Legendary cinematographer Gordon Willis has died at the age of 82 of metastatic cancer.
People Magazine reports between 1971 and 1977, cameraman Gordon Willis made history when films he worked on earned 39 nominations and won 19 Oscars. Awards ranged from “The Godfather” and “Annie Hall”’s Best Picture to Jane Fonda’s acting in “Klute.” He worked with Woody Allen on a string of films, including “Annie Hall” (1977), “Manhattan” (1979), and “Zelig” (1983). When discussing Woody Allen’s films and innovating techniques, Willis was all praise. In an interview in Below the Line, the cinematographer said everything felt like “an east exchange of ideas” with “no yelling.”
However, ‘the prince of darkness’ was known for working with Francis Ford Coppola in the first two “Godfather” films. Hesitant at first, Coppola’s insistence of Willis’s ability was needed to make the film a success. Eventually, the style used in the films changed the film industry’s cinematography. In describing the studio’s resistance to shadowing Marlo Brandon for impact, Willis wanted to make sure the audience saw the deep into “into [the character’s] soul for a while.” And sometimes Coppola and the cameraman clashed. In the end they created a long-lasting legacy.
Amazingly, Willis never won an award for his individual work. Nominated for “Zelig” and “The Godfather III,” he never brought home an Oscar, even while redefining the field. Of course, he shied away from the public life and refused to live in California. Willis believed in his work and felt it would stand for itself. In 1983, he told People Magazine “if people want to give me an award for a movie I’ve done, I’ll be thrilled” but clearly stated “if it’s for spending time on the golf course or attending parties” then he would rather do without the honor. Schmoozing did not appeal in the least.
The Academy presented him with an honorary award in 2009 due to his visionary style with light and shadow earned him the moniker “The Prince of Darkness.” In an interview withthe Boston Globe, William Fraker called Willis’s work “a milestone in visual storytelling.”
As he grew “tired of trying to get actors out of trailers, and standing in the rain,” retirement seemed imminent. The Devil’s Own starring Harrison Ford and Brad Pitt marked his last film in 1997. Worldwide, the film made $140,807,547 with a budget of $90,000,000. While “Devil’s Own” did not reach a high, box office level of success, The New York Times’ Janet Maslin found the cinematographer’s “solemn, brooding style” to appear “handsomely photographed” on screen.
Gordon Willis died in Massachusetts. No arrangements have been announced.