Gordon Willis: A Web Reference

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This post is a Web reference for the late, great Gordon Willis, ASC, with annotated links to all the interesting online texts and videos, interviews and articles, that I could find about the cinematographer.

In a future post, I will offer a conclusion to my three previous posts about Gordon Willis. The posts were based on the tribute I organized with Stephen Pizzello at Camerimage 2014, with help from ASC members Caleb Deschanel, Ed Lachman, Matthew Libatique and Vilmos Zsigmond. (My friend Stephen recently finished writing a book about Gordon.)

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Gordon Willis receiving a standing ovation at the ceremony for his 2009 honorary Oscar

In preparing my future post, I wanted to be sure that I consulted all the most important online material about Gordon. As I researched, compiled and annotated this list of links, I realized that it might be of service to others interested in exploring Gordon's work, as there is no other such reference, to my knowledge.

So below is my annotated web reference for Gordon Willis. Note that this resource does not include any film excerpts, just material directly about Gordon, and his cinematography.

1. AC tribute

2. Richard Crudo

3. John Bailey

4. Gordon's Oscar

5. Visions of Light

6. Cinematographer Style

7. Craft Truck

8. other interviews

9. articles & biographies

10. the Willis frame

11. selected obituaries

12. thefilmbook

Of course, I would be delighted to get any additions or comments you may have. So, if I have missed some important text or video, please let me know. I plan to keep updating this page so it can remain a good reference.

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1. AC tribute

American Cinematographer October 2014 -Gordon Willis-115px

Persistence of Vision: Supervising A Set

This excerpt from Stephen Pizzello’s upcoming book about Gordon Willis details the cinematographers practical approach on the set.

Stephen's article is part of a 46-page tribute to Gordon in the October 2014 issue of American Cinematographer, featuring contributions from fellow cinematographers, crew members and directors.

This issue is an essential print reference about Gordon's work, just as Stephen's book about Gordon will be once it is published.

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2. Richard Crudo

variety: There Will Never Be Another

ASC president Richard Crudo on Gordon's unique contribution:

"If it’s safe to say there will never be another Rembrandt, I have an even smarter bet for you: There will never be another Gordon Willis."

parallax view: Crudo on Willis.

My fellow blogger David Heuring also spoke to Richard about Gordon

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3. John Bailey

John's Bailiwick: My friend and fellow blogger, John Bailey, ASC, wrote a lengthy, wonderfully modulated portrait of Gordy, that includes several of the links below. John also gives us a transcript of Caleb's toast at Gordon's honorary Oscar ceremony (see videos right below).

John writes:

"The common thread in every interview with him I have seen is that his intention was to keep it simple, both in the central narrative idea and in his use of light. What is simpler than such bold contrasts of light and dark?"

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4. Gordon's Oscar

In 2009, Gordon received an honorary Oscar from the Academy's Board of Governors for his body of work, along with Lauren Bacall and Roger Corman, during a special ceremony. All the videos from the evening can be seen here.

-- Caleb Deschanel, ASC, offered a funny, moving toast to his mentor Gordon:

watch on YouTube

hellogiggles: A transcript of Caleb's toast with an intro by Zooey Deschanel

-- Gordon's acceptance speech:

watch on YouTube

Gordon quipped:

“To all the beautiful women who I’ve worked with in this business, and who were terrified of looking like Marlon Brando: it’s okay, it’s over now, you’re safe.”

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5. Visions of Light

Visions of Light is a brilliant documentary about cinematography by Arnold Glassman, Todd McCarthy and Stuart Samuels. This 3-minute excerpt (with Spanish subtitles) features Gordon and ASC members Michael Chapman, Conrad Hall and William Fraker.

watch on YouTube

There is also a slightly shorter version

-- To my knowledge, this is the first time that the phrase "prince of darkness" is used -- ironically -- by Gordon's friend, Conrad Hall.

Connie adds:

"I never do underexposure, because I'm terrified of it.

But ... Gordon made an art of underexposure".

-- Like Richard Crudo, I prefer to think of Gordon as "the movie Rembrandt".

Indeed there is a revealing moment in the video when Gordon speaks about an underexposed scene in Godfather 2, and admits:

"I did one scene where I went too far...

I think Rembrandt may have gone too far a couple of times"

Gordon laughs self-consciously at his comparison, but you can sense a real kinship to the Dutch master.

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6. Cinematographer Style

fdtimes.com: My friend Jon Fauer published a transcript of the lengthy interview that he did with Gordon for Jon's magnificent film Cinematographer Style. Here's Gordon talking about simplicity:

"I’m a minimalist. I like to take things out, not add things in, so I spend the first week on a movie or the first prep time taking things out. I think simplicity is very elegant, and I find that people don’t quite understand that. Many moviemakers are encumbered with complexity. They perceive the complex as good. It’s like, if something’s not working, they’ll throw another sandbag in the boat because it’s listing, and they’ll keep throwing sandbags in until the whole boat sinks.

