Gordon Hugh Willis Jr.
May 28, 1931
Astoria, New York, U.S.
|Died||May 18, 2014 82) (aged|
|Years active||c. 1970–2014|
|Known for|| The Godfather (1972)|
The Godfather Part II (1974)
Annie Hall (1977)
All the President's Men (1976)
Stardust Memories (1982)
Broadway Danny Rose (1984)
The Godfather Part III (1990)
|Awards||Academy Honorary Award (2009)|
Gordon Hugh Willis Jr., ASC (May 28, 1931 – May 18, 2014) was an American cinematographer and film director. He is best known for his photographic work on seven Woody Allen films (including Annie Hall and Manhattan ), six Alan J. Pakula films (including All the President's Men ), four James Bridges films, and all three films from Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather series.
Fellow cinematographer William A. Fraker called Willis's work a "milestone in visual storytelling",while one critic suggested that Willis "defined the cinematic look of the 1970s: sophisticated compositions in which bolts of light and black put the decade's moral ambiguities into stark relief". When the International Cinematographers Guild conducted a survey in 2003, they placed Willis among the ten most influential cinematographers in history.
Willis was born in Astoria, Queens, New York.His parents had been dancers in Broadway theatre before his father became a makeup man at Warner Bros. in Brooklyn. As a child, Willis fell in love with films. He wanted to be an actor and then became interested in lighting and stage design, later turning to photography. For a time he intended to be a fashion photographer, photographing models he knew from living in Greenwich Village. "I didn't know shit," Willis said, "[I was] dumber than dirt, as they say. No money, no jobs etc." Through contacts of his father's he worked as a "gofer" on various movies in New York.
During the Korean War, Willis served in the Air Force, managing to join the Photographic and Charting Service in a motion picture unit. "I spent four years learning everything I could about making movies," Willis said.After leaving the Air Force a friend helped him to join the East Coast union in New York and he started to work as an assistant cameraman, working his way up to become a first cameraman about thirteen years later. He worked in advertising, shooting numerous commercials, and made a number of documentaries, a discipline that strongly influenced his later style. "You learn to eliminate, as opposed to adding," Willis said of his time making documentaries. "Not many people understand that."
He was a camera operator on the feature documentary Windjammer (1958) filmed in Cinemiracle. (source: credits on Flicker Alley blu-ray release).
Willis once stated: "I'm a mimimalist. I see things in simple ways ... It's human nature to define complexity as better. Well, it's not."In 1969, director Aram Avakian hired Willis to work on his film End of the Road . This was Willis' first movie.
Willis went on to work for some of the most acclaimed directors of what is now seen as a golden age of American film-making. He captured America's urban paranoia in three films he shot with Alan J. Pakula: Klute (1971), The Parallax View (1974) and All The President's Men (1976).He collaborated with Hal Ashby on The Landlord (1970), James Bridges on The Paper Chase (1973), and Herbert Ross on Pennies From Heaven (1981); as well as shooting all three of Coppola's Godfather films and working with Woody Allen on a succession of films that included Annie Hall (1977) and Manhattan (1979).
At a seminar on film-making he gave in 2003, Willis said, "It's hard to believe, but a lot of directors have no visual sense. They only have a storytelling sense. If a director is smart, he'll give me the elbow room to paint". He added: "It's the judgment they're paying for."In a later interview he explained that when he started out in films he "did things in visual structure that nobody in the business was doing, especially in Hollywood", explaining: "I wasn't trying to be different; I just did what I liked". When asked by the interviewer how he applied his style to different genres and to working with different directors, Willis answered: "You're looking for a formula; there is none. The formula is me."
Up to the making of The Godfather (1972), Willis mostly used Mitchell reflex cameras with Baltar or Cooke lenses. After that he used Panavision equipment, which he had first used on Klute. Willis went back to using Mitchells on The Godfather Part II (1974), in order to retain the visual coherence of the two films. Asked in 2004 about shooting films digitally, he was skeptical: "The organics aren't the same," he said. "The interpretive levels suffer", adding: "Digital is another form of recording an image, but it won't replace thinking."
