Gordon Willis, the celebrated cinematographer behind The Godfather trilogy, Annie Hall, All the President’s Men, and many more classics, passed away yesterday at the age of 82. Willis earned the nickname “The Prince of Darkness” for his macabre imagery that encapsulated his frame and his subjects in dark shadows. This maverick’s approach to the construction of the image, in conjunction with his technical expertise, made Willis the choice collaborator for Francis Ford Coppola and Woody Allen. These prolific partnerships resulted in influential and memorable images such as Marlon Brando’s introduction in The Godfather or the montages of the city in Allen’s Manhattan.

Willis received an honorary Academy Award in 2010 for “unsurpassed mastery of light, shadow, color, and motion,” but it may be surprising to learn that prior to that, Willis was only a two-time nominated cinematographer that never won. Below we’ve included a recent two-part, one-hour interview with Willis that finds the cinematographer exploring his work and technique. A recurring component to Willis anecdotes is an uncompromising attitude against the suggestions of directors and studio heads unimpressed and confused by Willis’ dramatic compositions.

Willis’ legacy is solidified by the caliber of his works. His most prescient words here on the future of film and the visual image are as follows, “People don’t understand the elegance of simplicity. If you take a sophisticated idea, 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.”


What’s your favorite work from Willis?

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