But usually, when something isn’t working, it’s because we’ve done too much or made the wrong choices. It’s one of those two things, so we have to rethink things when they’re not working."

-- The trailer for Cinematographer Style begins with Vittorio Storaro, ASC, and then cuts to Gordon, who says:

“A cinematographer is a visual psychiatrist: moving the audience of a movie from here to there to there, making them think what you want them to think, painting pictures in the dark”.

watch on YouTube

The trailer is also available on docurama

-- In another short excerpt from the documentary, Gordon playfully asks to turn off the interview lighting, saying

"this is really the best, no light at all"

watch on YouTube

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7. Craft Truck

Jeff Glickman at Craft Truck did a wonderful in-depth video interview, available in two 30-minute installments. This interview offers the only opportunity to see Gordon speak at length, and in detail, about his work.

-- In Part 1 Gordon discusses among other things:

Godfather top light, learning from movies, why color is a burden, the elegance of simplicity, Fonda crying in Klute, convincing Woody to play off screen, how he was hired to design movies "except for the acting",

watch on YouTube

-- In Part 2, Gordon discusses:

blocking for Woody Allen, "making the camera an instrument in telling a story", how he changed film by "refining things based on what the story was, what was happening in the room", the Panavision 40 mm, Francis Ford Coppola, All the President's Men, split-diopters, Interiors, The Devil's Own, why he retired

watch on YouTube

-- Craft Truck also offers the 90-minute uncut audio of the interview

-- Jeff summarized some key points from the Craft Truck interview on indiewire

-- John Bailey offers a thoughtful analysis of these interviews in his post, mentioned above, Gordy.

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8. other interviews

boston.com: Transcript of Interview by Mark Feeney

(suggested by Peter Wunstorf, ASC)

thewrap interviewed Gordon at the time of his honorary Academy Award:

Gordon Willis Finally Gets His Oscar by Steve Pond

believermag.com: All Women Look Beautiful to Me Now 2014 interview by Chris McCoy

A lot of people think, "Well, I’m being paid all this money, I have to do something". But the person who’s really worth a lot of money is the one who looks at something and knows what not to do —don’t do that, don’t do this, leave this here. I always found that a more important decision — what you don’t do.

splicetoday: Interview: Gordon Willis by John Lingan

btlnews: Gordon Willis Interview by April MacIntyre

npr.org: Fresh air remembers Cinematographer Gordon Willis, featuring an interview of Gordon by Terry Gross

MovieGeeksUnited! The Godfather Restoration

featuring Allen Daviau, ASC, who Gordon entrusted with the restoration.

46 minutes in, when asked about the difference between digital and film, Gordon responds:

“it’s another way of recording, but it doesn’t replace thinking.”

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9. articles & biographies

wikipedia: Gordon Willis

imdb: Gordon Willis

Willis Receives ASC Lifetime Achievement Award

theasc.com: Post Focus: Paramount Restores The Godfather by Stephanie Argy

cinematographers.nl: Gordon Willis

pbs.net: A Study in Contrasts by Mark Feeney

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10. the Willis frame

Steven Benedict edited an elegant compilation video of Gordon's work and compositions.

There is also a compilation video by Nelson Carvajal for Press Play on indiewire.com

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11. selected obituaries

theasc.com: Gordon Willis, ASC 1931-2014 by Stephen Pizzello

Stephen's article includes 3 interesting videos of Gordon speaking about "relativity", editing and working with writers.

lareviewofbooks.org: A Remembrance: Jon Boorstin’s Parallax View on Gordon Willis by Jon Boorstin

Boorstin was an AFI intern on The Parallax View.

nytimes.com: Gordon Willis, Godfather cinematographer dies at 82 by John Anderson

theguardian.com: Gordon Willis obituary by Ronald Bergan

time.com: Remembering Gordon Willis, the Cinema’s Prince of Darkness by the late Richard Corliss

nofilmschool.com: Celebrating the Life, Work, & Rebellion of Legendary 'Godfather' DP Gordon Willis by Justin Morrow

ew.com: Shining a light on Hollywood's 'Prince of Darkness' by Chris Nashawaty

deadline.com: R.I.P. The Godfather DP Gordon Willis by Jen Yamato

hollywoodreporter.com: Godfather Cinematographer Dead by Mike Barnes

avclub.com: R.I.P. Gordon Willis by Ignatiy Vishnevetsky

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12. thefilmbook

These posts are based on the tribute I organized with Stephen Pizzello at Camerimage 2014, with help from ASC members Caleb Deschanel, Ed Lachman, Matthew Libatique and Vilmos Zsigmond.

Gordon Willis Tribute: KLUTE

Gordon Willis Tribute: THE GODFATHER

Gordon Willis Tribute: THE GODFATHER PART II

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Thank you in advance for any additions or corrections you may suggest to this Gordon Willis web reference.

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