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No Subtitles Necessary: Laszlo & Vilmos

The names Leslie and Willie a.k.a László Kovács and Vilmos Zsigmond must certainly ring a bell to anyone familiar with the world of cinema. On March 14, 2009, the American Film Institute hosted a special screening of “No Subtitles Necessary: Laszlo & Vilmos”, a documentary by James Chressanthis about the lives and works of Kovács and Zsigmond.

Vilmos Zsigmond and the late László Kovács are two of the most influential contemporary cinematographers considered to be instrumental in the development of the American New Wave. Both masters studied at the Academy of Drama and Film in Budapest and left the country torn by Communism shortly after the start of the 1956 Revolution.

They arrived to the United States after a brief stop-over in Austria in 1957 and broke into the American film industry in the late 90’s. Success did not come easily for either of them and only after working on a number of low-budget B-movies did they manage to gain fame in the world of cinema. Zsigmond compiled over 80 credits including “McCabe & Mrs. Miller”, “Scarecrow”, “Deliverance”, “The Deer Hunter”, and the Academy Award winner “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. Kovács worked on more than 70 films throughout his career such as “Ghost Busters”, “New York, New York”, “Frances”, “What’s Up, Doc?”, and Academy Award nominee “Easy Rider”.

“No Subtitles Necessary: Laszlo& Vilmos” premiered last May at the 61st Cannes International Film Festival and became one of the official Cannes Classics selections. It follows the nearly 50-year-long friendship and artistry of the two cinematographers including vivid interviews with over 30 artists in the film industry, ranging from directors to dps and actors such as Peter Bogdanovich, Vittorio Storaro, Dennis Hopper and Sharon Stone, as well as Kovács and Zsigmond themselves.

When asked about his artistry during the Q&A panel that followed the screening Vilmos Zsigmond emphasized the importance of lighting while making a film. “Light makes a difference”, he said, “and that’s what cinematographers have to learn.” Both Zsigmond and Peter Fonda, who was also present at the screening, noted that there is a shift in filmmaking. They agreed that low-budget and small pictures as well as digital filmmaking itself will be even more apparent in the future.

This promising film demonstrates the essential role the Hungarian cinematography played in influencing the Hollywood film industry. It is high time that these two giants of cinematography were given a “star” at the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

The event was organized by the AFI, the Laszlo Kovacs Courage and Vision Film Fund and Marymount College.

For further information on the film, visit

by Brigitta Bokor

In the photo from left to right is: Mr. Balázs Bokor, Ambassador, Consul General of Hungary, Mr. Peter Fonda, Brigitta Bokor, and Mr. Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC. Photo by Ms. Cheryl Ogden.
Photo by


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