' ' Cinema Romantico: In Memoriam: Gordon Willis

Thursday, May 22, 2014

In Memoriam: Gordon Willis

When I think New York, I think Woody Allen, and when I think of Woody Allen's New York, I think specifically of "Manhattan." That film famously opened with a Woody voiceover in the guise of an author attempting to forge the perfect first sentence for a book regarding the perfect city - New York, that is. And so he speaks of "romanticizing it all out of proportion", but decides that beginning is to corny, and so then he speaks of "a metaphor for the decay of contemporary culture", but decides that prologue is too angry. Then, he hits it. He says: "He was as tough and romantic as the city he loved." Tough and romantic. So Woody figured he needed a shot to lead into this monologue and if the shot was leading into this monologue than the shot itself needed to be tough and romantic. Well, wowza. How do you go about encapsulating such a sentiment in a few seconds?

Woody decided he'd open with a shot of the New York Skyline. Well, gosh. That's pretty risky, yeah? I mean, the New York skyline? Who doesn't know the New York skyline? It’s the most photographed city in the world. Google "New York Skyline" and you have access to an untold number of images, all taken from different angles at different times of day or night with different types of exposures and lenses and god knows what else. Countless films have served up images of the New York Skyline, from up close and from a distance. Right now, at this very second, roughly 247,000 tourists from all manner of vantage points and with all manner of devices are snapping pictures of New York’s skyline. Art.com returns 29,379 items for sale featuring the New York Skyline. You can find it on postcards and coffee mugs and refrigerator magnets. So how on earth could he take the most cliched shot available and then proceed to make it tough and romantic, epitomizing in a few seconds the single most New York-y New York film that he - the most New York-y New York filmmaker of all time - planned to ever make?

Why he enlisted Gordon Willis as his cinematographer of course.


Alex Withrow said...

A succinct and damn well said tribute, my friend. Willis was a master, and could do anything. Including turning cliche into a work of art.

Nick Prigge said...

Amen. I loved the shot you picked from "Manhattan" too in your own memorial. I always think of what Ebert wrote about that shot, how perfectly it encapsulated the light Tracy brought into that home.