Originally, Willis turned down the first two Godfather films, until Coppola told him they wouldn't look the same without him.His work turned out to be groundbreaking in its use of low-light photography and underexposed film, as well as in his control of lighting and exposure to create the sepia tones that denoted period scenes in The Godfather Part II. His contributions carefully strengthened the themes of the story, as when shooting Marlon Brando with his eyes hooded in shadow, a piece of lighting design that followed from the fact that Brando's make-up had to be lit from above.
Willis said that it was the color that stitched the Godfather films together.The visual structure of the films was, he said, his, but he gave Coppola credit for hiring him, saying: "I'm not that easy to deal with". He praised the director for the "management hell" of his struggles with Paramount, adding that he was "grateful he could separate the visual structure of these movies from the mess that went on to fashion them".
Willis' collaboration with Woody Allen began with Annie Hall (1977). Willis described making films with Allen as being so comfortable that it was like "working with your hands in your pockets".On Annie Hall he contrasted the warmth of Annie and Alvy Singer's romance in New York with the overexposure of the film's California scenes, while in Allen's Manhattan he was responsible for what has been called a "richly textured black-and-white paean to the beauty and diversity of the city itself". Willis, whose idea it was to use anamorphic widescreen for the filming, said: "We both felt that New York was a black-and-white city".
Willis also worked on the Allen films Interiors (1978), Stardust Memories (1980), A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy (1982), Zelig (1983), Broadway Danny Rose (1984), and The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985). Allen said that working with Willis had helped to improve his technical skills,saying of him: "He's an artist. He's got a great sense of humor--he taught me a lot."
In the seven-year period up to 1977, Willis was the director of photography on six films that received among them 39 Academy Award nominations, winning 19 times, including three awards for Best Picture.The fact that Willis did not receive a single nomination was a subject of some controversy. His frequent absence from this period's nominees has been ascribed both to his unhidden "antipathy for Hollywood" and his work being ahead of its time. He was once quoted as saying of Hollywood, "I don't think it suffers from an overabundance of good taste". Willis was later nominated twice, once for his inventive recreation of 1920s photography in Woody Allen's Zelig , and then for The Godfather Part III (1990). In 2009, at the inaugural Governors Awards, the Academy chose Willis as the recipient of the Academy Honorary Award for his life's work.
Willis directed one film of his own, Windows , in 1980.He admitted the film had been a mistake, and later said of directing that he didn't really like it. "I've had a good relationship with actors," he reflected, "but I can do what I do and back off. I don't want that much romancing. I don't want them to call me up at two in the morning saying, 'I don't know who I am'". His last film was The Devil's Own (1997), directed by Pakula. Of his decision to retire, Willis said: "I got tired of trying to get actors out of trailers, and standing in the rain".
Willis died of cancer on May 18, 2014, ten days before his 83rd birthday, in North Falmouth, Massachusetts.ASC president Richard Crudo said: "He was one of the giants who absolutely changed the way movies looked. Up until the time of The Godfather and The Godfather Part II, nothing previously shot looked that way. He changed the way films looked and the way people looked at films."
Willis's work became celebrated for his ability to use shadow and underexposed film with a "subtlety and expressivity previously unknown on color film stock", with one critic citing as examples Don Corleone's study in The Godfather and a parking garage in All the President's Men .Willis's friend, cinematographer Conrad Hall, named him "The Prince of Darkness" but Willis himself preferred to talk in terms of "visual relativity", saying: "I like going from light to dark, dark to light, big to small, small to big". Discussing The Godfather he said:
"You can decide this movie has got a dark palette. But you can't spend two hours on a dark palette. . . So you've got this high-key, Kodachrome wedding going on. Now you go back inside and it's dark again. You can't, in my mind, put both feet into a bucket of cement and leave them there for the whole movie. It doesn't work. You must have this relativity."
