GREAT CINEMATOGRAPHERS


#2: 2006

 

   


GIUSEPPE ROTUNNO

 

Born: 19 March 1923, Rome, Italy. A.k.a: Giuseppe 'Peppino' Rotunno.

Career: Entered the film industry as a still ph at the Cinecittà Studios at the age of 17. Was drafted in 1942 and send to Greece as film reporter for the Supreme Headquarters of the Italian Army. Was captured by the Germans in September 1943. Freed by the Americans in 1945 and returned to Italy where he became a c.asst. Worked for many years with doph G.R. Aldo. Became [again] doph in 1955.

Member and past president of the AIC. Member of the ASC since June 1966.

Also active as superv of film restorations, e.g. 'Il gattopardo' [in 1983; ph: G. Rotunno], 'Roma' [in 2002; ph: G. Rotunno], 'Pane, amore e fantasia' [in 2002; ph: Arturo Gallea] & 'Una giornata particolare' [in 2003; ph: Pasqualino De Santis].

Teaches at the National Film School in Rome since 1988.

Orio Caldiron wrote the book 'Giuseppe Rotunno - la verità della luce' [2007].

Appeared in the doc's 'Direttori fotografia: Rotunno/Six Kinds of Light: Peppino Rotunno' [1983, Massimo Magri & Gianpaolo Tescari], 'Ljuset håller mig sällskap/Light Keeps Me Company' [1999, Carl-Gustav Nykvist], 'Fellini: Je suis un grand menteur/Fellini: I'm a Born Liar' [2001, Damian Pettigrew], '[The Life and Times of Count Luchino] Visconti' [2002, Adam Low; ph: Dewald Aukema] & 'Federico Fellini - Through the Eyes of Others' [2003, Eckhart Schmidt].

Awards: BAFTA Film Award nom [1978] for 'Il Casanova di Federico Fellini'; 'Oscar' AA nom [1979] & BAFTA Film Award [1981] for 'All That Jazz'; David di Donatello Award [1984] for 'E la nave va'; David di Donatello 'Luchino Visconti Award' [1986]; David di Donatello Award [1990] for 'Mio caro dottor Gräsler'; Venice IFF 'Pietro Bianchi Award' [1995]; ASC International Award [1999]; Camerimage Lifetime Achievement Award [1999]; AIC Premio alla carriera [Career Award] [2010].



GO TO FILMS

Giuseppe Rotunno started out from very humble beginnings. As a boy, he never entertained ideas of going into the film business; it was the death of his father, when Giuseppe was just 17, that prompted him to seek work anywhere he could find it during the difficult pre-war days of 1940. He got the only available opening at Cinecittà Studios: a job helping out in the studio's photography lab, which was run by the three Bragaglia brothers. One of them, Arturo, gave him a Leica still camera to experiment with on his days off. "On Saturdays and Sundays, I started to make some photographs of my own," Rotunno recalls. "Then on Monday, Arturo gave me permission to bring in my photos. I started to learn about what was happening with the light, the film, and other things, and I began to love it. It soon became part of my life."

Within 18 months, Rotunno graduated from developing pictures to becoming an on-set still photographer at Cinecittà. "Arturo helped me move to the camera department, because he felt it was important for me. I became a camera assistant."

By the early 1940s, Rotunno was serving as a camera assistant and operator. Meanwhile, he was also getting his first experience as a director of photography by working on some 10 documentaries for Michele Gandin.

Before he could make any more headway in his homeland's film industry, Rotunno was drafted into the military during the darkest days of World War II, serving as a combat photographer in the Italian army's film unit. "I was in the service, shooting alongside reporters, from 1942 until April 11, 1945," Rotunno says. "That's when I was liberated by the American Army in Germany, where I was a prisoner."

Landing a job in Italy was much harder after the war, however. Although Rotunno returned to Rome in September of 1945, it wasn't until 1948 that he was able to pick up where he had left off. "I started again as a camera assistant, made a little salary, and occasionally worked as a camera operator."

