Godfather who ‘ice-skated on film emulsion’ Gordon Willis dies

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 May, 2014, 9:18pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 May, 2014, 9:18pm

Gordon Willis, the cinematographer responsible for stirring camera work in such film classics as the Godfather trilogy and several of Woody Allen's best-known films, has died aged 82.

Willis died on Sunday in Falmouth, Massachusetts, funeral organisers confirmed.

"This is a momentous loss," American Society of Cinematographers president Richard Crudo told Hollywood trade website Deadline. "He was one of the giants who absolutely changed the way movies looked."

Willis received an honorary lifetime achievement Oscar in 2010 and was nominated for best cinematography Academy Awards for Allen's Zelig and The Godfather: Part III.

"He was a brilliant, irascible man, a one of a kind," Godfather series director Francis Ford Coppola said. "A cinematic genius with a precise aesthetic. My favourite description was that 'He ice-skated on the film emulsion'. I learned a lot from him."

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."

Willis' work was credited with lending unique, often stunning imagery to films ranging from the romance Manhattan and lavish musical Pennies From Heaven to the Watergate thriller All the President's Men.

In thrillers such as Alan Pakula's The Parallax View and Klute, for which Jane Fonda won her first Oscar, Willis' camera work evoked a dream-like state that critics credited with elevating the films to the status of classics.

The New York-born Willis worked often with Coppola, Pakula and especially Allen, with whom he made eight films.

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

Willis' films with Allen included the black-and-white Manhattan, Annie Hall, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Interiors, Stardust Memories and Broadway Danny Rose. Reuters, Associated Press