Much will be written about the passing of cinematographer Gordon Willis in the coming days, about his contributions to cinema, his impeccable sense of lighting and composition, and the legends he helped create. But none of it will do his work justice. It won’t properly contextualize what he meant to the visual medium. His greatness can only be experienced viscerally.
Perhaps his best known work was on The Godfather.
He caused a sensation throughout Hollywood with his lighting techniques in Klute.
He shot Woody Allen’s most beautiful film, Manhattan.
He changed film forever. He darkened it, yes, but also made it a place where the austere could be more beautiful than the busy. Understatement became overwhelmingly gorgeous in his eye. The way a low-watt lightbulb’s glare filtered through his lens lent more to a scene’s power than any performance. His figures were relatable but unknowable, lit just so to give them the power of myth.
And now that talent is gone. It will be missed, but the transformative body of work that is left will forever be dissected, studied, beloved by cinema lovers.
Thank you, Prince of Darkness.