Cinematographer. Nationality: Italian. Born: Rome, 24 June 1940. Education: Attended Duca D'Aosta photography school from age 11; Italian Cinemagraphic Training Center; degree, age 18; Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia. Career: Apprenticed to a photographic studio; assistant to photographers Aldo Scavarda and Marco Scarpelli; made short films during the 1960s; 1969—first feature film
Etruscologia ( Profanatori de tombe ) (Romitelli)
Sortilegio (Bazzoni); Il laborinto (Maestranzi); Sirtaki (Bazzoni)
Rapporto segreto (Bazzoni)
I Grandi naíf jugoslavi (Bazzoni)
Giovinezza, giovinezza (Rossi); Delitto al circolo del tennis (Rossetti); La strategia del ragno ( The Spider's Strategem ) (Bertolucci); L'uccello dalle piume di cristallo ( The Bird with the Crystal Plumage ) (Argento)
Il conformista ( The Conformist ) (Bertolucci); L'Eneide (Rossi)
Addio fratello crudele (Patroni Griffi); Giornata nera per l'ariete (Bazzoni); Corpo d'amore (Carpi)
Orlando furioso (Ronconi); Last Tango in Paris ( L'ultimo tango a Parigi ; Le dernier tango a Paris ) (Bertolucci); Bleu gang . . . (Bazzoni)
Malizia (Samperi); Giordano Bruno (Montaldo); Identikit (Patroni Griffi)
Le orme (Bazzoni)
Novecento ( 1900 ) (Bertolucci)
La luna (Bertolucci); Agatha (Apted); Apocalypse Now (Coppola) (co)
One from the Heart (Coppola) (co)
Ishtar (E. May); The Last Emperor (Bertolucci)
Tucker: The Man and His Dream (Coppola)
Roma: Imago Urbis (L. Bazzoni)
"Life without Zoe" ep. of New York Stories (Coppola)
The Sheltering Sky (Bertolucci); Dick Tracy (Beatty)
Little Buddha (Bertolucci)
Tosca (G. Patroni Griffi)
Flamenco (C. Saura)
Taxi (C. Saura)
Bulworth (Beatty); Tango (C. Saura)
Mirka (Benhadj); Goya en Burdeos ( Goya in Bordeaux )
Picking Up the Pieces ; La Traviata (for TV); Dune (for TV—mini-series)
Chaplin (Stockholm), no. 4, 1978.
Positif (Paris), September 1979.
On Apocalypse Now in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), May 1980.
Cinema e Cinema (Bologna), July/September 1980.
On Reds in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), May 1982.
Segnocinema (Vicenza), March 1983.
Cinema Nuovo (Turin), August/October 1983.
Cinemasessanta (Rome), September/October and November/December 1983.
In Masters of Light: Conversations with Contemporary Cinematographers , by Dennis Schaefer and Larry Salvato, Berkeley, California, 1984.
Cineforum (Bergamo), January/February 1984.
Films (London), July 1984.
Post Script (Jacksonville, Florida), Autumn 1984 and Winter 1985.
American Cinematographer (Hollywood), March 1989.
Film Comment (New York), September/October 1989.
Griffithiana (Gemona), no. 37, December 1989.
Kino (Sofia), /9–10, 1991.
Cinema Nuovo (Bari), May-June 1991.
Kino (Warsaw), no. 28, February 1994.
Film Quarterly (Berkeley), vol. 48, no. 2, 1994/1995.
American Cinematographer (Hollywood), February 1995.
Filme (Berlin), no. 6, 1980.
Williams, A.L., in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), July 1980.
Assayas, O., in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), September 1981.
Film und TV Kameramann (Munich), June 1982.
Zambelli, M. I., in Cineforum (Bergamo), January/February 1984.
Delli Colli, Laura, in Les Metiers du cinéma , Paris, 1986.
In Camera (Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire), Autumn 1988.
Iskusstvo Kino (Moscow), no. 8, 1995.
Positif (Paris), March 1996.
Sight & Sound (London), May 1996.