Director Francis Ford Coppola said of Willis, "He has a natural sense of structure and beauty, not unlike a Renaissance artist,"while Willis was praised for his capacity to use "painterliness" to define "not just the look but the very meaning and feel of a film". Speaking of contemporary film-making in 2004, Willis said:
"I'm delighted that people can fly, dogs can talk, and anything destructive can be fashioned on the screen, but much of what's being done lacks structure or taste. As I've asked in the past: can anyone give me the definition of a camera? It's a tool, a means to an end. So is a light, and everything else you can pile on your back. They're all meant to transpose the written word into moving pictures that tell a story."
Another of Willis's trademarks was a preference for filming at the magic hour before twilight, when the sun is low and creates a golden glow. Willis created the trope of warm ambers to denote nostalgic glow for the past for the young Vito sequences of The Godfather Part II . Many films since then have copied this cinematic technique when depicting pre-World War II America.[ citation needed ]
|1965||The Beatles at Shea Stadium||Bob Precht|
|1970||End of the Road||Aram Avakian|
|The Landlord||Hal Ashby|
|The People Next Door||David Greene|
|1971||Little Murders||Alan Arkin|
|Klute||Alan J. Pakula|
|1972||Bad Company||Robert Benton|
|The Godfather||Francis Ford Coppola|
|Up the Sandbox||Irvin Kershner|
|1973||The Paper Chase||James Bridges|
|1974||The Parallax View||Alan J. Pakula|
|The Godfather Part II||Francis Ford Coppola|
|1975||The Drowning Pool||Stuart Rosenberg|
|1976||All the President's Men||Alan J. Pakula|
|1977||September 30, 1955||James Bridges|
|Annie Hall||Woody Allen|
|Comes a Horseman||Alan J. Pakula|
|Stardust Memories||Woody Allen|
|1981||Pennies from Heaven||Herbert Ross|
|1982||A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy||Woody Allen|
|1984||The Lost Honor of Kathryn Beck||Simon Langton|
|Broadway Danny Rose||Woody Allen|
|1985||The Purple Rose of Cairo|
|1986||The Money Pit||Richard Benjamin|
|1987||The Pick-up Artist||James Toback|
|1988||Bright Lights, Big City||James Bridges|
|1990||Presumed Innocent||Alan J. Pakula|
|The Godfather Part III||Francis Ford Coppola|
|1997||The Devil's Own||Alan J. Pakula|
|1972||National Society of Film Critics||Best Cinematography||The Godfather||Nominated|
|1974||The Godfather Part II||Won|
|1976||British Academy Film Awards||Best Screenplay||All the Presidents Men||Nominated|
|1979||National Society of Film Critics||Best Cinematography||Nominated|
|1981||New York Film Critics Circle||Best Cinematography||Pennies from Heaven||Nominated|
|1981||National Society of Film Critics||Best Cinematography||Won|
|1981||Boston Society of Film Critics||Best Cinematography||Won|
|1983||New York Film Critics Circle||Best Cinematography||Zelig||Won|
|1983||National Society of Film Critics||Best Cinematography||Nominated|
|1983||British Academy Film Awards||Best Cinematography||Nominated|
|Best Visual Effects||Nominated|
|1984||Academy Awards||Best Cinematography||Nominated|
|1991||Best Cinematography||The Godfather Part III||Nominated|
|1990||American Society of Cinematographers||Outstanding Cinematography||Nominated|
|1991||Chicago Film Critics Association||Best Cinematography||Nominated|
|1995||American Society of Cinematographers||Life Achievement Awards||N/A||Won|
|2009||Academy Award||Honorary Academy Award||N/A||Won|
Francis Ford Coppola is an American film director, producer and screenwriter. He was a central figure in the New Hollywood filmmaking movement of the 1960s and 1970s, and is widely considered to be one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. His accolades include five Academy Awards, six Golden Globe Awards, two Palmes d'Or, and a British Academy Film Award.
