Influential cinematographer Gordon Willis, whose photography for “The Godfather” series and Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall” and “Manhattan” helped define the look of 1970s cinema, has died, according to his close associate Doug Hart’s Facebook page. He was 82.
Willis was known as the Prince of Darkness for his artful use of shadows, and he was the director of photography on seminal 1970s films including “Klute,” “The Paper Chase,” “The Parallax View” and “All the President’s Men.”
He received an honorary Academy award in 2009 at the first Governor’s Awards ceremony.
Among the other Woody Allen films he shot were “Interiors,” “Stardust Memories,” “Broadway Danny Rose,” “The Purple Rose of Cairo” and “Zelig,” for which he was Oscar-nommed. His other Oscar nomination was for “The Godfather III.”
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."
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.”
Born in New York City, his father worked as a make-up artist at Warner Brothers, and though Willis was originally interested in lighting and stage design, he later turned to photography. While serving in the Air Force during the Korean War, he worked in the motion picture unit and then worked in advertising and documentaries. His first feature was “End of the Road” in 1970, and his last, Alan Pakula’s “The Devil’s Own” in 1997.
A huge loss for cinema, RIP.