When Gordon Willis passed away last May at the age of 82, it was hard not to look back and marvel at the man’s long and illustrious career. He was the cinematographer behind such films as “The Godfather” trilogy, “All the President’s Men,” and “Annie Hall.” The man helped define the look and feel of 1970s American cinema. His bold creative choices and fruitful collaborations made him a favorite of directors such as Francis Ford Coppola, Alan J. Pakula, and Woody Allen.
And now, thanks to a video essay by Steven Benedict from Press Play, we can get a closer look at just what made Gordon Willis such a special DP. Not a word is spoken in this 8-minute video. Instead, Benedict lets the images do the talking. The video selects specific images from nearly every single film Willis worked on, from “Klute” back in 1971 to “The Devil’s Own” in 1997, which was the last film he ever shot.
What’s most remarkable about the essay is how it illustrates the consistency of Willis’s style. As Benedict mentions, the films Willis worked on span several different time periods, yet his artful use of shadows, the muted colors, the sepia tones — it’s all there. While his heyday may have been the ‘70s and early ‘80s, the video also proves that Gordon Willis was always a gifted artist, even at the end of his career.
If you’re a fan of cinema or a newcomer to the man’s work, you owe it to yourself to check out the essay below.