The American Society of Cinematographers has announced that director of photography Laszlo Kovacs, ASC, will be the 16th recipient of its Lifetime Achievement Award. The honor will be presented February 17, 2002, during the ASC's annual awards ceremony at the Century Plaza Hotel.
Kovacs was born in Hungary and trained under Gyorgy Illes in the cinematography department at Budapest's Academy of Drama and Film. He and classmate Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC, surreptitiously shot footage of the city's 1957 invasion by Russian troops, and smuggled the film out of the country in potato sacks. After arriving in the United States, Kovacs worked in photo labs and shot industrial films before moving up to feature DP on a series of low-budget biker and psychedelia films with director Richard Rush. This led to Kovacs' big break, shooting the groundbreaking 1960s classic Easy Rider for Dennis Hopper. In the experimental spirit of the times, the DP flared the lens and made other photographic "mistakes," in the service of finding new ways to see.
After Easy Rider, Kovacs continued to work with many of the era's maverick directors, including Bob Rafelson, Peter Bogdanovich, and Hal Ashby; his films from the early 70s include Getting Straight, Five Easy Pieces, Hopper's The Last Movie, What's Up, Doc?, The King of Marvin Gardens, Paper Moon, and Shampoo. In an interview with LD several years ago, Kovacs said of these films, "They were all little jewels, in a way. They didn't fill a program—they tried to say something. And that's when the cinematographer is always challenged, because you have to create a look and a style that represents and expresses the director's vision. It was very exciting."
Later, like Hollywood itself, Kovacs' work settled into a more conventional groove, though he did shoot Martin Scorsese's audacious musical flop New York, New York in 1977. In the 1980s, the DP's work included the Ivan Reitman comedies Ghostbusters and Legal Eagles, Bogdanovich's Mask, and Cameron Crowe's Say Anything…. More recently, he has continued to excel at studio comedies like Multiplicity, My Best Friend's Wedding, and Miss Congeniality.
The ASC honor is for Kovacs the latest in a lifetime of blessings. "Coming to a new country, and to adopt that country and have this country adopt me, it's just such a rich experience," he says. "I feel lucky, because I'm one of the few people in the world whose dream has come true, and is able to do what he loves to do and is passionately practicing every day in his life."