Laszlo Kovacs


BEVERLY HILLS, California (AP) _ Laszlo Kovacs, a Hungarian refugee and master cinematographer whose stylistic inventions transformed cinema with such movies as ''Easy Rider'' and ''Five Easy Pieces,'' has died. He was 74.

Kovacs died in his sleep at his home here on Sunday, his wife, Audrey, told the Los Angeles Times in Tuesday editions.

Kovacs made some 70 movies over five decades. His work ranged from the gritty black-and-white portrayal of Depression America in ''Paper Moon'' to the saturated glamour of ''Shampoo.''

''I think he's one of the great cameraman of the New Hollywood era,'' ''Paper Moon'' director Peter Bogdanovich told the newspaper.

Kovacs was able to bring rich composition into the outdoors, using natural lighting and breaking studio conventions.

''Laszlo's success was in taking movies out of the studio and on the road and into real situations. His ability to do that, along with others, changed cinema forever,'' said James Chressanthis, who is making a documentary about Kovacs and another Hungarian cinematographer, Vilmos Zsigmond.

Kovacs ''could film air like nobody I had ever seen,'' ''Five Easy Pieces'' director Bob Rafelson told the Times. ''There's something palpable about the air that somehow or other he could make visible on film: You could sense the density of the air, the small particles of color.''

Kovacs fell in love with movies in his native Hungary as a child, where he watched them on weekends in a makeshift cinema. He became interested in cinematography while a student at the Academy of Drama and Film in Budapest.

During the 1956 revolt against the Communist regime, Kovacs and fellow classmate Zsigmond filmed the protests with a borrowed 35mm school camera hidden in a shopping bag, according to an obituary on the Web site of the American Society of Cinematographers.

As the Russian Army crushed the revolt, both men fled the country across the Austrian border with 30,000 feet of film stashed in sacks. They arrived in the United States in 1957. Some of the footage was used years later in a television documentary.

Over the next decade Kovacs moved up from menial jobs such as taking passport photos, tapping trees for maple syrup and processing film to shooting industrial and educational movies and National Geographic documentaries.

In the 1960s Kovacs made a series of low-budget motorcycle movies. When Dennis Hopper approached him about shooting the ''Easy Rider,'' Kovacs was not enthusiastic, thinking it was just another biker movie.

But when Hopper acted out the story _ two friends on a cross-country journey to discover America _ Kovacs changed his mind.

''I was fascinated by the aspect of two young men and I had a chance to put in this third person _ this landscape, this character,'' Kovacs told the Albuquerque Journal last year.

Kovacs was ''the greatest telephoto operator that I have ever seen and I could never have made 'Easy Rider' without him,'' Hopper said in a statement to the Times on Monday.

Released in 1969, the movie won international acclaim and made a name for Kovacs. He went on to shoot or direct photography for dozens of other movies, including ''Ghostbusters,'' ''The Karate Kid,'' ''Frances,'' ''Mask,'' and ''Miss Congeniality.'' He did additional photography for ''The Last Waltz'' and ''Close Encounters of the Third Kind.''

He received the American Society of Cinematographers Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002.

In addition to his wife, Kovacs is survived by his daughters Julianna and Nadia and a granddaughter, Mia

Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press

Guest Book

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Godspeed Laszlo, thank you for sharing a part of your life with us and the wonderful memories....

I had the pleasure of going out with Laszlo to the Smokehouse restauraunt and also speaking with him on several occations and he was alway a joy to be around. He had the most wonderful spirit about him. I am thankful that I knew him he was always extremley positive.

Thank you for the music


I watched the documentary of laszlo and Vilmos on PBS. I was very moved. My parents escaped from Hungary in 1949. Laszlo and Vilmos remind me so much of my late father and his friends. They had the same oulook on life. Laszlo and Vilmos really did great work.I have seen many films photographed by them.
May Laszlo's spirit live on.

I just finished watching a documentary on PBS about Laszlo's life. I was charmed and inspired by his spirit. At the end of the documentary, his wife Audrey made a comment that it was not about the race, but about how to create the moment. Beautiful words to live by, and words that show his spirit is with Audrey and can be with any of us willing to let him in.

Laszlo Kovacs was a superb cinematagrapher. His last film was Torn From The Flag, a documentary film about the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and the fall of communism, and includes never-before-seen footage by the late Laszlo. I have seen this film. It's remarkably made and is currently in the race for Oscar recognition. It may be the last film by him to ever get recognized.

Rest in peace Laszlo Kovacs.
You will be missed.

Godspeed my husband and the girls father. A life well spent, an inspiration to all of us. Go ahead of us and we will carry on your spirit.
With admiration and love with out end.

Kovacs is my family name, Laszlo will be sadly missed by every movie fan.
May God bless your family to deal with this loss.