* * *
Among many other things, Apocalypse Now by Francis Ford Coppola shows the conflict between two opposing civilizations. This battle finds expression through two visual emblems with distinctive sources of light and energy, the jungle and the spectacle. Kurtz (Marlon Brando) discovers in the jungle, and in the civilization which covers it, a primitive and vital energy, and it is this flux which fascinates him, and allows him to rediscover his own self.
In the character of Kurtz, Vittorio Storaro's art could not have found a better metaphor. His photography always tries to reach the spectator placed in the center of a conflict between antagonistic sources of energy, either natural or artificial. Storaro himself has defined his work: "Conflicts between night and day, shadows and light, white and black, technology and energy are things always recognized in me and my work." This conflict appeared already outlined in Giovinezza, giovinezza , his first film, through his treatment of light, as if Storaro wished to affirm the history of its use in a pictorial culture going back to the Renaissance, aligning himself in this way in the artistic tradition of Italian cinematography, along with Giuseppe Rotunno and Pasquale De Santis.
In the first phase of his work, up to Apocalypse Now , this conflict between opposing sources of energy appears essentially through his treatment of light, gaining true aesthetic definition after his meeting with Bernardo Bertolucci. In The Spider's Strategem , the first film they made together, Storaro explores all the possibilities of natural light, evoking, in the opinion of several European critics, the visual fascination of Visconti. By contrast, The Conformist seems to be an exercise in shadow and light, as if to transmit to the spectator the idea, central to history, of claustrophobia. In an interview in Film Quarterly , Storaro added: " The Conformist is almost a black-and-white picture in the beginning. But in the last half in Paris, you see differently. You see the light going into the shadows. It's like two sections that are united once more."
It is this same dualism and equilibrium between contraries that dominate Last Tango in Paris. Here Storaro attempts to reproduce winter light in Parisian exteriors, artificial light in the interiors, and mixes this with hot tones, especially the color orange, to reproduce the passion of the characters.
His photography of the Bertolucci films, which attained its most lyrical expression in Novecento , attracted the attention of Coppola, and Apocalypse Now crowns this first phase of his career. Hyperrealistic sequences such as the napalm bombardment, the Playboy -bunny show, and the nocturnal firing on Do Lung bridge, contrast with the natural jungle light. This contrast can be summed up perhaps in the comparison of the olive-oil lamp and the searchlight.
The second phase of Storaro's career also begins with Bertolucci, but attains its major splendor with both Bertolucci and Coppola. In La luna and Reds , Storaro claims to have established a color symbolism that had, unconsciously, emerged in The Conformist and Last Tango in Paris. In One from the Heart , Storaro's continued search for a system of color symbols, using opposing colors to identify his protagonists and a subtle correspondence between chromatic shades and characters' emotions, produces a beautiful contrast between the realism of action and the hyperrealism of photography. This exploration continues in The Last Emperor , which, arguably, ranks with Apocalypse Now as Storaro's greatest achievement. In recording the visuals that accompany the story of Pu Yi, the last emperor of China, Storaro evokes the many moods of a story which expands across the decades, as China evolves from feudalism to revolution. Especially memorable is the spectacle of the expansive, medieval Forbidden City (where Storaro shot on location). It also must be noted, however, that even such lesser Bertolucci works as The Sheltering Sky and Little Buddha benefit from Storaro's presence behind the camera as a true master of light.
To divide the career of Storaro into two phases is somewhat arbitrary. In fact, few cinematographers have maintained such a stylistic unity, based on a theoretical awareness and a historical consciousness of a pictorial tradition going back to Piero della Francesca and Caravaggio. Let us give Storaro himself the last word: "Since the first graffiti was scratched on the walls of caves, since the first Egyptian drawings, since Piero della Francesca, we have had ways to express emotional stories and emotional figures in a particular style. There is no question that when you make a design, shoot a picture, or photograph a movie, it is the representation of all two thousand years of history, whether you are conscious of it or not."
—M. S. Fonseca, updated by Rob Edelman