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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”

The Prince of Darkness


R.I.P. Gordon Willis. 

Million Dollar Movie

“We’re in a business where people perceive complexity as good. It’s not good. Complexity is not good. People don’t understand the elegance of simplicity. There are very few people left that do understand it. The whole idea is take a sophisticated idea and reduce it to the simplest possible terms so that it’s accessible to everybody — and don’t get simple mixed up with simplistic. It’s how you mount and present something that makes it engaging…Simplistic is doing it badly…simple is your choices.”

Gordon Willis on cinematography.

Million Dollar Movie


Hackman, Elmore, Huston, Dustin, Rip, Willis, Lange and more…Movie nerds: dig in. 

[Picture Credit: Robert Wilson]

Million Dollar Movie

From the terrific documentary, “Visions of Light,” here is Gordon Willis, “The Prince of Darkness,” talking about his work on the Godfather movies.

Millon Dollar Movie

We’re getting into a definite type of situation here…

My mother took me to see Jason Robards and Collen Dewhurst in Long Day’s Journey Into Night on Broadway for my seventeenth birthday. We went to a Wednesday afternoon matinee in late June, 1988. Before the show I interviewed for a summer job as a messenger at Sound One, at the time the biggest post-production film company on the east coast. Sound One rented out a majority of space in the Brill Building, the city landmark on 49th Street and Broadway.

The Brill Building in the 1930s and Today (New York Times)

The Brill Building was one of the homes to the music business dating back to the Tin Pan Alley Days. Neil Diamond, Laura Nyro and Carol King worked there in the Sixties. By the time I arrived, there were a just few holdovers from the music business—Paul Simon had a suite on the 5th floor—but it was mostly about film. Martin Scorsese had his offices there, so did Paul Schrader, and Lorne Michaels’ company, Broadway Video, ran most of what Sound One didn’t.

It is a small building, only 11 stories. Today, a skyscraper hotel sits to its right on the southwest corner of 49th street. Another skyscraper is across the street on the east side of Broadway between 49th and 50th. In 1988, there was a pornographic movie theater across the street on Broadway, another one on 49th between Broadway and Seventh Avenue, and yet another one on the east side of Broadway between 49th and 48th. 

I got the job and spent many days during the hot New York summer walking between the Brill Building and the Technicolor lab down on 44th Street, between 8th and 9th Avenue, passing by hookers with bruised arms and legs and over empty crack vials in the cracks of the sidewalks.

There was one guy left over from the old days of the music business, guy named Benny Ross. He owned “St. Nicholas Music,” which had a dusty office on the sixth floor. St. Nicholas was famous for publishing Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer. Benny was a nice man, shrunken little Jewish guy, always ready with a handshake and a kind word. “Hi,howareya?” He’d come upstairs to Sound One and get a cup of coffee and eat a slice of pound cake and schmooze-up whoever was in the vicinity. And he’d take the new messengers into his stuffy little office and offer up any of the dozens of free promotional records that were sent to him.

Benny was from the Old School, the vanishing show business world that is so affectionately depicted in Woody Allen’s 1984 comedy Broadway Danny Rose. Woody plays Danny Rose, a lovable lowlife theatrical manager, whose best act is Lou Canova, an Italian lounge singer. According to Sandy Morse, who edited all of Allen’s movies from Manhattan through Celebrity, they found Nick Apollo Forte, a real-life singer who plays Canova, in the 99-cent cutout bin at Colony Records, downstairs in the Brill Building. They were mixing the sound for Zelig at Sound One, came across a couple of Forte’s records and knew they had their man.

Broadway Danny Rose is all of a piece, a pastrami-on-rye sandwich shot in grainy black-and-white. It’s Allen’s gift to Mia Farrow and a fine tribute to the Broadway Area, from Damon Runyon through Sid Caesar, the Catskills all the way to the Joe Franklin Show.


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