Influential The Godfather and Annie Hall cinematographer Gordon Willis died Sunday at the age of 82, leaving behind a legacy that includes many of the most celebrated American films of the 1970s. He contributed some of his most iconic work in collaboration with two of the greats – Francis Ford Coppola and Woody Allen – who remembered their frequent DP today:
Said Francis Ford Coppola, for whom Willis crafted a landmark cinematographic aesthetic for The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, and The Godfather Part III that influenced generations to follow: “He was a brilliant, irascible man, a one of a kind. A cinematic genius with a precise aesthetic. My favorite description was that ‘He ice-skated on the film emulsion’. I learned a lot from him.”
Willis also shot a number of films for frequent collaborator Woody Allen, including Manhattan, Annie Hall, Stardust Memories, Broadway Danny Rose, and The Purple Rose Of Cairo. He earned the first of his two Oscar nods for his work on Allen’s Zelig. “Gordy was a huge talent and one of the few people who truly lived up to all the hype about him,” Woody Allen said of his late DP.
American Cinematographer Magazine Editor-in-Chief Stephen Pizzello grew close with Willis as the two worked together on a book about the cinematographer’s iconic career for the past decade. “Suffice to say if there were a Mount Rushmore for cinematographers, Gordon’s features would surely be chiseled into the rock face,” Pizzello told Deadline Monday.”
“I speak to cinematographers working at every level nearly every day, and his name is always mentioned in any discussion of the all-time greats. His signature style — tableau compositions and moody-evocative lighting that often flirted with the dark edge of the exposure curve — was controversial in Gordy’s heyday, but became and remains a key influence on many top cinematographers. His peers regarded him with awe, and his legacy as one of Hollywood’s greatest cameramen is secure.”