During this time, Rotunno amassed more technical knowledge while working on at least 25 films. He recalls, "They often used more than one camera - in fact, they used three cameras sometimes. They would put me by a camera and say, 'Stay there!'"

It was a tragedy that propelled Rotunno to prominence as a director of photography. He was operating for revered cinematographer Aldo Graziati [G.R. Aldo] on Visconti's 'Senso', and in November of 1953, near the end of production, the company moved from Verona to Venice. Meanwhile, Rotunno went to Rome to discuss 'L'oro di Napoli', Graziati's upcoming collaboration with Vittorio De Sica. There, he received word that Graziati had been killed in a car accident. Devastated, Rotunno returned to 'Senso', and production resumed for a time with British cinematographer Robert Krasker. When Visconti and the Englishman failed to click, the director asked Rotunno to take over as director of photography.

In 1955, De Sica remembered Graziati's talented camera operator when he was preparing to shoot 'Pane, amore e...'. While Dino Risi is the film's credited director, Rotunno recalls that De Sica controlled the production. The 30-year-old Rotunno's first major film as a cinematographer was especially demanding because it was shot almost entirely on location. The project was also one of the first CinemaScope productions in Italy.

To prepare, Rotunno traveled to London to observe production of the Anatole Litvak's CinemaScope romance 'The Deep Blue Sea', which was photographed by Jack Hildyard. The experience helped Rotunno immeasurably when shooting commenced on 'Pane, amore e...', although the challenges were considerably different on De Sica's seaside, location-based romantic comedy. "Because we were shooting in CinemaScope, and due to the quality of the film stocks at the time, it was very difficult to balance our interiors against the bright light of the ocean exterior," Rotunno remembers. "After all, we're talking about 43 years ago."

Rotunno also forged a strong artistic bond with Luchino Visconti. "In certain ways, Visconti was my father in my job," Rotunno says. "I did many films with him from 1951 on, first as a camera operator, and later as a director of photography. I had that relationship for work, for life, forever."

Visconti started a unique cinematography tradition on 'Rocco e i suoi fratelli', which he observed on every subsequent film he made with Rotunno: each scene was shot using three cameras, not for coverage but for continuity. "Each camera captured its own piece of the story," Rotunno explains. "When the actors filmed a short segment and we changed the shot, re-lit, and started again, we sometimes lost the vibration of the performance. By shooting with more cameras, Visconti could film a big piece of the story all in the same moment. The scene would start before one camera, and then we'd move in another camera; the scene would continue to play until the actors left the second camera and we picked them up with the third camera. For the director it was much better, but it was terribly difficult for me, because there was no room for the lights. Practically everything was in the shot except the corner where we placed the cameras."

Rotunno's most famous collaboration was with Federico Fellini. Fellini approached the cameraman to work on a film about a musician, 'The Mastorna Journey', but then became ill. "I stayed with Fellini for a year, doing all the things you do for a friend who is very sick," says Rotunno. "The film was postponed, but Fellini told me I couldn't leave him."

Fellini and Rotunno finally began their collaboration on the highly regarded 'Toby Dammit' segment of 'Histoires extraordinaires/Spirits of the Dead', an omnibus film based on tales by Edgar Allan Poe. Rotunno's brilliant reddish lighting lent an eerie, dreamlike quality to the film's opening sequence, in which the titular character arrives in Rome at sunset; the lighting effect simulated the character's druggy point of view, with the "sunset" lingering long after the sun had actually set.

The filmmaking duo next teamed on the opulent 'Satyricon'. The largely stagebound film was shot over eight months, and Rotunno delighted in capturing Fellini's bizarre tableaus while exercising extreme control over his cinematography.

