'Godfather' & 'Manhattan' Cinematographer Gordon Willis Dies at 82
While you're familiar with Francis Ford Coppola, Woody Allen and Alan J. Pakula's work as directors on The Godfather, Manhattan and All the President's Men, respectively, you may not know about the man who made those films look so damn incredible as the director of photography. Gordon Willis is the cinematographer who lensed all of those films, but sadly, Variety reports that he has passed away at the age of 82. Perhaps what is most impressive about Willis is that his career spans only 32 films, but his work within them is some of the most influential, impressive and generation-defining work behind the camera.
Willis acted as cinematographer for the entire trilogy of The Godfather, and his work on the third installment landed him an Oscar nomination. However, his first nod from the Academy came from his work on Woody Allen's Zelig. But perhaps his most iconic work in cinema comes from shooting Allen's goregous black and white feature film Manhattan, and you can see just how incredible his work is on that film here:
Of Willis' work on Manhattan, film critic Roger Ebert said:
“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.”
In addition, Willis was also behind the camera for eight of Allen's other films including Interiors, Stardust Memories, The Purple Rose of Cairo and the Best Picture winner Annie Hall. Other notable work includes The Landlord with Hal Ashby and also Klute for director Alan J. Pakula, who was actually the last director to use Willis' talents on the big screen with The Devil's Own in 1997. Willis was unfortunately force to step away from filmmaking due to his failing eyesight, something necessary for a man in his position. Willis discusses his cinematography work in the first of a two-part Craft Truck interview:
As Craft Truck says, Gordon Willis "is regarded by all of his peers as one of the greatest cinematographers in the history of film, and for many as the greatest of all time" and he "practically single-handedly re-invented the craft of cinematography and the nature by which films were and are composed, lit, and executed." Willis leaves behind a small but impressive array of work that will continue to inspire generations of filmmakers for decades to come. His talent has been missed for nearly 20 years, but now the man himself will be missed even more. Our thoughts go out to his friends and family. Rest in peace.