Gordon Willis, 'Godfather' trilogy cinematographer, dies at 82

By Daniel S Levine,

Cinematographer Gordon Willis, who changed the way movies looked with his work on The Godfather films and his collaborations with Woody Allen, has died. He was 82.

Willis’ death was confirmed by a close associate, Doug Hart, on Facebook, reports Variety. Tributes from Hollywood and his colleagues have already started coming in.

“This is a momentous loss,” Richard Crudo, president of the American Society of Cinematographers, said in a statement to Deadline. “He was one of the giants who absolutely changed the way movies looked. Up until the time of The Godfather 1 and 2, nothing previously shot looked that way. He changed the way films looked and the way people looked at films.”

Willis defined the look of 1970s American cinema with his unique use of light and shadows, earning him the nickname ‘Prince of Darkness.’ The Queens, New York native began his career in 1970 and began to attract attention the following year by shooting Alan J. Pakula’s Klute. Jane Fonda won her first Oscar for the film, but, more importantly, it showed how Willis could bring to life the gritty world of New York.

He shot several films in 1972, including Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather. Coppola enlisted Willis for Part II in 1974 and Part III in 1990 to give the films a consistent, dark look.

Woody Allen began working with Willis in 1977 on Annie Hall and he became Allen’s go-to cinematographer for several years. He also shot Interiors, Manhattan, Stardust Memories, Zelig, Broadway Danny Rose and The Purple Rose of Cairo with Allen.

Willis did work with Pakula several times as well, shooting All The President’s Men and The Parallax View. After several years out of the business, Pakula worked with Willis again on 1997’s The Devil’s Own, which was Willis’ final film.

Despite the acclaim, he only earned two Oscar nominations - for Zelig and The Godfather - Part III. In 2009, he received an honorary Oscar for his work.

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