Rotunno and Fellini reteamed on 'Roma', an impressionistic portrait of the Eternal City. 'Roma' broke with the usual baroque look of Fellini's films; in terms of visual style, it was more like a throwback to Rotunno's documentary reportage. "It's a memory film, but it is really realistic in the memory," the cinematographer says. "I was born in Rome, and I knew the city well, so it was much easier to reproduce it in a realistic way. When we shot the traffic jam [on the autostrade], we put a big Chapman Crane on a camera car and drove around. The whole crew tried for several days to catch the ambience, but we never got it. The reality in this case worked against the memory, so we had to re-create it in the studio."

Fellini's 'Amarcord' is an affectionate memory piece about life in the director's hometown of Rimini during the 1930s. Featuring an array of lovably eccentric characters, the picture remains one of the director's most popular works. "I knew all of the characters personally, because I had met them with Federico many, many times before we started shooting," Rotunno notes. "In a way, I tried to put my memory in a condition very close to Federico's. What is in the film is just a small representation of the real characters. I guarantee that if we had portrayed them in a realistic way, it would have been most unbelievable!"

'Amarcord' begins with the townspeople of Rimini building a huge bonfire on a pier to celebrate the end of winter. Rotunno used warm red gels to lend the lighting a nostalgic feel as Fellini introduced his characters. "The cameras went close in and followed the actors, and never came out further until the end of the film, when the young boy is again alone on the pier," Rotunno says. "The idea was to put the audience inside of the story from the beginning to the end of the picture."

One of the tougher Fellini assignments was 'Prova d'orchestra', which presented an orchestra as an allegorical microcosm of a troubled world. The film was made for television and shot on one set over a modest four weeks, after the director's ambitious contemporary fable 'La città delle donne' was postponed.

Rotunno's last collaboration with Fellini was the whimsical fantasy 'E la nave va'. In one of the film's most memorable scenes, a group of musical artistes touring the ship happen upon the boiler room, where they give an informal recitation. "That sequence was shot on a very tall stage, which made it easier to light because there was more room - it's much easier to control the illumination when you can place lights farther away. When I can move, I can do everything! The lights were placed above and below the actors. Below, it had to be very dark, so I used a reddish color that came from the fire inside the boiler as the coals were stoked. Above, I used golden light on the faces of the singers, using a window behind the doorway as the motivation. The two types of lighting were intended to signify hell and paradise."

After completing work for 'E la nave va', Fellini called Rotunno to make three extravagant TV commercials for a large Italian bank, but fate determined that the two friends had worked together for the final time. "We always talked about doing another film," Rotunno says. "When Federico was sick, he was in the hospital in Ferrara, a beautiful town in northern Italy. When I went to visit some relatives there, I called Federico, and we talked and talked. He was very weak, but he told me, 'Peppino, listen, why don't we meet next Saturday in front of Cinecittà?' I think he didn't want me to see him in the hospital. Unfortunately, he never arrived at the studio."

In surveying his nearly 60-year career, Rotunno likes to say that he has created a great deal out of very little; he points out that just as music has only seven basic notes, cinematography has only three lights: "You've got the key light, fill light, and back light, out of which comes an infinity of results. The light is like a kaleidoscope, but those three lights mixed together are more touchy than the kaleidoscope. It's difficult to ask a painter, 'How did you paint the picture?' I go with my eyes and intuition. I like so much to light, and I cannot stop. When I was shooting with Fellini, I was always lighting the next shot, because I was afraid to lose the idea of the light." [From the article 'Renaissance Man' by Ron Magid in 'American Cinematographer', 1999.]


