Gordon Willis: 1931 – 2014
Among his many achievements, Gordon Willis is revered for his work as cinematographer for The Godfather trilogy.His work on those epochal films has created a particular palette of lighting that film schools identify as “Godfather lighting”, a broad palette of muted colors, yellow burnish, deep shadows and semi-silhouettes that has defined the look of period films and family dramas for more than forty years. It also earned him the title of “Prince of Darkness”, bestowed by fellow genius Conrad L. Hall.
Gordon Willis was a New Yorker, fitting for the man who defined the city for all time in the prologues of The Godfather Part II and Manhattan. The son of Broadway dancers, the performing arts was a natural inclination. He was initially a fashion photographer, before his stint in the Korean War, where he cut his teeth in a motion picture unit for the Air Force Photographic and Charting Service. After that he moved up the ladder and worked in commercials and documentaries. Documentary techniques inspired Willis to work with less light – “You learn to eliminate, as opposed to adding”. His special approach to realism defined the look of several films from the period known as “New Hollywood” – The Landlord (1970), Klute (1971), The Parallax View (1974) and All the President’s Men (1976).
Willis’ most productive collaboration however was with Woody Allen, a man who shared his minimalism, discreet style and subversive spirit to standard Hollywood shooting practices and techniques. Their collaboration began with Annie Hall (1977) and included the most visible and iconic stretch of his career – Interiors (1978), Manhattan (1979), Stardust Memories (1980), Zelig (1983), Broadway Danny Rose (1984) and The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985). Zelig is a special tour-de-force of in-camera special effects matched with bluescreen technology and footage shot on old-fashioned cameras that were strategically damaged to seamlessly insert the titular character into real-life newsreels.
Gordon Willis shot over 19 films that were nominated for the Academy Awards and he won a grand total of two nominations for his work and he has never won an Oscar for his work on either The Godfather films or the many classics of Woody Allen. He did win the inaugural Governor’s Awards at 2009. But Gordon Willis was above and beyond awards.
1) John Bailey A.S.C.(Mishima) writes on “Gordy” at the ASC Magazine’s Blog
2) Tributes from former collaborators Francis Ford Coppola and Woody Allen, as well as Stephen Pizello who was in the middle of writing a book on Willis at the time of his death:
3) A brief clip from Todd McCarthy’s documentary Visions of Light, where Willis discusses the famous inspiration for The Godfather’s unique look.
4) Steven Soderbergh spearheaded the rediscovery of the Aram Avakian film End of the Road which was Gordon Willis’ first credit as cinematographer. In tribute, he has set up a lengthy transcript of an interview he conducted with him.
Eli Wallach (1915 – 2014)
Eli Wallach represents the famous adage that defines “character actors”: there are no small parts. With a little screentime, like an old money capitalist in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street 2 :Money Never Sleeps and he steels the film with his very presence, his lovely and hilarious mocking “bird” gestures that is essentially a herald of doom to all who see it. He’s also brilliant in cameos in masterpieces like Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River or Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer. His legend of course long preceded these films. In the 40s and 50s, Wallach formed part of the Actor’s Studio revolution that involved the likes of Elia Kazan, Marlon Brando and Lee Strasberg which completely altered the landscape of American theater and film. His film debut was Elia Kazan’s Baby Doll, an uncanny comedy of bad manners that was especially controversial in its release with Wallach as the scheming and ruthless seducer of the “innocent” Caroll Baker. Other notable roles includes the bad guy in The Magnificent Seven (far more interesting than the heroes), a supporting role in John Huston’s The Misfits, and one half of a gay hitman couple in Don Siegel’s The Lineup. Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly provided Wallach with his most enduring and beloved role as Tuco, the supposed “Ugly” who stole the film from both Lee Van Cleef and Clint Eastwood, though Wallach would later note the lax safety standards on the set of that film often led him to needlessly risk his life. His turn as Don Altobello in Coppola’s underrated The Godfather III is quite graceful as well.
1. Richard Corliss writes a detailed obituary on Wallach.
2. The New York Times obituary includes a touching video link of Wallach in his late 90s being visited by his grand nephew, the critic A. O. Scott.
1) Nuri Belge Ceylan’s Winter Sleep won the Palme d’Or, the first Turkish film to win since Yilmaz Güney’s Yol (1982). Alice Rohrwacher won the Grand Prix for The Wonders, Bennet Miller won for Foxcatcher. The great and evergreen Julianne Moore won Best Actress for Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars and Timothy Spall won Best Actor for Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner. The Jury Prize is shared by the unlikely duo of Xavier Dolan (Mommy) and Jean-Luc Godard (Adieu au langage). Full list of winners, here.
2) Godard deigned not to attend the festival this year, despite the fact that he considers Adieu au langage, his best film. He did send the next best thing to himself and his new film, another film, a short “Letter in Motion”. Daniel Kasman hosts the video at MUBI along with a transcript and translation.
3) Abel Ferrara stole the scene as it were when his film Welcome to New York, which played out of competition, ended up having a considerable showing in theatres in Cannes and a tent screening. The film has garnered the kind of attention that has eluded him since the mid-90s, tackling as his subject does with front-page headlines and matters of politics. The result has sparked angry letters from DSK’s wife, and threats from The film was released on VOD in France and Ferrara is happy at the reception of the film, “call it karma…the film is out there”. A fascinating interview on the film is especially interesting.
