Over the weekend I watched the last half of the World War II home front drama Since You Went Away in the background while I did some work. There's a sequence in a train station that is so stunningly dramatic it fills in the narrative gaps -- the black and white photography tells the story -- and it made me stop what I was doing and watch it again.

Cinematographer László Kovács worked at the opposite end of the spectrum. His most memorable work from the late 1960s through the 1970s (Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, Shampoo, F.I.S.T.) doesn't steal attention from the narrative or make you gasp at its unusual beauty. Instead, Kovács gracefully grappled with reality, using what other photographers would call "mistakes" (lens flares and the like) as a means to integrate the imperfections of life into the varied cinematic visions of the many directors with whom he collaborated. Even when the film as a whole falls short, the art of Kovács is consistent.

The latter part of his career (1980 to 2006) is filled with more populist fare (Ghostbusters, Say Anything..., My Best Friend's Wedding), but Kovács never treated any film as a "cash for hire" proposition, as a 2002 interview with ICG Magazine revealed. He was a consummate professional, always putting the aim of the story ahead of the art of the camera. He passed away on July 21 of this year; Jette Kernion wrote a lovely appreciation of his work.

Kovács will be honored by the Consulate General of the Republic of Hungary in Los Angeles today. Ray Pride at Movie City Indie has all the details. Kovács' friend and fellow cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond is scheduled to speak. Kovács will also be honored with a screening at AFI Fest next month. Torn From the Flag, on which he and Zsigmond served as executive producers, documents Hungary's struggle for national identity.
categories Cinematical