Gordon Willis, ASC 1932-2014

Gordon Willis, ASC the brilliant artist cinematographer of the the three Godfather movies, Annie Hall, Manhattan,  Klute, The Parallax View, All the Presidents Men and so many other great movies has passed. His bold photography helped define the look of 1970s cinema and was high regarded and studied by his colleagues.

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Regarding his work on “The Godfather,” Variety wrote in 1997, “Among “The Godfather’s” many astonishments, the photography by Gordon Willis — a rich play with light and shadow — confirmed Willis’ genius but was especially striking as an extension of Francis Ford Coppola’s creative intelligence. ” Coppola once said, “He has a natural sense of structure and beauty, not unlike a Renaissance artist.” He faced resistance at first to not showing Marlon Brando’s eyes, purposely obscuring the lighting to suggest the family’s corruption. “There were times when we didn’t want the audience to see what was going on in there and then subtly, you let them see into his soul for a while,” Willis famously said.

His long collaboration with Woody Allen also included shooting “Interiors,” “Stardust Memories,” “Broadway Danny Rose,” “The Purple Rose of Cairo” and “Zelig.” Hal Ashby hired Willis for his first film, “The Landlord,” and during the 1970s he shot pics such as “Bad Company,” “The Drowning Pool,” “Up the Sandbox” and “Little Murders.” In later years, he worked on “Malice,” “The Pick-Up Artist” and “The Money Pit” and Bridges’ “Perfect” and “Bright Lights, Big City.”

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His black-and-white photography for “Manhattan” made it one of cinema’s most visually arresting films. Roger Ebert wrote of “Manhattan,” “All of these locations and all of these songs would not have the effect they do without the widescreen black and white cinematography of Gordon Willis. This is one of the best-photographed movies ever made… Some of the scenes are famous just because of Willis’ lighting. For example, the way Isaac and Mary walk through the observatory as if they’re strolling among the stars or on the surface of the moon. Later, as their conversation gets a little lost, Willis daringly lets them disappear into darkness, and then finds them again with just a sliver of side-lighting.”

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Gordon Willis with Woody Allen

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