Blacks have never been blacker, shadows never so deep. Gordon Willis' starts with a blank, pitch-dark frame and then adds pools of illumination--an arc light here, a reflection in blue-tinted glass there. Minimalism is key.
Most people forget that for much of its runtime, The Godfather is a Christmas movie. Willis and Coppola capture the crispness of a wintry Manhattan where holiday cheer is put on ice. It's a post-war Christmas, slightly dimmed, slightly less festive. New York wants to celebrate, but there's a darkness in the streets they can't escape.
The objects of the mafioso become objets d'art: the smooth glint of a chrome running board, the burst of fire from a .38 special like a shot in the dark.
The Godfather would be nothing without its time and place. This is the world of Michael Corleone--all inky pavement and dank alley corners--as thick and dark as Pacino's Brylcreemed hair.
This is Gordon Willis' New York. All hail The Prince of Darkness.