 

 FILMS

1953

Senso/The Wanton Countess/Livia [Luchino Visconti] c; ph final scenes (+ co-c.op); cph: G.R. Aldo & Robert Krasker

1954

Attila [, il flagello di Dio]/Attila the Hun [Pietro Francisci] c; co-addph (+ co-c.op); ph: Aldo Tonti

1955

Pane, amore e.../Scandal in Sorrento [Dino Risi] cs/c

1955

Operation Cinderella [Orson Welles] unrealized project about the postwar 'occupation' of an Italian town by a Hollywood movie company

1955

Cristo non si è fermato a Eboli [Michele Gandin] c; short/?m

1956

Tosca [Carmine Gallone] cs/c

1956

Montecarlo/The Monte Carlo Story [Sam Taylor] tr/c; first film shot in Technirama

1957

Le notti bianche/White Nights [Luchino Visconti] b&w

1957

Seven Hills of Rome [Roy Rowland (replaced Rudolph Maté)] replaced by ph Tonino Delli Colli

1957

La ragazza del palio/The Love Specialist [Luigi Zampa] tr/c

1958

Anna di Brooklyn/Anna of Brooklyn/Fast and Sexy [Reginald Denham & Carlo Lastricati] tr/c

1958

Borgo a Mozzano [Michele Gandin] c; doc/27m; for Shell Italiana

1958

The Naked Maja/La Maja desnuda [Henry Koster] tr/c

1958

Policarpo, ufficiale di scrittura [Mario Soldati] c

1959

On the Beach [Stanley Kramer] b&w; cph (auto race seq filmed in California, USA): Daniel L. Fapp; uncred addph (deserted San Francisco seq): Ernest Laszlo

1959

La grande guerra/The Great War [Mario Monicelli] cs/b&w; cph: Roberto Gerardi, Leonida Barboni & Giuseppe Serrandi

1959

5 Branded Women/Jovanka e le altre [Martin Ritt] b&w

1959

The Angel Wore Red/La sposa bella [Nunnally Johnson] b&w

1959

8½/Otto e mezzo [Federico Fellini] discussions took place, but Rotunno didn't take the job because he was preparing for Mario Monicelli's 'I compagni'; by the time he realized that the project was postponed [it was eventually made in 1963], Fellini was already shooting '8½' with ph Gianni Di Venanzo

 

 

1960

Rocco e i suoi fratelli/Rocco and His Brothers [Luchino Visconti] b&w; restored in 1991

1961

The Best of Enemies/I due nemici [Guy Hamilton] tr/c

1961

Fantasmi a Roma/Ghosts of Rome/Phantom Lovers [Antonio Pietrangeli] cs/c

1961

Boccaccio '70 [seg #2 'Il lavoro/The Job' dir by Luchino Visconti] c; 3 seg (originally 4 seg in Italy); other ph: Otello Martelli & Armando Nannuzzi

1962

Il gattopardo/The Leopard [Luchino Visconti] str70 (+ tr)/c

1962

Cronaca familiare/Family Diary [Valerio Zurlini] c

1963

I compagni/The Organiser [Mario Monicelli] b&w

 

 

1963

Ieri oggi domani/Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow [Vittorio De Sica] ts/c; 3 seg: 'Adelina', 'Anna' & 'Mara'

1964

La Bibbia/The Bible [... In the Beginning] [John Huston] Dimension 150 (70mm)/c; 2uc: Donald C. Rogers; spec optical efx: Linwood G. Dunn; filmed 1964-65

1966

Le streghe/The Witches [seg 'Le strega bruciata viva' dir by Luchino Visconti, 'Una sera come le altre' dir by Vittorio De Sica & 'La terra vista dalla luna' dir by Pier Paolo Pasolini] c; 5 seg

1967

Il viaggio di G. Mastorna/The Mastorna Journey [Federico Fellini] scrpl written in 1965; sets were built; unrealized

1967

Lo straniero/The Stranger [Luchino Visconti] b&w-c

1967

Anzio/La sbarco di Anzio/The Battle for Anzio [Edward Dmytryk] p/c

1967

Capriccio all'italiana [seg 'Perchè?' dir by Mauro Bolognini, 'Viaggio di lavoro' dir by Pino Zac & Franco Rossi & 'La bambinaia' dir by Mario Monicelli] scope/c; 6 seg; other ph: Silvano Ippoliti & Tonino Delli Colli

