R.I.P. Gordon Willis

It is a great misfortune to report that Gordon Willis, one of the true titans of American cinematography, passed away on Sunday in Falmouth, Massachusetts. I haven’t seen any cause listed, but he was 82.

Willis will generally be defined by his prominent collaborations with three major directors: Francis Ford Coppola, Alan J. Pakula and Woody Allen. Willis essentially set the aesthetic for an entire generation in masterpieces like “The Godfather” and its sequel, “All the President’s Men,” “Annie Hall,” “Stardust Memories,” “Pennies from Heaven,” and, of course, his luminous, transcendent work in Allen’s “Manhattan.”

His most famous images undoubtedly come from the latter, and rightly so: Allen and Diane Keaton sitting in the shadows under a sparkling, almost spectral Queensboro Bridge is a dream of a dream, all of pop culture’s impressions of New York City distilled in one shot. But at the end of the day, I have to say my personal favorite of Willis’ films might be another Allen collaboration, “The Purple Rose of Cairo.” The silver screen lost its literal silver many years ago, but I think Willis’ stunning work on Allen’s Depression-era fable evokes the shimmer and sheen of early film better than a 1980 color film has any business doing. If you needed someone to visualize the beautiful, terrible power of cinema, you couldn’t ask for any better than Willis.

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