His work for Coppola and Woody Allen defined 70s cinema and landed him the title of Prince of Darkness
Gordon Willis, the acclaimed cinematographer renowned established a new aesthetic for 70s cinema, has died aged 82. Willis worked on the Godfather trilogy, as well as Woody Allen classics such as Annie Hall and Manhattan. His death was confirmed by American Society of Cinematographers president Richard Crudo, who, speaking to Deadline Hollywood, described his passing as "a momentous loss," and said that "he was one of the giants that changed the way movies looked."
Willis was regarded as having made an "art of underexposure" and was widely credited for the technique of "dark filming", most prevalent in the Godfather films. In an interview with ASC, he revealed that he deliberately masked Marlon Brando's eyes so that an audience were unable to read his thoughts. "There were times when we didn't want the audience to see what was going on in there," he said, "and then suddenly, you let them see into his soul for a while."
He became known as "the prince of darkness" thanks to his mastery of using underexposure to lend a film a defining aesthetic. Tributes have already begun pouring in on Twitter:
Gordon Willis was an impeccable and daring artist. May we always view the world as if through his lens.— Lena Dunham (@lenadunham) May 19, 2014
America's greatest cinematographer GORDON WILLIS: RIP. The films he shot from 1971-1980 make him one of the key artists from that decade.— Bret Easton Ellis (@BretEastonEllis) May 19, 2014
Woody Allen used Willis for eight of his films, and his stunning use of black-and-white tones in Manhattan helped to cement the public image of what the city itself looked like. In that same interview with ASC, Willis said that he'd "always perceived New York as a black-and-white town".
Willis was Academy Award-nominated for his contributions to The Godfather: Part III and Woody Allen's Zelig, and finally received an honorary lifetime achievement Oscar in 2010 for "unsurpassed mastery of light, shadow, colour and motion".