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Million Dollar Movie


I saw this yesterday on Sandy Morse’s Facebook page. She edited Woody Allen’s movies for many years.

She remembers Gordon Willis:

It must have been 9 years ago, almost to the day, that Gordon Willis asked me to write something for a magazine in celebration of his 75th birthday. I am painfully shy, but I would do anything for Gordy. I can’t believe he’s gone:

“I first time I met Gordy, he was performing magic. It was the first time I set foot on a professional movie set and Gordy was shooting Diane Keaton’s spirit getting up out of bed and leaving her body behind while Alvy and Annie were beginning to make love. People are always surprised to hear that that effect was done in camera, as were all of the visual effects in “Annie Hall,” with the exception of two: the wipe revealing Alvy’s and Annie’s families at the dinner table, and the subtitles, revealing Alvy’s thoughts as he and Annie sip wine on her terrace.

What people find more shocking is that there were similarly only two shots in “Zelig” where a visual effects house was involved in the task of interpolating Woody into the archival footage. The rest of the film’s look was created through Gordy’s thorough knowledge of labs, lenses and lighting and his tireless commitment to the pursuit of perfection. “Zelig” epitomized the 99% perspiration of Gordy’s genius and, tangentially, gave me the kind of education in film that money can’t buy. “Aging” the film took us approximately nine months of duping and bi-packing dirt, grain, scratches and flicker to differing degrees depending on the alleged source of the footage. Everything was done with a purpose and a meticulous attention to detail. It seems appropriate and poignant that “Zelig” should have been the first film for which Gordon was nominated for an Academy Award. I can’t imagine anyone else at the time having undertaken such a monumental task. And still Gordy didn’t get the credit he deserved because he did his job too well, convincing his peers as well the audience at large that the footage had been shot 50 years earlier.

Over the course of his career, Gordy seemed always to know exactly what he was doing and the results were often breathtakingly beautiful. But I also remember a dailies screening on “A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy,” when Leopold (Jose Ferrer) was running through the woods at night, after having shot Maxwell (Tony Roberts) with a bow and arrow. This time Gordy had pushed the envelope a bit too hard and Leopold’s face was—let’s face it—black, against a forest of equally black silhouettes of trees. All of us in the screening room were squinting to try to see the shadow detail that just wasn’t there. Leopold ran across the frame one more time, saying, “Blood! I’ve drawn blood! Who am I?,” when suddenly, out of the darkness of the screening room, Gordy’s gravelly voice answered: “How the hell should I know? I can’t see a thing.” Michael Jordan misses shots. Tiger Woods misses putts. Gordon Willis misses exposures—occasionally. All three, however, will be remembered for the vast majority of the time they don’t.

Happy birthday, Gordy! I treasure the ten years we spent together. I never enter a screening room without thinking of you. And I never cut a film without thinking of relativity and repeatability and shoe leather and dump truck directors. Thanks for the memories….

Love, Sandy”

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