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R.I.P. Cinematographer Gordon Willis (1931–2014)

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by Kevin Jagernauth
May 19, 2014 8:16 AM
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Gordon Willis, one of cinema's most influential eyes and visual masters who defined the work of an entire generation of filmmakers, passed away over the weekend at the age of 82. But his body of work will forever inspire filmmakers.

The most remarkable thing about Willis' filmography is that it's only 37 films long. However, the highlights are utterly remarkable: Alan J. Pakula's "Klute" and "All The President's Men"; Francis Ford Coppola's "The Godfather" trilogy; eight films with Woody Allen including "Annie Hall," "Manhattan," "Interiors" and "Zelig," and Hal Ashby's "The Landlord" are just some of the movies that will play on Willis' sizzle reel. And they all show the versatility that made the cinematographer one of the best the medium has ever seen. From the cool control of "Klute" to the shrouded, nearly majestic darkness of "The Godfather" to the beautifully black-and-white "Manhattan," Willis' greatest gift was in collaborating with the filmmakers he worked with on evoking that intangible mood for each of their pictures.

"You have to understand: I did things in visual structure that nobody in the business was doing, especially in Hollywood. I wasn't trying to be different; I just did what I liked. Don't misunderstand when I say I really had no particular DP I was aspiring to be," Willis told Splice Today in 2009. "I really fell in love with the movies as I was growing up, and I must say, I was emulating things that I saw others doing, that’s how you learn, but you soon have to push past that, and do things that you feel are right…or better."

Willis' last credit was on Pakula's 1997 film "The Devil's Own," after which, due to his failing eyesight, the cinematographer stepped away from film sets. But he couldn't have asked for a better legacy to leave behind, helping to put his creative stamp on films that not only defined an era, but American cinema as a whole. He will be missed, but his work will endure. Check out interviews, clips and more below. [Variety]

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1 Comment

  • Todd | May 19, 2014 9:43 AMReply

    "The Parallax View" and "Comes a Horseman" are other examples where his cinematography was better than the films themselves.

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