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Hungarians in Hollywood: the Artistry of László Kovács

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The recent passing of actor Peter Fonda brought a resurgence of interest in the American counterculture juggernaut of a film Easy Rider. With Dennis Hopper directing, it marked a new era of film-making that catered to the more independent spirit that had taken hold of a changing America, so under stress from the Vietnam War. Nobody understood the feeling of radical freedom better on that set than the cinematographer, László Kovács.

Born in Cece, Hungary, in 1933, Kovács spent his youth under the threat of war, then war itself. In the 50s, he studied cinema at Budapest’s Academy of Drama and Film, where he met his most famous contemporary in cinematography: Vilmos Zsigmond. Together they compiled reels secretly filmed of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. After smuggling the 30,000 feet of footage out of the country in a daring escape to Austria, the pair made their way to America to try to sell the footage. This culminated in a documentary of the event, narrated by Walter Cronkite.

Kovács decided to stay in the States, along with Zsigmond. He took odd jobs like making maple syrup and working in film archives to pay the rent and finance his low/no budget films, like the much forgotten The Incredibly Strange Creatures who Stopped Living and Became Mixed Up Zombies. Though far from his artistic aspirations, such films led to work on Hollywood B-movies, particularly in the biker genre. This caught the attention of Dennis Hopper, who was recruiting indie-minded film-makers to work on Easy Rider. 

Made for a paltry 400,000 dollars, the film grossed over 60 million worldwide, making all its primaries very in demand for future work. Kovács was recruited to work on Jack Nickolson’s classic Five Easy Pieces, which would garner him the third place Golden Laurel for Best Cinematographer. The eighties saw him work on several influential hits in diverse genres, from straight-up comedy in Ghostbusters, to rom-com Say Anything, and the darkly tragic biopic of Francis Farmer, Francis. His last huge hit was the Sandra Bullock starring Miss Congeniality in the early years of this century. But for his final work, he returned to his roots, contributing the footage he made before escaping Hungary to the documentary Torn From the Flag, about the 1956 Revolution.

Kovács died in his sleep, in Beverly Hills at age 74. The film No Subtitles Necessary chronicles his relationship with Zsigmond, and we have included the trailer below. Kovács has rightfully earned his place in Hollywood, and Hungarian, history.

László Kovács via Wikipedia Commons

László Kovács via Wikipedia Commons

Flatpack Films has many years of experience dedicated to offering expert servicing. It has brought the best of Hungary to countless brands, agencies, and production companies through its unique locations, exceptionally skilled crews, top of the line equipment and technical solutions. Backed by an impeccable track record, Flatpack Films has worked with world-class clients including Samsung, Samsonite, Toyota, Braun, Chivas Regal and many more - bringing their projects to life through a highly bespoke approach.