“He has a natural sense of structure and beauty, not unlike a Renaissance artist”
Francis Ford Coppola
“Let me clear something up: Good films are not made by accident, nor is good photography. You can have good things happen, on occasion, by accident that can be applied at that moment in a film, but your craft isn’t structured around such things, except in beer commercials.”
Gordon Willis is a retired American cinematographer best known for his work on Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather series as well as Woody Allen’s Annie Hall and Manhattan.
One critic suggested that “more than any other director of photography, 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 we discuss Hollywood’s so-called renaissance of the 1970s, we tend to think of certain directors: Robert Altman, Francis Ford Coppola, Hal Ashby. But if there is one cinematographer most closely associated with that decade’s intelligent, individualistic mainstream films, it’s Gordon Willis. His name in the credits practically guaranteed that you were about to see something worthwhile, and his pictures ran the gamut from grand dramas (The Godfather) to sharp comedies (Annie Hall) to superb thrillers (All the President’s Men) to evocative musicals (1981’s Pennies From Heaven).
Other cinematographers would try to figure out exactly how he managed to craft such deep, rich visual styles for so many different types of movies. But Willis was never much help in elucidating his process. “You’re looking for a formula; there is none,” he once said. “The formula is me.”
On the future of movies: “I have no idea what direction the film business will go in the next 10 years,” Willis said, “but for those of you trying to make your mark, try not to turn the business into a huge landfill of nothing but garbage. We’re very close to that now. Always try and bring something good in; we have plenty of people doing the opposite.”