Last week at the Camerimage Festival in Poland, Vittorio Storaro, ASC, AIC gave a heartfelt presentation in which he introduced his new book, titled The Art of Cinematography. The book is billed as “a tribute to cinematographers from cinematographers” that underscores the fundamental place of the cinematographer in the creation of the “seventh art,” cinema. Also present at the event were Daniele Nannuzzi and Luciano Tovoli, ASC, AIC, who consulted on the project.
The Art of Cinematography considers 150 cinematographers through one of their films, and Storaro emphasized at the event that the choices were very personal. ASC honorary member Bob Fisher wrote 75 entries, and Lorenzo Codelli, a respected Italian writer and critic, wrote 75. All the text is presented in both English and Italian, and each entry is accompanied by a “double vision” image, a collage created by Vittorio to represent the imagery in each film.
According to the literature, the book pays tribute to “the cinematographic co-authors who have accompanied and inspired our individual careers for generations — artists whom we admire and identify with profoundly, and look on as the ultimate models of cinematographic creativity… great personalities who have led us to discover, made us dream, taught us to love… ”
Vittorio, a Camerimage Life Achievement laureate who has been a friend and patron of the festival’s from the beginning, spoke from the heart about his reasons for initiating the project.
“This book represents three years of work,” he said. “It started in my mind when I was in Iran shooting a project about Mohammed. I thought about how lucky I am to have a great team of collaborators. I thought back to the Italian film school, and how I realized early on that it was not enough. I needed more knowledge and understanding. I saw that cinematography would become my main chance to express myself. In my study and research, it was clear to me once again that there is so much in the history of cinema. Without those who went before, we would have never had the opportunity to be where we are now.
“I called Luciano Tovoli, and we agreed that we should do something to recognize the great masters,” said Vittorio. “We did a self-analysis, and tried to trace our journeys, recalling how we were touched in emotion, in sentiment and knowledge by cinema. It’s a very personal journey, the history of cinematography as seen through the eyes of a cinematographer.”
Vittorio said that he cast his mind back to the first time he saw a cinema image. His father, a projectionist, brought a piece of film home and projected it on the wall. “It was an image of Charlie Chaplin, and later I realized that it was City Lights, shot by Rollie Totheroh [ASC],” said Vittorio. “I remember the noise the projector made, and how shocked I was.
“Later, at film school, I was searching for an image of Charlie Chaplin, and I was very surprised to see a movie photographed by Fritz Arno Wagner,” Storaro recalled. “It was following the German Expressionists from before the war. It showed the influence of other art forms, and it showed me that cinema would become the art form of the 20th Century. The Germans made great films, and later many went to the U.S. and made great films. It was another major shock to learn about the conflict or harmony between shadows and light, and how sometimes this was accomplished by painting shadows on the walls or floors.”
Vittorio continued by citing Walt Disney’s impact. “Another major shock hit me when I took my children to see Disney films, and I realized that every specific color had been carefully selected,” he recalled. “Disney knew that these films had to speak to young minds, and children understand visual things very quickly. I watched every Disney film and learned from their incredible knowledge about the symbolism of color and form. I could see how important this was, the meaning and intent behind colors.”
Next he mentioned Gone With the Wind. “Most dramatic films at that time we black and white,” said Vittorio. “Color was more for musicals or Westerns. The Technicolor supervisors were afraid of the people who shot these films. For some, color seemed to cancel the dialog between light and shadow. But in Gone With the Wind, with cinematography by the great Ernest Haller [ASC], you see the incredible journey in the cinematography and color used to express the story.”
Finally, he mentioned Gregg Toland, ASC and Citizen Kane. “Just before we made The Conformist, Bernardo Bertolucci and our collaborators gathered to watch Citizen Kane,” he said. “Not to copy, but as some kind of reference. I felt Gregg Toland was telling me, ‘Yes! Keep going! Continue using light and shadow in symbolic ways, always trying to understand that moment of the day, that scene! And never stop learning!”
With that, Vittorio concluded his remarks and handed the microphone off to a mischievous Luciano Tovoli. “I learned long ago that it is impossible to follow Storaro,” said Tovoli with a twinkle in his eye. “Even when we graduated film school together, the school mailed my diploma one month later than his, just to remind me that I come after.”