WoodyAllen is an American film director, writer, actor, and comedian whose career spans more than six decades and multiple Academy Award-winning films. He began his career as a comedy writer on Sid Caesar's comedy variety program, Your Show of Shows, working alongside Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Larry Gelbart and Neil Simon. He also began writing material for television, published several books featuring short stories, and writing humor pieces for The New Yorker. In the early 1960s, he performed as a stand-up comedian in Greenwich Village alongside Lenny Bruce, Elaine May, Mike Nichols, and Joan Rivers. There he developed a monologue style, and the persona of an insecure, intellectual, fretful nebbish. He released three comedy albums during the mid to late 1960s, earning a Grammy Award nomination for his 1964 comedy album entitled simply, Woody Allen. In 2004 Comedy Central ranked Allen fourth on a list of the 100 greatest stand-up comedians, while a UK survey ranked Allen the third-greatest comedian.
Annie Hall is a 1977 American romantic comedy film directed by Woody Allen from a screenplay he co-wrote with Marshall Brickman, and produced by Allen's manager, Charles H. Joffe. The film stars Allen as Alvy Singer, who tries to figure out the reasons for the failure of his relationship with the eponymous female lead, played by Diane Keaton in a role written specifically for her.
The Godfather Part II is a 1974 American epic crime film produced and directed by Francis Ford Coppola from the screenplay co-written with Mario Puzo, starring Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Robert De Niro, Talia Shire, Morgana King, John Cazale, Mariana Hill, and Lee Strasberg. It is the second installment in The Godfather trilogy. Partially based on Puzo's 1969 novel The Godfather, the film is both a sequel and a prequel to The Godfather, presenting parallel dramas: one picks up the 1958 story of Michael Corleone (Pacino), the new Don of the Corleone family, protecting the family business in the aftermath of an attempt on his life; the prequel covers the journey of his father, Vito Corleone, from his Sicilian childhood to the founding of his family enterprise in New York City.
Manhattan is a 1979 American romantic comedy film directed by Woody Allen and produced by Charles H. Joffe. The screenplay was written by Allen and Marshall Brickman. Allen co-stars as a twice-divorced 42-year-old comedy writer who dates a 17-year-old girl but falls in love with his best friend 's mistress. Meryl Streep and Anne Byrne also star.
Diane Hall Keaton is an American actress and filmmaker. Known for her idiosyncratic personality and dressing style, she has received an Academy Award, a BAFTA Award, two Golden Globe Awards, and the AFI Life Achievement Award.
Zelig is a 1983 American mockumentary film written and directed by Woody Allen and starring Allen and Mia Farrow. Allen plays Leonard Zelig, a nondescript enigma, who, apparently out of his desire to fit in and be liked, unwittingly takes on the characteristics of strong personalities around him. The film, presented as a documentary, recounts his period of intense celebrity in the 1920s, including analyses by contemporary intellectuals.
Take the Money and Run is a 1969 American mockumentary comedy film directed by Woody Allen and starring Allen and Janet Margolin. Written by Allen and Mickey Rose, the film chronicles the life of Virgil Starkwell, an inept bank robber.
Bram Stoker's Dracula is a 1992 American Gothic horror film directed and produced by Francis Ford Coppola, based on the 1897 novel Dracula by Bram Stoker. It stars Gary Oldman as Count Dracula, Winona Ryder as Mina Harker, Anthony Hopkins as Professor Abraham Van Helsing, and Keanu Reeves as Jonathan Harker.
Gregg Wesley Toland, A.S.C. was an American cinematographer known for his innovative use of techniques such as deep focus, examples of which can be found in his work on Orson Welles' Citizen Kane (1941), William Wyler's The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), and John Ford's The Grapes of Wrath, and The Long Voyage Home. Toland is also known for his work as a director of photography for Wuthering Heights (1939), The Westerner (1940), The Outlaw (1940), Ball of Fire (1941), Song of the South (1946), and The Bishop's Wife (1947).
