On Sunday, May 18th, we lost legendary Cinematographer Gordon Willis, ASC at age 82. In addition to the Godfather trilogy, Willis’ vast credit list includes several movies with Woody Allen, including Annie Hall, Manhattan, Zelig, Broadway Danny Rose and The Purple Rose of Cairo. He also photographed Klute, The Parallax View and All the President’s Men.
Although I never had the chance to meet him in person, he was one of my heroes, and can be credited with my decision to become a Cinematographer. When I saw the mood and nuance this Master of Visual Storytelling created in The Godfather, I wanted to try to learn that craft. He was a Pioneer of low key lighting which inspired another of my cinematography heroes, the late Conrad Hall, ASC to refer to him as “The Prince of Darkness”, a nickname that stuck.
Although he retired from filmmaking 17 years ago, I am sad to that we have lost another pillar in the foundation of Cinematography, but thankfully his work will live on in the many memorable films he helped to create. I am looking forward to more inspiration and insight from a book currently being completed by Stephen Pizzello, editor-in-chief and publisher of American Cinematographer in collaboration with Mr. Willis himself.
James Mathers, Cinematographer, President of DCS