Danilo Donati - Writer

Costume Designer. Nationality: Italian. Born: Luzzara, 1926. Education: Studied art in Florence. Career: Supervising art director for the TV network RAO; 1955—first stage designs for operas produced by Visconti, Rome: later designs for Visconti's stage productions of The Crucible , 1955, Contessa Giulia , 1957, and Impresario delle Smirne , 1957; 1962—first costume designs for film, The Steppe . Awards: Academy Award and British Academy Award, for Romeo and Juliet , 1968, and Casanova , 1976.

Films as Costume Designer:


La steppa ( The Steppe ) (Lattuada); Rogopag (Pasolini and others)


Il vangelo secondo Matteo ( The Gospel According to St. Matthew ) (Pasolini)


La mandragola ( Mandragola ; The Love Root ) (Lattuada)


El Greco (Salce); Uccellacci e uccellini ( The Hawks and the Sparrows ) (Pasolini); The Taming of the Shrew (Zeffirelli) (co)


Edipo re ( Oedipus Rex ) (Pasolini)


Romeo and Juliet (Zeffirelli): La cintura di castità ( On My Way to the Crusades, I Met a Girl Who . . . ) (Festa Campinile)


Porcile ( Pigsty ) (Pasolini); Medea (Pasolini); Satyricon (Fellini); La monaca di Monza ( The Lady of Monza ) (E. Visconti)


I clowns ( The Clowns ) (Fellini)


Il decameron ( The Decameron ) (Pasolini)


Roma (Fellini); I racconti di Canterbury ( The Canterbury Tales ) (Pasolini); Fratello sole, sorella luna ( Brother Sun, Sister Moon ) (Zeffirelli)


Il fiore delle mille e una notte ( A Thousand and One Nights ) (Pasolini); Amarcord (Fellini)


Salo, o le 120 giornate di Sodoma ( Salo—The 120 Days of Sodom ) (Pasolini)


Caligula (Brass); Casanova (Fellini)


Hurricane (Troell)


Flash Gordon (Hodges)


Red Sonja (Fleischer)


Ginger e Fred (Fellini)


Intervista ( The Interview ) (Fellini) (art designer)


Francesco ( St. Francis of Assisi ) (Cavani)


Il Mostro ( The Monster ) (Benigni and Filippi)


I Magi randagi ( We Free Kings ) (Citti) (+ production designer); Nostromo (Reid) (miniseries for TV)


La Vita è bella (Benigni) (+ production designer)


On DONATI: articles—

Variety (New York), 22 December 1997.

Interiors , April 1999.

* * *

When one recalls the films of Federico Fellini, Franco Zeffirelli, and Pier Paolo Pasolini, one inevitably visualizes the creations of Danilo Donati. Those outrageous hats of the Pharisees in The Gospel According to St. Matthew , the richly colored gowns in Romeo and Juliet and The Taming of the Shrew , bizarre interpretations of history in Satyricon and Casanova , eye-popping fashion shows for clowns in The Clowns and for the well-dressed pope in Roma , all these examples illustrate the strength of the Donati vision keeping pace with the powerful images of modern movie masters.

Donati was born in Italy and had originally trained in Florence as a muralist and fresco painter. He had also spent several years as supervising art director at RAO, Italy's national television network. In addition to his cinema work, Donati designed theatrical productions (including the early stage and opera presentations of Luchino Visconti) and public spectacles.

It is hard to characterize Donati's work only because he is interested in so many different elements of creation. In his costumes, for example, he uses inventive shapes, sometimes modified from tradition, sometimes entirely fanciful. Color is important. Usually his hues are unbelievably rich, but at other times they are purposefully subdued or faded. Fabrics are important. Specially created textiles were made for Satyricon so that they would in no way resemble anything contemporary.

Donati often uses light reflective surfaces such as sequins or materials such as feathers or furs that create eye-catching movement on the screen. His approach to costume decoration rivals the great Hollywood costume designers of the 1930s. Donati not only uses these techniques, he understands their function. Furthermore, Donati costumes interact with each other; as lovely as they may be individually, they work together to form visual unities (or even contrasts when necessary—as seen in the dinner party of the Spanish and French in Casanova ) and themes.

Donati's oeuvre conjures up monuments to opulence in the minds of many; even lesser films, such as Caligula and the entertaining Dino De Laurentiis production of Flash Gordon were memorable due to their outlandish Donati designs. Nevertheless, Donati equally excels in depicting realism. Consider an earthier work of Fellini, such as Amarcord , or the scruffy peasants peopling Pasolini's The Decameron : Donati pays as great an attention to details in the rags of the poor and the mundane attire of the middle class, as he would for robes of a Renaissance princess. Often Donati will contrast the ultraglamorous or unusual with the more humble in the same movie.

It is important to note that Donati worked with highly individualistic directors with well-developed visual senses and strong opinions on what they wanted. Zeffirelli's productions were to be like exquisite oil paintings. Donati's works for Pasolini were to be revolutionary new interpretations of well-known tales. And as for the films of Fellini . . . well, they are simply Fellini!

Cooperation is essential when a director tries to create a statement of great complexity. Donati's directors have had very specific visual conceptions they wished to convey. Observe their cast selections: Donati costumes would have to compete with those ravishing faces featured in Zeffirelli films. Pasolini and Fellini extras could have stepped out of the sketch books of Leonardo da Vinci. Of course, Donati did not compete with great men's visions; he complemented them. Donati's designs integrate well within the dreams of his directors and at the same time they are distinctively Donati.

—Edith C. Lee

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