Arts & Entertainment

'Godfather,' Woody Allen cinematographer Gordon Willis dies

Cinematographer Gordon Willis poses with his honorary Oscar following a 2009 ceremony in Los Angeles.
Cinematographer Gordon Willis poses with his honorary Oscar following a 2009 ceremony in Los Angeles.
Chris Pizzello/AP

Gordon Willis, the cinematographer behind such classic 1970s films as "Annie Hall," "Klute," "All the President's Men" and the "Godfather" series, died on Sunday. He was 82.

"One cinematographer had established a kind of noir color look, rich in brown, amber and shadow, that was a vital force in the noir movies made in Hollywood in the 1970s," film historian David Thomson wrote of Willis in his "New Biographical Dictionary of Film."

Willis won an honorary Academy Award in 2009, but never took home the prize for best cinematography. He was nominated twice, for "The Godfather Part III" and "Zelig," but not for the earlier works that had established him as a giant among his peers.

"For a while, I really didn't know what to do with that movie," he said of the original "Godfather" in a 2002 interview on NPR. "I finally decided this should have this brassy, yellow look to it. Don't ask me why. It just felt right."

The New York native got his start working in makeup. He worked on documentaries for a motion picture unit as part of his Air Force service during the Korean War.

In addition to shooting the first two "Godfather" movies, he shot a total of eight films for Woody Allen and was dubbed the "Prince of Darkness" by fellow cinematographer Conrad Hall for his use of shadows.

(Think of the scene in the video below from Allen's "Manhattan," where he and Diane Keaton duck out of the rain into the American Museum of Natural History, or the garage scenes in "All the President's Men.")

"He's an artist," Allen told People magazine in 1983. "He's got a great sense of humor. He taught me a lot."

Willis' last film was "The Devil's Own" in 1997, directed by Alan J. Pakula.

"I got tired of trying to get actors out of trailers, and standing in the rain," Willis said.

Check out clips from some of Willis' most famous films.