You know Gordon Willis, even if you don’t know him by name. His work can be seen in any of the Godfather movies, Annie Hall, and All The President’s Men among many others.
Willis was simply one of the best cinematographers that Hollywood had ever known. Sadly, Willis passed away on Sunday at his Cape Cod home. According to his wife Helen Willis, the 82-year-old died of cancer.
Gordon and Helen Willis married in 1955 and would eventually have three children and five grandchildren.
“He was a very, very good cinematographer who left a lasting impression on a lot of people,” said Helen Willis. “He was a mentor for a lot of people.”
Willis was a native of New York City. His father had been a make-up man for Warner Bros., but Willis himself had a passion for photography growing up.
— Sydney Film Festival (@sydfilmfest) May 19, 2014
“[It] cost my father a lot of money,” said Willis.
He did fashion photo shoots in Greenwich Village prior to serving in the Air Force during the Korean War. There he made training films.
After his service in the military and starting a family, he began to do work on television documentaries and commercials. His Hollywood career didn’t take off until he drew the attention of directors like Coppola with his work on the X-rated cult film, The End of The Road.
Gordon Willis, the master of chiaroscuro. Farewell to cinema's Caravaggio. pic.twitter.com/9LZv267nrl
— Anthony Breznican (@Breznican) May 19, 2014
Throughout the 1970s, Willis worked on a number of films that would go on to be movie classics. While many give credit to the actors and directors in these notable films, the look of the movies owed much to the camera work and ceaseless professionalism of Willis.
It doesn't come more perfect then this. Gordon Willis. Cinematographer. pic.twitter.com/1z8FM2UEMd
— Richard Shepard (@SaltyShep) May 20, 2014
RIP to the amazing Gordon Willis, cinematographer extraordinaire. pic.twitter.com/upu696j5jc
— Scott Weinberg (@scottEweinberg) May 19, 2014
His last movie was 1997’s The Devil’s Own, which starred Brad Pitt and Harrison Ford. Willis said he’d grown “tired of trying to get actors out of trailers, and standing in the rain.”
Though it has been many years since the “Prince of Darkness” retired from the movie business, his work continues to be fondly appreciated. Willis himself will be both fondly appreciated and respectfully remembered for many years to come.
— BFI (@BFI) May 19, 2014
Image via YouTube