Cinematographer Gordon Willis Has Died at 82

Gordon Willis died

The man who did more than any other to influence the entire art of cinematography through a single film was Gordon Willis. The Godfather broke every classical “rule” in the book, and much of its impact can be attributed to the unusual but intuitive approach Willis took to photographing the film. In many scenes Willis used as little illumination as possible. In doing so he invited us to lean forward, to peer into the eyes of characters with blackened souls. We may have recoiled when we saw what was truly in the heart of Michael Corleone, but we could never look away. Willis painted with shadow, and for it earned a loving nickname that was better suited to Michael Corleone: the Prince of Darkness.

Now Gordon Willis has died at the age of 82. A cause of death has not been released, but Willis’ passing has been confirmed by American Society of Cinematographers president Richard Crudo. Read More »

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Here’s a feature-length documentary on the art of cinematography — one of many such films, but this particular one does feature the participation of dozens of cinematographers. Actually, more than “dozens” — Jon Fauer‘s Cinematographer Style features interviews with over one hundred shooters. They include, but are hardly limited to Roger Deakins, László Kovács, Vittorio Storaro, Gordon Willis, Matthew Libatique, Bill Pope, Newton Thomas Sigel, Dante Spinotti, and John Toll.

A week ago I watched the beginning of the film and was put off — ironically, this film devoted to cinematography is hampered at the beginning by a too-literal and sometimes haphazard edit. But scan forward a bit to where the detailed talk of technique begins, and you’ll find a rich trove of material learned by years of experience on some of the most significant films. For anyone interested in how films are made — and not just how, but why — this is a great feature. Read More »

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