Watch: Vilmos Zsigmond Defined 1970s Cinema

Watch: Vilmos Zsigmond Defined 1970s Cinema

The late cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond arguably defined the look of American cinema in the 1970s. He worked on films like Altman’s ‘McCabe and Mrs. Miller,’ De Palma’s ‘Blow Out’ and Spielberg’s ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind,’ for which he received an Oscar. Despite the fact that few of his films look alike, Zsigmond developed a distinct visual style over the course of his illustrious career—namely succeeding in creating significance within the frame by juxtaposing his subjects using deep focus. In ‘Blow Out,’ the shot where John Travolta’s Jack Terry points his boom mic at the distant owl can be seen as representing the duality between sight and sound. In ‘Deer Hunter,’ you can also see a duality in Robert De Niro’s Michael "Mike" Vronsky. As he walks across atop a rocky mountain, his troubled past is represented by his mirror image that’s reflected on the lake surface. Zsigmond’s ability to maximize the area of the visual frame to produce new meaning beyond the film’s narrative is just one of the many reasons why he gained his legendary status in the filmmaking industry.

Watch: Brian De Palma’s Split Diopter Shot Creates Worlds Upon Worlds

Watch: Brian De Palma’s Split Diopter Shot Creates Worlds Upon Worlds

Because Brian De Palma is fascinated by the inherently Byzantine nature of human activity, be it war, detective work, murder, or espionage, it makes perfect sense that he would be drawn to the split diopter shot, which uses an attachment that gives equal focus to both close and distant objects. De Palma doesn’t want us to miss anything. Even as Caruso sings on stage, the murderous Al Capone sits a matter of feet away from him, in ‘The Untouchables‘; even as a drone scratches his head in ‘Mission: Impossible,’ a stealthy thief hangs above him; even as a blond, all-American teen boy sits bored at a classroom desk, a tortured girl writhes inwardly not far away from him in ‘Carrie.’ What’s the effect? It’s a tightening in the chest, it’s a sense that there’s something we missed previously, it’s the feeling that something bad is about to happen, or could. This video by Jaume Lloret is a tight visual hymn to De Palma’s famed use of the shot–watch it, and see if you don’t feel uncomfortable afterwards.