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November 24, 2014
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Oscar-honoured Godfather cinematographer Gordon Willis dies

Gordon Willis, one of Hollywood’s most celebrated and influential cinematographers, nicknamed “The Prince of Darkness” for his subtle but indelible touch on such definitive 1970s releases as The Godfather, Annie Hall and All the President’s Men, has died. He was 82.

“This is a momentous loss,” American Society of Cinematographers President Richard Crudo told Deadline. “He was one of the giants who absolutely changed the way movies looked.”

Wilis retired after the 1997 movie The Devil’s Own. Through much of the 1970s, Willis was the cameraman whom some of Hollywood’s top directors relied on during one of filmmaking’s greatest eras. Francis Ford Coppola used him for the first two Godfather movies, Woody Allen for Annie Hall and Manhattan and Alan J. Pakula for Klute and All the President’s Men.

During a remarkable run from 1971 to 1977, films he worked on won 19 Oscars and were nominated 39 times, from best picture for The Godfather and Annie Hall to acting for Jane Fonda in Klute and John Houseman in The Paper Chase. Yet Willis never won a competitive Oscar and was nominated just twice, for Allen’s Zelig and for Coppola’s The Godfather, Part III, which came out in 1990.

An outsider by choice, Willis refused to live in California and told People magazine in 1983 that he had no interest in being rewarded “for spending time on the golf course or attending dinner parties.”

The academy presented him an honourary award in 2009, noting “his willingness to fly in the face of convention.”

Few directors of photography so ably demonstrated that a story could be told through the picture itself, whether the hushed, darkened opening of The Godfather; the bland, jaded sunshine of Los Angeles in Annie Hall or the shadowy encounters with Deep Throat in All the President’s Men. He liked filming in the late afternoon, when the sun was dimming, and had a feel for capturing melancholy and the distant past.

Willis’ trademarks were simplicity, the contrast of light and dark and a willingness to break the rules. He would remember encountering resistance during the first Godfather movie when he suggested obscuring Marlon Brando’s features and was told that was not the way things were done.

“That’s not a good enough reason,” Willis later said. “There were times when we didn’t want the audience to see what was going on in there (Brando’s eyes), and then suddenly, you let them see into his soul for a while.”

He continued to collaborate with Allen in the ‘80s, filming in black and white for the period film Broadway Danny Rose and indulging pure make-believe with the mockumentary Zelig.

Allen said in a statement, “Gordy was a huge talent and one of the few people who truly lived up to all the hype about him.”

Willis had a far rougher relationship with the mercurial Coppola, who savoued excess as much as Willis valued restraint. They clashed often during the first Godfather as Coppola encouraged the actors to improvise and Willis worried about falling behind schedule. Coppola complained at the time that Willis was grumpy, but also called him a genius.

Willis ended his career with Pakula’s The Devil’s Own, later explaining he got “tired of trying to get actors out of trailers, and standing in the rain.”

Herald with AP , Reuters

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