1967

Histoires extraordinaires/Spirits of the Dead/Tales of Mystery and Imagination [seg #3 'Toby Dammit' dir by Federico Fellini] c; 3 seg; other ph: Tonino Delli Colli & Claude Renoir

1968

Candy [Christian Marquand] c; c.op 2u: Nino Cristiani; spec vfx: Harold Wellman; opening & closing seq: Douglas Trumbull

1968

The Secret of Santa Vittoria [Stanley Kramer] p/c

1968

Fellini - Satyricon [Federico Fellini] p/c

1969

I girasoli/Sunflower [Vittorio De Sica] c; 2uc: David Vinitsi

1970

Splendori e miserie di Madame Royale [Vittorio Caprioli] c

1970

Carnal Knowledge [Mike Nichols] p/c

1971

Roma [Federico Fellini] c

1972

Man of La Mancha/L'uomo della Mancha [Arthur Hiller] 35mm (+ 70bu)/c

1972

Film d'amore e d'anarchia, ovvero 'stamattina alle 10 in Via dei Fiori, nella nota casa di tolleranza...'/Love and Anarchy [Lina Wertmüller] c

1973

Amarcord [Federico Fellini] c

1973

Tutto a posto e niente in ordine/All Screwed Up/Everything Ready, Nothing Works [Lina Wertmüller] c

1974

Il bestione/The Beast [Sergio Corbucci] c

1974

L'erotomane [Marco Vicario] c

1975

Divina creatura/The Divine Nymph [Giuseppe Patroni Griffi] c

 

[Right] with dir Federico Fellini - "Casanova"

 

1975

Il Casanova di Federico Fellini/Fellini's Casanova [Federico Fellini] c

1976

Sturmtruppen/Stormtroopers [Salvatore Samperi] c

1977

La fine del mondo nel nostro solito letto in una notte piena di pioggia/[The End of the World in Our Usual Bed in] A Night Full of Rain [Lina Wertmüller] c

1977

Ecco noi per esempio.../Scoop! [Sergio Corbucci] c

1977

La signora dei Vagoni Letto/The Madonna of the Sleeping Cars [Salvatore Samperi] project with actress Sylvia Kristel; status unknown

1977

Saxofone/Saxophone [Renato Pozzetto] c

 

Sam Peckinpah - G. Rotunno - Sergio Leone - dir Monte Hellman [1977]

 

1977

China 9, Liberty 37/Amore, piombo e furore/Clayton & Catherine/Gunfire [Tony Brandt (= Monte Hellman)] tvi/c; 2uc: Júlio Madurga

1978

All That Jazz [Bob Fosse] c; assoc doph: Bill Garroni

1979

La città delle donne/City of Women [Federico Fellini] tvi/c

1980

Popeye [Robert Altman] tvi/c

1981

Rollover [Alan J. Pakula] p/c; cph: William Garroni

1981

Five Days One Summer [Fred Zinnemann] c; mountain ph: Arthur Wooster, Herbert Raditschnig, Tony Riley & Leo Dickinson

1982

Bello mio, bellezza mia/My Darling, My Dearest [Sergio Corbucci] c

1982

E la nave va/And the Ship Sails On [Federico Fellini] c; doc ph: Massimo Zeri

1983

Un arrivo [Dominique De Fazio] ?; short/?m

1983

Desiderio/Desire [Anna Maria Tatò] c

1983

American Dreamer [Rick Rosenthal] c; Paris (France) ph; ph: Jan de Bont

1984

The Assisi Underground [Alexander Ramati] scope/c; 2uc: Silvano Ippoliti

1984

Non ci resta che piangere/Nothing Left to Do But Cry [Roberto Benigni & Massimo Troisi] c

1984

Red Sonja [Richard Fleischer] tvi/c

1985

Orfeo [Claude Goretta] c

1986

The Good Ship Ulysses [Nikita Mikhalkov] ?

