While the Easy Riders and Raging Bulls were transforming Hollywood plots in the 1970s, Gordon Willis was the cinematographer who transformed how their films looked. Dubbed â€śThe Prince of Darkness,â€ť Willis photographed Marlon Brando in menacing pools of black for his first scene in The Godfather, and endured hearing whines from Paramount studio executives that they couldnâ€™t see Brandoâ€™s eyes. â€śI know, that was the idea,â€ť Willis likely told them. He reversed the equation in All the Presidentâ€™s Men, photographing the incredible recreation of the Washington Postâ€™s cavernous newsroom as a giant brilliantly lit white set in contrast to the darkness of the Nixon White House. (Yes, itâ€™s a Manchurian Candidate-level paranoid fiction, especially now that we know that things were awfully murky inside the real-life Post â€“ that Woodstein were being led around by their clip-on ties by disgruntled FBI agent Mark Felt.)
Willis went on to transform Woody Allenâ€™s movies, teaching the Woodman about long fluid takes created by camera blocking and editing scenes in-camera. His cinematography in Annie Hall is effortless; his stylized compositions in Interiors make the Woodmanâ€™s glacially-paced first drama (barely) watchable, and his breathtaking cinematography in Manhattan blinded audiences to how awful Woodyâ€™s characters were inside of Willisâ€™s knockout compositions.