4) Other worthy titles that played at Cannes include Olivier Assayas’ The Clouds of Sils Maria, Frederick Wiseman’s National Gallery, the Dardenne Brothers Two Days, One Night, Isao Takahata’s The Tale of Princess Kaguya and Abderrahmane Sissako’s Timbuktu.
Carax / Allen / Beatty / Varda / Mann
1. Leos Carax has recently completed a short film Gradiva made for the Galleria Gradiva an art museum located across the Louvre in Paris. You can see the short in HD.
2. Woody Allen’s next film, the film after his coming film Magic in the Moonlight (2014) will star Joaquin Phoenix and Emma Stone and the action is set in Rhode Island. The trailer for Magic in the Moonlight is also up.
3. Warren Beatty was one of the greatest stars of his age, one of the few of his generation that embodied the old fashioned glamour typical of the classic Hollywood star, this despite the fact that his greatest performances in Ishtar, Lilith, McCabe & Mrs. Miller subverted and challenged that image. As a director, he made two masterpieces – Reds (1981) and the fearless and funny Bulworth (1999). After a very long gap of fifteen years, he has returned to direct a biopic on Howard Hughes, a film he had planned to make in the 80s. He will play the legendary eccentric himself, alongside a cast comprised of Alec Baldwin, Aldren Ehrenreich, Martin Sheen, Mathew Broderick, Annete Benning, Candice Bergen and Lily Collins. Principal photography has already been completed.
4. Agnes Varda’s From Here to There, a video-essay/portrait/meetings is the subject of a fascinating article by Fernando F. Croce.
5. Michael Mann’s latest film Cyber, his first in six years, is an action thriller starring Chris Hemsworth, the first images have been released. The subject is pure Mann:
With great facility the people in the film move between Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, Los Angeles and Chicago. And the film’s story takes you from those places to inside a processor, inside the electron universe, amongst a population of transistors,” he explained. “You have two billion transistors in your cell phone. Bits with either an absence or surplus of electrons, then become ones or zeroes, every two billionth of a second and affect the macro, our lives. That’s the world this film takes place in.
6. The Hubert Bals Fund of the International Film Festival Rotterdam has selected 11 film projects from 11 countries that will receive funding in script and project development. Among the titles is Ashim Ahluwalia’s upcoming project The Boyfriend, Another Trip to the Moon (Ismail Basbeth, Indonesia); The Calm (Song Fang, China); La omisión (Sebastián Schjaer, Argentina); Something Useful (Pelin Esmer, Turkey):
1. In the late 70s, Jean-Luc Godard held a course at Montréal’s Concordia University. These lectures are published in Introduction to a True History of Cinema and Television, by Caboose Books. We hope to review the book as soon as we have a copy in our hands.
3. In addition to this, there’s a mammoth 45 minute interview with JLG for Canon which you can watch online.
The Far Side of Paradise
1. Richard Brody conducted a fascinating interview with Marin Karmitz, legendary producer and founder of MK2, one of the leading labels in French cinema and home video distribution. Karmitz produced films by Godard and Chabrol and remains an auteur’s producer as it were. He touches on the particularities of financing in the France, including a hilarious meeting with the legendary André Malraux, author, adventurer and Minister of Culture to President Charles de Gaulle.
So I saw the Minister, who said this magnificent thing. I explained my problem: “I can’t make the movie under these conditions. I’m compelled to rig the books, I’m compelled to lie, I’m compelled to say that I’m going to lower the budget, to pay people a percentage, etc., all sorts of things—to tell enormous lies. And he said this magnificent thing to me, André Malraux did: “Rig away, young man, rig away.” That was my first dealing with the government. It was my first lesson: “Rig away, young man, rig away.” So you see the idea that I have of the state … I rigged; I made my film.
2. The magazine Cine-Files has posted an interesting exchange between Jonathan Rosenbaum and James Naremore on Film Acting. This is part of a broader feature of their Sixth Issue, which covers performance in cinema in general.
3. David Cairns posted an interesting article by guest blogger Randall William Cook, which also deals with an issue of performance. Namely Motion Capture and its relation to what we understand as conventional acting. Randall Cook was the Direct of Animation on the Lord of the Rings trilogy and he clarifies all sorts of misconceptions concerning mocap,namely if a person supplying expressions to the animators is an actor in any conventional sense. The issues are complicated to say the least.
4. The issue of the dubious nature of Ray Carney’s holdings of Mark Rappaport’s films remains unresolved as far as courts and Mr. Carney is concerned. But for fans who are worried about the visibility of Rappaport’s films, there is a silver lining. Fandor, an exemplary online distributor of films is hosting several titles for live streaming.
5. James Gray’s The Immigrant has released in America and Gray is conducting interviews and press circuit. He recently conducted an interesting podcast with author Bret Easton Ellis (Lunar Park, Glamorama, American Psycho the screenplay for Paul Schrader’s The Canyons).
6. The Austrian Film Museum website has put up for online viewing Dziga Vertov’s work with Kinonedelja (Kino-Week) newsreels, which as the website confirms, is his ‘first contribution to cinema’.
6. There are more links to look at here, as always.
7. La Furia Umana, the multi-lingual online magazine of choice, has put out its 20th online issue, featuring articles in English, French and Italian. King Vidor is the subject of several articles, including one by our very own Sudarshan Ramani.