The obviously legendary, hugely influential, always blunt-spoken Gordon Willis has died. The man was and always will be a collossus among cinematographers, right up there with Gregg Toland, Conrad Hall, the Sunrise guys (Karl Struss, Charles Rosher) and all the others profiled in Todd McCarthy‘s Visions of Light. I have to catch an 8:30 am Foxcatcher screening in 40 minutes so I’ll just use a quote from Time Out‘s Steven Garrett, to wit: “More than any other director of photography, Willis defined the cinematic look of the 1970s: sophisticated compositions in which bolts of light and black put the decade’s moral ambiguities into stark relief.”
The Cape Cod-residing Willis had been nice enough to speak to me about DVD and Bluray restoration issues over the years. In 2011 I called Willis about the then-new Warner Home Video Bluray of All The President’s Men (’76), which he’d shot for Robert Redford, which was and is clearly over-saturated and too dark here and there. Willims confirmed that WHV had never even called much less consulted him about the color scheme. The Bluray “is all fucked up…all the medium tones [are wrong] and contrast is way higher than it oughta be…it’s overloaded.
“All they had to do was use the most recent DVD as a reference because that’s fine,” Willis said. “They probably think they’ll get [me] in there and it’ll turn into a problem but it’s definitely a problem when they don’t. They don’t get it. They get on those fucking dials…it’s a disease. Their idea for a Bluray is to make it for guys who are watching football.”
I asked Willis he’d called anyone at Warner Home Video since the All The President’s Men Bluray came out to tell them they’d gotten it wrong and that they should have called, etc. “And what are they gonna say?,” he said. “We’re sorry and we’ll do it all over again? You call these guys, it’s like talking to a head on a stick.”