Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Laszlo Kovacs, Chronicler of Human Emotion

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.