(a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: Writer and director James Chressanthis gives us a star-studded tribute to Vilmos Zsigmond and Laszlo Kovacs, two cinematographers of nearly identical backgrounds who brought a much more natural feel to film photography. NO SUBTITLES NECESSARY: LASZLO & VILMOS traces the two men's careers from photographing together the 1956 Hungarian Uprising to filming between them many of the most important and influential films of the late 20th century. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

NO SUBTITLES NECESSARY: LASZLO & VILMOS is a documentary about the careers and lifelong friendship of cinematographers Vilmos Zsigmond and Laszlo Kovacs. Coming from Budapest, Hungary, the two revolutionized the look of film in the 1970s and 1980s, bringing a more naturalistic style to American filmmaking. Together and separately they filmed 140 movies, including some of the most influential films of the 1970s and 1980s: EASY RIDER, THE DEER HUNTER, FIVE EASY PIECES, PAPER MOON, HEAVEN'S GATE, MCCABE & MRS. MILLER, and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND.

Vilmos and Laszlo were film students together in Budapest. In 1956 came the Hungarian Uprising when the people tried to throw off Soviet domination of Hungary. The two men in their mid-twenties took cameras to the street to document the conflicts. They gave little thought to the personal danger they faced from the invading Soviet troops. They filmed the army firing on their fellow countrymen. Their style was to get close to the action and they could not set up lights. They had to use available light. This was a training ground for a naturalistic style that would serve them well later in life. The Soviets won and there were the two filmmakers with 30,000 feet of cinema footage of the revolt and a home country that did not dare to see it. So the two escaped to Austria, smuggling out their contraband footage. They gravitated to California and the American film industry, their progress somewhat impeded by inability to speak English. From there they gradually worked their way into the film industry, filming a few porno films and some horror. Laszlo got some attention for his work on EASY RIDER in 1969. For Vilmos the breakthrough film was 1971 film MCCABE & MRS. MILLER for Robert Altman. Either together or separately, they worked on many of the major films of the period. Their style was to avoid staginess to create an uncontrived feel.

Writer and director James Chressanthis mixes equal parts of respect and affection in profiling the two filmers. He presents interviews with Karen Black, Peter Bogdanovich, Sandra Bullock, Richard Donner, Dennis Hopper, Todd McCarthy, Robert McLachlan, Bob Rafelson, Mark Rydell, Sharon Stone, Jon Voight, and John Williams. There are also clips from films from their combined works. The clips themselves do more than the discussion and interview do to display the special texture their photography gives a scene. Particularly with exterior scenes the background becomes as important as the actors. The blackening sky from the first sequence of SCARECROW or the deep forest of DELIVERANCE can be as active a participant as the actors in front of it.

One negative aspect of the film is that as it is presented it is hard to keep straight which photographer shot which films. Their styles were quite similar. But since the film celebrates their joint contribution, perhaps that is even some of the intention. These are two men, as close as brothers, whose mission and message was to not create an artificial environment to shoot the film in. It is instead to take a natural environment and show it off with the quality of the photography. This film makes an excellent companion piece to the documentary VISIONS OF LIGHT: THE ART OF CINEMATOGRAPHY directed by Arnold Glassman, Todd McCarthy, and Stuart Samuels. I rate NO SUBTITLES NECESSARY: LASZLO & VILMOS a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10. It is highly recommended for cinema fans. It will be released to video February 28, 2012.

Film Credits:

					Mark R. Leeper
					Copyright 2012 Mark R. Leeper