Laszlo Kovacs, Chronicler of Human Emotion

July 25, 2007 § 1 Comment

By Lars Trodson

Laszlo Kovacs, who did the cinematography for “Easy Rider”, has died at the age of 74. If nothing else, Kovacs’ advanced age makes us realize just how far away those evergreen days of the hippies and revolutionary America now are. He wasn’t old, but old enough, and it may be that we are now beginning to see the shuttering of the era that was the 1960s, just as we have seen other epochs of American history fold away into the history of time.

You can’t blame time. It passes relentlessly. But I remember seeing “Paper Moon”, which Kovacs shot, when it first came out (1971) and I thought I was watching a movie actually made in the 1930s.

There is one image in that movie I will never forget. There’s a young black girl that is sort of a helper to the character Trixie Delight (played by Madeline Kahn). Addie and this girl play a cruel trick to ensure that Addie’s father, Moses Pray (Ryan O’Neal) will know that Trixie is not someone to be trusted (it involves a sexual liaison).

The trick goes off as planned, and Moses reacts as planned: he picks up and leaves. But the two young girls have grown to like each other very much, and they say goodbye abruptly to one another in the hotel corridor. As Addie waves goodbye, Kovacs made the decision to linger on the black girl, and to have the camera glide smoothly, and beautifully, away from her down the aisle. This artistic choice articulated with amazing poignancy just how much the separation was going to mean not to Addie, but to the black girl, whose life was surely not going to have as much affection and acceptance as Addie had given to her. This was a human, and unexpected, choice.

It’s a stunning moment, and emblematic of this artist. Laszlo Kovacs knew how film could accentuate the nuances of human emotion, and that is a talent that will be sorely missed.


§ One Response to Laszlo Kovacs, Chronicler of Human Emotion

  • Larry says:

    In addition to being an amazing artist behind the lens, Laszlo was a very warm and gentle individual. He was kind and generous in a business known for out-sized egos and vicious competition. Laszo was a favorite “shooter” of a couple of the commercial directors that I cast for and he would participate in the call-backs more often than any other cinematographer except someone like Joe Pytka who directed AND shot commercials.Lazlo Kovacs never had a negative word about anyone. During the playbacks of the casting videos when he, the director and the ad agency’s producer were deciding on the casting he always made his comments in a supportive and understanding manner, as though the actor was actually present in the room.I only got to work on set with him once and his gentlemanly manner as cinematographer and second in command made up for the pompous self-centered egomaniac actually directing the project. I would have worked under any circumstances to work with him again, and I will miss him as much as any talent I have ever known.

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