Gordon Willis

Active - 1942 - 2016  |   Born - May 28, 1931 in Queens, New York, United States  |   Died - May 18, 2014   |   Genres - Drama, Thriller, Comedy, Comedy Drama, Romance

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Getting his start as a summer stock actor, American cinematographer Gordon Willis turned to photography after experience as an Air Force cameraman. In 1970, the 39-year-old Willis lensed his first feature film, The Landlord. Following his debut behind the camera, Willis worked steadily throughout the 1970s, on films such as The Paper Chase (1973), The Parallax View (1974), and All the President's Men (1976). It was for his work on Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather (1972) that Willis first won acclaim; he would go on to act as cinematographer for the next two Godfather installments, garnering an Academy Award nomination in 1991, for his work on The Godfather Part III.

It was also during the 1970s that Willis began his long collaboration with director Woody Allen, first working with him on Annie Hall in 1977. Willis and Allen would collaborate on six more films during the 1970s and 1980s, with the cinematographer lending his distinctive touch to Interiors (1978), Stardust Memories (1980), A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy (1982), Zelig (for which Willis won a 1984 Oscar nomination), Broadway Danny Rose (1984), The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), and, perhaps most memorably, 1979's Manhattan. Aside from directing the 1980 melodrama Windows, Willis has worked solely as a cinematographer, continuing to work throughout the 1990s, with such a director as Alan J. Pakula on Presumed Innocent (1990) and The Devil's Own (1997). In 1995, Willis was honored by his colleagues with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Society of Cinematographers and in 2009, he received an Honorary Academy Award. He died in 2014 at age 82.

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  • Served in the U.S. Air Force as part of a motion picture unit.
  • Nicknamed "The Prince of Darkness" by fellow DP Conrad Hall.
  • Shot 3 Academy Award Best Picture winners, but was not nominated for Best Cinematographer for any of them.
  • Made 8 films with director Woody Allen, beginning with 1977's Annie Hall.
  • Made 6 films with director Alan Pakula, beginning with 1971's Klute.