antonio to shoot Spielberg's breakout film, The Sugarland Express, in 1974. My Zsigmond favorites, in addition to Close Encounters, include The Deer Hunter (1978), Deliverance (1972) and, especially, The Rose, showcasing Bette Midler channeling Janis Joplin in 1979.
According to Zsigmond's obit posted on the Hollywood Reporter website, the master behind the camera, who took home home his only Academy Award for Close Encounters "was taught in the European style of cinematography with particular appreciation for light gradations and color tone.
"Zsigmond’s work was noted for its use of natural light and often subdued palette, as visible in such films as McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971). To attain this look, he utilized a photographic technique known as 'flashing,' exposing the negative to a small amount of light before lensing. The procedure would ultimately mute the colors," the Hollywood Reporter post stated.
Let me just add this. Vilos Zsigmond shot film, baby, when shooting film -- celluloid, not that digital stuff we see today -- was not only cool, but truly magical.
Rest in peace, Vilmos, thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of movie fans around the world will not soon forget your spellbinding contributions to our movie memories.