The death of famous cinematographer Gordon Willis reminds of the ancient symbolic battle in literature and film: Light vs. Darkness.
As a historical novelist, my work is greatly influenced not only by French and Irish literature, but also by the films of the 1970s.
A great independence, comparatively speaking, had already set in in Hollywood after its initial onslaught in the 1960s. New and incredible experiments were taking place and I admit that many of them were far-fetched and often fell flat. But what came from these experiments and new freedoms were quite a few absolutely beautiful successes.
Maybe my all-time 70s film favorite is Deer Hunter with Apocalypse Now! in a close second. Other movies we can’t forget are ones with strong literary influences like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and A Clockwork Orange, and other streetwise movies like Taxi Driver, Mean Streets, Dog Day Afternoon, The Warriors and movies that appealed to other parts of our anatomy, like Hustler’s Caligula and the Bruce Lee, Woody Allen and the rise of David Lynch movies, not forgetting the beginnings of the modern comedy and horror genres.
Check out the AULD IRISHTOWN trilogy’s Character Art & Bios HERE!
At the close of the 1970s we had the beginning of the Spielberg-inspired, corporate formula blockbusters beginning to take center stage, but just before doing so we got the opening salvos that would become popular brands in the first Alien and Mad Max movies in 1979. Although Mad Max is not all that well done (the audio is terrible), I still loved the grimy footage, unpolished characters and the brutal storyline Especially as a youngster watching these movies in amazement from the floor of my duplex (after sneaking up in the middle of the night) and catching these classics by accident.
One set of movies that are noticeably absent (although I’m sure many of you have your own favorites) is The Godfather movies Parts 1 and 2. With the passing recently of Gordon Willis, the cinematographer of these and other movies from the era, it made me think of some of the visions of scenes in Light of the Diddicoy and Exile on Bridge Street of the AULD IRISHTOWN trilogy as it pertains to the possibility of these books one day reaching the movie theatre or the cable series (there has been some interest in a script for a cable series).
In particular, the flashback scenes in The Godfather Part 2 directly inspired some the writing of many of the scenes in the the trilogy. Albeit, this is a story about the Irish instead of the Italian, and Brooklyn versus Manhattan, the cinematography in these flashback scenes is what often jumped through my mind when creating this ethnic story of the Irish in New York.
The title of the first book even, Light of the Diddicoy, shows a direct influence of Mr. Willis’ work, as it is the escaping light from the great amount of darkness that pervades the theme of this book, as it was a big theme in the Coppolla/Puzo story shown brilliantly in Willis’ cinematography.
The word “light” in Light of the Diddicoy is that of a candle’s light upon the face of an Irish gypsy in America, and shows the influence of Willis’ work. For while modernity (in the form of electricity) was becoming the acceptable way of lighting homes across New York and America in the early part of the 20th Century, these gypsy-gangsters in Brooklyn symbolically refuse electricity for the candle as a way of showing their refusal to generally accept progress and assimilation.
Divide the Dawn which will be the Epic Foreclusion of the AULD IRISHTOWN trilogy, is a direct allusion to this battle. Where best to capture light and darkness battling? At dawn, of course:
“When the darkness of the past and the light of the future clash.”
~Exile on Bridge Street
In the battle between light and darkness, or the escaping of light (hope) from darkness (despair) which pervades all of our lives through any generation, I found Willis to have been the best, most genuine artist to represent it on the big screen.