1986

Hotel Colonial [Cinzia Torrini] c

1987

Haunted Summer [Ivan Passer] c

1987

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen [Terry Gilliam] c; 2uc: Giovanni Fiore Coltellacci; model unit ph: Roger Pratt

1987

Rent-a-Cop [Jerry London] c; aph: Bill Hedenberg

1988

Rebus [Massimo Guglielmi] c

1989

Leonardo's Dream [Douglas Trumbull] Showscan (3-D/70mm)/c; short/26m

1990

Mio caro dottor Gräsler/The Bachelor [Roberto Faenza] c

1990

Regarding Henry [Mike Nichols] c

1991

Once Upon a Crime... [Eugene Levy] c

1993

Wolf [Mike Nichols] c; addph: John Burnett; vfx ph: John V. Fante

1993

The Night and the Moment/La notte e il momento [Anna Maria Tatò] c

1994

Sabrina [Sydney Pollack] c; 2uc: Rob Hahn; remake of 'Sabrina/Sabrina Fair' (1953, Billy Wilder; ph: Charles Lang Jr.)

 

"La sindrome di Stendhal"

 

1995

La sindrome di Stendhal/The Stendhal Syndrome [Dario Argento] c; 2uc: Roberto Girometti

1996

Marcello Mastroianni: mi ricordo, sì, io mi ricordo/Marcello Mastroianni: I Remember [Anna Maria Tatò] b&w-c; doc/198m

 

 TELEVISION

1970

I clowns/The Clowns [Federico Fellini] tvm; ph flashback memory seq; ph: Dario Di Palma

1974

Alle origini della mafia/Roots of the Mafia [Enzo Muzii] 5-part miniseries

1978

Prova d'orchestra/Orchestra Rehearsal [Federico Fellini] tvm; also released theatrically

1982

The Scarlet and the Black/The Vatican Pimpernel [Jerry London] tvm

1987

Giulia e Giulia/Julia and Julia/Borderline [Peter Del Monte] tvm/HD-to-35mm

1988

Guglielmo Tell/Rossini's William Tell [?] opera perf filmed in La Scala, Milan; ph background screen

 

 FILMS AS CAMERA ASSISTANT/OPERATOR

1942

L'uomo dalla croce/The Man with the Cross [Roberto Rossellini] c.op; ph: Guglielmo Lombardi

1948

Prince of Foxes [Henry King] c.asst; ph: Leon Shamroy

1951

Tre storie proibite/Three Forbidden Stories [Augusto Genina] c.op; ph: G.R. Aldo

1951

Umberto D [Vittorio De Sica] c.op; ph: G.R. Aldo

1952

La provinciale/The Wayward Wife [Mario Soldati] c.op; ph: G.R. Aldo & Domenico Scala

1952

Stazione Termini/Indiscretion [of an American Wife] [Vittorio De Sica] c.op; ph: G.R. Aldo

1953

Ci troviamo in galleria [Mauro Bolognini] c.op; ph: Marco Scarpelli

1953

Senso/The Wanton Countess/Livia [Luchino Visconti] co-c.op (+ ph final scenes); ph: G.R. Aldo & Robert Krasker

1953

L'oro di Napoli/The Gold of Naples/Every Day's a Holiday [Vittorio De Sica] scheduled as a project for ph G.R. Aldo and c.op Rotunno; ph in 1954 by Carlo Montuori

1954

Casa Ricordi/House of Ricordi [Carmine Gallone] c.op; ph: Marco Scarpelli

1954

Attila [, il flagello di Dio]/Attila the Hun [Pietro Francisci] co-c.op (+ co-addph); ph: Aldo Tonti

1954

Casta diva [Carmine Gallone ] co-c.op; ph: Marco Scarpelli

1954

Madama Butterfly/Madame Butterfly [Carmine Gallone] c.op; ph: Claude Renoir