Magazine article American Cinematographer

Clubhouse News

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Clubhouse News

Article excerpt

ASC Talents in Palm Springs

ASC members John Toll and Vilmos Zsigmond were the guests of honor at the Palm Springs International Film Festival/Palm Springs Art Museum seminar "Talking Pictures: A Close-Up on Great Hollywood Cameramen" in January. Toll's latest feature, Guillermo Arriaga's The Burning Plain, was the festival's closing-night film.

In an interview with David Kaminsky, M.D., a former PSIFF vice chairman. Toll and Zsigmond discussed their respective approaches to the craft and screened clips from the World War Il drama The Thin Bed Line (1998), which brought Toll his second ASC Award and third Oscar nomination, and the Vietnam War drama The Deer Hunter (1978), which brought Zsigmond his second Oscar nomination and helped cement his reputation as one of the leading cameramen of the American NewWave.

"The Thin Red Line was a cinematographer's dream - [director] Terry Malick is so visually articulate, and he wanted to tell this story primarily with images," said Toll, who screened a clip showing the Americans' attack on a Japanese encampment in the jungle. 'Terry wanted to explore the idea of war as the real enemy, and the random nature of the violence was something we tried to convey visually."

Toll acknowledged that his early experiences as a camera assistant and operator on documentaries came in handy on Malick's film, but he noted that he and the director were not interested in creating a vérité feel. "We didn't want to use handheld to simulate a documentary sensibility, like so many films do today," he said. "We went handheld for some scenes because Terry wanted me to be free to improvise [moves] within a sequence, to follow dialogue and really explore the emotional thread of the scene."

After screening the final scene in The Deer Hunter, wherein the friends at a soldier's wake break into a spontaneous rendition of "God Bless America," Zsigmond admitted he found the scene "corny" when he first read the script. "But [director] Michael Cimino said, 'Just wait for the rehearsal, and see what the actors do with it.' And he was right. For me, the key moment in this scene is when the woman comments on the weather ... she says, 'It's so gray.' That told me everything about how the scene should look and feel."

Both Toll and Zsigmond demurred when Kaminsky asked them to describe their respective styles. "I'm not sure I can characterize my 'style' so much as my approach," said Toll. "Whenever I read a script, I'm constantly trying to visualize what the story should look like. What is the nature of the story, and how can we tell it with images? …

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