The acclaimed cinematographer who brought the shadows to The Godfather and made New York mesmerising in Manhattan has died at the age of 82.
Gordon Willis was hailed as having “changed the way movies looked” after giving the look to some of the most iconic movies of the 1970s including Annie Hall and All the President’s Men. The news of his death was announced on Sunday although the cause was not disclosed.
The BFI called Willis one of the “most distinguished cinematographers of his time, helping to define the look of New Hollywood films of the 1970s”.
Fellow cinematographer Conrad Hall gave him the nickname “The Prince of Darkness” for his expert use of light and shadow on films, particularly the Godfather trilogy.
The movie industry bible Variety said the photography on The Godfather confirmed his “genius” and he would go on to be Oscar nominated for The Godfather: Part III.
Richard Crudo, president of the American Society of Cinematographers, called Willis’ death a “momentous loss” for the industry. “He was one of the giants who absolutely changed the way movies looked.”
Willis worked regularly with Woody Allen, making eight films that also included Broadway Danny Rose, Stardust Memories and The Purple Rose of Cairo.
The photography on Zelig landed him a second Academy Award nomination and he won an honorary Oscar in 2009 for “unsurpassed mastery of light, shadow, colour and motion”.
Willis’ father was a make-up artist at Warner Brothers, but he was drawn to lighting, set design and photography.
He worked on documentaries in the motion picture unit while he served in the Air Force during the Korean War.
After the war he became an assistant cameraman and worked his way up, moving into adverts and documentaries.
His debut as a cinematographer came in 1970 with End of the Road. His last film was The Devil’s Own, starring Brad Pitt, in 1997.