Hollywood focuses on Kovacs

Lenser honored at Raleigh event

"A hard-working genius" and "a great Hungarian American" was how the late cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs was described Monday at a tribute to the man and his work in Hollywood. The event was organized by the Consulate General of Hungary in Los Angeles.

Kovacs, said Ambassador Balazs Bokor, Consul General of Hungary, was "a witness of the 1956 revolution in Hungary, the 51st anniversary of which we are going to celebrate on October 23. It was a milestone of Hungarian history, bloodily pushed down by the Soviet tanks. He did not plan to escape from Hungary: He and his life-long friend, Vilmos Zsigmond, left the country rescuing the very precious film made by them about the revolutionary events. He put his fingerprint on the history of filmmaking forever."

The event was hosted by Raleigh Studios in the Chaplin Building and included testimonials and tributes from world-renowned Hungarian and U.S. film luminaries, including Oscar-winning cinematographer Zsigmond. Others included cinema journalist Bob Fisher; Steven Lighthill, senior filmmaker in residence at the AFI; Michael Newport, manager, Raleigh Film; Gyula Gazdag, filmmaker and UCLA professor; USC professor Gabor Kalman; Bela Bunyik, founder and president of the Hungarian Film Festival in Los Angeles; Robert Gyri, president of the William Fox Film Club; and "56 Drops of Blood" director Attila Bokor. They spoke about their personal experiences with Kovacs, on his life achievement and on Hungarian-American film cooperation.

"He was, what we call, a Hungarian American. ... He joined in his life the pantheon of world-famous American film people, among them quite a lot of Hungarians, like some of the founding fathers of Hollywood," said Ambassador Bokor, who was a friend of the cinematographer.

Personal messages from Dennis Hopper and Peter Bogdanovich specially sent for the occasion were read.

Said Hopper, "Laszlo was the greatest telephoto operator I know of. He was a great cinematographer. His lighting was quick, fast and complete. We shot 'Easy Rider' in five weeks, going through and shooting in five different states. We used a fast film that had not been used before in feature movies. I would never have been able to make 'Easy Rider' without Laszlo and Paul Lewis, my production manager, who brought Mr. Kovacs to me. He said, 'This is your man', and he certainly was. My vision for 'Easy Rider' and 'The Last Movie,' both shot by Laszlo, was simple, but very complicated. Since I was starring and directing in both films, hand signals were the way we communicated. That's how in the same groove we were. A wonderful, charming, hard-working genius. We are all lucky to have been his friend. He will not be missed, but will be with us forever through his films and our collective memory."

Bogdanovich added, "Laszlo Kovacs and I did seven pictures together, more than I did with any other cinematographer, and the reason is simple: Laszlo was the most versatile director of photography. He could do anything, and he did it with ease and charm and a kind of gracious intensity. It was enormously easy to work with him and always a lot of fun. When I did pictures without him, I always missed him. I miss him now. He was the best."

Among the 70 plus lensing credits for Kovacs, who died July 21, are "Targets," "Five Easy Pieces," "Paper Moon," "Shampoo," "New York, New York," "Ghost Busters," "Mask" and " Miss Congeniality."

A short film on Kovacs, directed by Csaba Kael, produced by Bela Bunyik, was screened.

Kovacs' widow, Audrey, greeted the audience at the end of the event, thanking them for paying tribute to her husband.
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