These days László Kovács is an internationally respected cinematographer, but in 1957 he was just another refugee living in the United States. In this, his adopted country, where film-school grads work as office temps, how did he get so far?
Guts, talent, and a lucky break, of course. Kovács learned his craft in Budapest during the Soviet communist occupation of Hungary, which he fled when he immigrated to the U.S. in '57. He didn't speak English when he arrived, and took various odd jobs to make ends meet. By the early '60s he'd parlayed his experience into work shooting industrial pictures and TV commercials; in 1963 he was given his first shot as a cinematographer on a western. The movie never saw the light of day, but Kovács made some influential friends who hired him to make counterculture films, including motorcycle movies and 1968's S.F. hippie exploitation flick Psych Out.
His work came to the attention of actor Dennis Hopper, who had a script for a really far-out motorcycle picture. Kovács wasn't interested -- he'd already photographed enough biker flicks -- but he was spellbound by Hopper. In 1969 they released Easy Rider, and Kovács' naturalistic cinematography was suddenly the toast of Hollywood. Success after success followed in the '70s: Five Easy Pieces, Paper Moon, Shampoo. Sure, some Kovács-lensed pics were stinkers (Freebie and the Bean, for example), but they were beautifully shot stinkers, stunning to look at if not enjoyable to watch. Kovács made the transition to mainstream movies in the '80s and '90s, shooting some of those decades' most popular films, including Ghost Busters and, um, Free Willy 2.
Tonight the master emerges from behind the camera for "An Evening With László Kovács," where he'll present an archive print of Paper Moon, discuss his career, and sign copies of cinematography books. The cameras roll at 7:30 at the Rafael Film Center, 1118 Fourth St. (at A), San Rafael. Admission is $7-10; call 454-1222 or visit www.cafilm.org.
-- Joyce Slaton
ATA's Toothsome Cinema
Most horror fans first encountered vampires in the form of Count Dracula, the debonair bloodsucker whose come-ons oozed sex appeal. But before Dracula there was Nosferatu, the classic 1922 silent film starring Max Schreck as the most menacing vampire imaginable. His bug-eyed, grave-pale wraith still casts a spell, and even at more than 80 years old the picture sustains an atmospheric creepiness far superior to modern horror movies. Tonight's screening features live music from the Zag Men, who claim their score was inspired by "Zappa, King Crimson, John Zorn, the Residents, and Reagan's polyp." Ohhhh-kay. The movie starts at 8 at Artists' Television Access, 992 Valencia (at 21st Street), S.F. Admission is $5; call 824-3890 or visit www.atasite.org.
-- Joyce Slaton
Movies in the House
Home movies, once the dread of visitors to suburbia, have changed since their popularization in the 1950s: Rickety Super 8 recordings of Biff's graduation have given way to orange-y, low-resolution videotapes, often featuring people in sweat pants. The San Francisco Media Archive wants to bring back the good old days by preserving all things celluloid, and "Home Movie Day" is one part of that effort. It's an international event, and everyone's invited, so bring your amateur films and help celebrate self-documentation. Tours of the SFMA facility begin at noon, and screenings follow starting at 6 p.m., at 275 Capp (at 18th Street), S.F. Admission is free; call 558-8117 or visit www.sfm.org.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser
The Rueful Warholic
When Andy Warhol died in 1987, Richard Polsky knew his works would soon skyrocket in value. With $100,000 in hand, Polsky set forth to buy "a small but glamorous part" of Warhol's oeuvre. It took him 12 years. His book, I Bought Andy Warhol, chronicles the Sisyphean odyssey, with gossipy anecdotes detailing the excesses of the art world that should ring true to dealers and art lovers alike. (Our favorite? The author's dry recounting of a gallery food fight that left a Ruscha painting damaged.) Polsky reads from Bought beginning at 7:30 p.m. at Books Inc., 2275 Market (at 16th Street), S.F. Admission is free; call 864-6777 or visit www.booksinc.net.
-- Joyce Slaton