Cinematographer Gordon Willis, who did the photography for The Godfather series and Woody Allen’s Annie Hall and Manhattan, has died. He was 82.
Also known as the Prince of Darkness, Willis was not afraid of shadows in his images, often letting certain parts of the image fall into darkness — something that was considered unusual by studios (why would you put a movie star like Marlon Brando in the dark?!). He served as the cinematographer on influential 1970s films including Klute, The Paper Chase, The Parallax View and All the President’s Men.
Roger Ebert wrote of Manhattan, “All of these locations and all of these songs would not have the effect they do without the widescreen black and white cinematography of Gordon Willis. This is one of the best-photographed movies ever made… Some of the scenes are famous just because of Willis’ lighting.”
His images were deceptively simple. In a recent interview Willis said:
"We’re in a business where people perceive complexity as good. It’s not good. Complexity is not good. People don’t understand the elegance of simplicity. There are very few people left that do understand it. The whole idea is to take a sophisticated idea and reduce it to the simplest possible terms so that it’s accessible to everybody — and don’t get simple mixed up with simplistic. It’s how you mount and present something that makes it engaging…Simplistic is doing it badly…simple is your choices."
You can listen to the Fresh Air interview with Gordon Willis here.
Stills from Manhattan (1979, dir. Woody Allen), The Godfather (1972, dir. Francis Ford Coppola), and Gordon Willis with Francis Ford Coppola on the set of The Godfather Part III (1990)