Vittorio Storaro, A.S.C., A.I.C. is an Italian cinematographer widely recognized for his work on numerous classic films including The Conformist,Apocalypse Now, and The Last Emperor. In the course of over fifty years, he has collaborated with directors such as Bernardo Bertolucci, Francis Ford Coppola, Warren Beatty, and Woody Allen.
Vilmos ZsigmondASC was a Hungarian-American cinematographer. His work in cinematography helped shape the look of American movies in the 1970s, making him one of the leading figures in the American New Wave movement.
Sven Vilhem Nykvist was a Swedish cinematographer. He worked on over 120 films, but is known especially for his work with director Ingmar Bergman. He won Academy Awards for his work on two Bergman films, Cries and Whispers (1973) and Fanny and Alexander (1983), and the Independent Spirit Award for Best Cinematography for The Unbearable Lightness of Being. He is also known for his collaborations with Woody Allen for Crimes and Misdemeanors, Another Woman, New York Stories, and Celebrity.
The Godfather is a 1972 American crime film directed by Francis Ford Coppola, who co-wrote the screenplay with Mario Puzo, based on Puzo's best-selling 1969 novel of the same name. The film stars Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Richard Castellano, Robert Duvall, Sterling Hayden, John Marley, Richard Conte, and Diane Keaton. It is the first installment in The Godfather trilogy. The story, spanning from 1945 to 1955, chronicles the Corleone family under patriarch Vito Corleone (Brando), focusing on the transformation of his youngest son, Michael Corleone (Pacino), from reluctant family outsider to ruthless mafia boss.
Michael Crawford Chapman, A.S.C. was an American cinematographer and film director well known for his work on many films of the American New Wave of the 1970s and in the 1980s with directors such as Martin Scorsese and Ivan Reitman. He shot more than forty feature films, over half of those with only three different directors.
Darius KhondjiAFC, ASC is an Iranian-French cinematographer. Khondji has worked with a number of high-profile directors, including David Fincher, Woody Allen, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Roman Polanski, Wong Kar-wai, Michael Haneke, Danny Boyle, Philippe Parreno, Bong Joon-ho, Nicolas Winding Refn, Paul Thomas Anderson and the Safdie brothers. He was nominated for an Academy Award and a BAFTA Award for Evita, and has been nominated for three César Awards.
Harris Savides was an American cinematographer. Notable films include Gus Van Sant's "young death" trilogy, and the Van Sant films Milk, Finding Forrester, and Restless; David Fincher's The Game, Zodiac, and the opening title sequence in Seven; Martin Scorsese's short film The Key to Reserva; Wong Kar Wai's short film The Follow; Ridley Scott's American Gangster; Woody Allen's Whatever Works; Sofia Coppola's Somewhere and The Bling Ring; Noah Baumbach's Greenberg and Margot at the Wedding; and John Turturro's Illuminata.
Wilmer C. "Bill" Butler, ASC is an American cinematographer. He shot The Conversation (1974), Jaws (1975), and three Rocky sequels. He completed 1975's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest after Haskell Wexler was fired from the production, and was subsequently nominated for an Academy Award for Best Cinematography.
Somewhere is a 2010 drama film written and directed by Sofia Coppola. The film follows Johnny Marco, a newly famous actor, as he recuperates from a minor injury at the Chateau Marmont, a well-known Hollywood retreat. Despite money, fame and professional success, Marco is trapped in an existential crisis and has an emotionally empty daily life. When his ex-wife suffers an unexplained breakdown and goes away, she leaves Cleo, their 11-year-old daughter, in his care. They spend time together and her presence helps Marco mature and accept adult responsibility. The film explores ennui among Hollywood stars, the father–daughter relationship and offers an oblique comedy of show business, particularly Hollywood film-making and the life of a "star".