Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Cinematographer Gordon Willis Passes On

Gordon Willis, the cinematographer who worked on such films as The Godfather (1972), The Paper Chase (1973), and All the President's Men (1976), died on 18 May 2014 at the age of 82. The cause was cancer.

Gordon Willis was born on 28 May 1931 in Astoria, New York. His parents were former dancers on Broadway, and his father would later work as a make up man at Warner Bros. Gordon Willis was interested in acting when he was young and even performed in some summer stock productions, but increasingly found himself drawn to theatre lighting and photography. He started his photography career taking portfolio photos for models. His father eventually got him a job working as a gofer on films.

During the Korean War Mr. Willis joined the United States Air Force and served in a documentary motion picture unit. Following the war he joined the cinematographers union in New York. He began work as a second unit cameraman. He was one of the cameramen on the television documentary The Beatles at Shea Stadium.

Gordon Willis received his first cinematographer credit on the film End of the Road in 1970. From the late Sixties through the Seventies he served as cinematographer on such films as Loving (1970), The Landlord (1970), Klute (1971), The Godfather (1972), The Paper Chase (1973), The Parallax View (1974), The Godfather: Part II (1974), The Drowning Pool (1975), All the President's Men (1976), Annie Hall (1977), Interiors (1978), Manhattan (1979), and Stardust Memories (1980). He directed the film Windows in 1980, his only directorial effort.

In the Eighties Mr. Willis served as cinematographer on such films as Pennies from Heaven (1981), A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy (1982), Zelig (1983), Broadway Danny Rose (1984), The Money Pit (1986), The Pick-up Artist (1987), Presumed Innocent (1990), and The Godfather: Part III (1990). In the Nineties he served as cinematographer on Malice (1993) and The Devil's Own (1997).

Gordon Willis was an incredible cinematographer. Indeed, he was a master of lighting. He was not afraid to shoot with minimal light, making full use of shadows. What is more, Mr. Willis could adapt his mastery of lighting to almost any genre, from the stark brightness of The Parallax View to the softer, more naturalistic look of Manhattan. He was a master when it came to camera work, creating some of the most beautiful images ever shot on film.

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