Academic journal article Post Script

Vittorio Storaro on Caravaggio, an Artist of Light and Shadow, with Director Angelo Longoni

Academic journal article Post Script

Vittorio Storaro on Caravaggio, an Artist of Light and Shadow, with Director Angelo Longoni

Article excerpt


Carravagio was ostensibly a two-part-miniseries for RAI, the national television network of Italy. The film details the violent, conflicted life of its eponymous subject, from his arrival in Rome as a destitute emigre from the provinces; his life in the derelict Campo Marzio, assisting painters of far inferior talent to survive; his sponsorship by Cardinal Francesco del Monte, a prelate of great influence on the papal court, and Caravaggio's emergence as the most celebrated painter in Rome; his life as a fugitive traveling to Naples, Malta and Sicily to escape a death sentence for murder in a street brawl; and his early end from unknown cause at age 39, on a beach in northern Italy just days after learning that his sentence had been commuted by Pope Paul V.

Caravaggio is shot with the 2:1 aspect ratio of Univisium, a method of screen representation that Storaro patented in 1998 as a "balance," as he put it, between the 2:21 to 1 of 65mm theatrical projection and the 1:78 to 1 of the television monitor, so that the integrity of the image as intended by the director and cinematographer is not compromised by the appearance of their work in other, increasingly diverse formats. This enabled Caravaggio to be seen in the same aspect ratio on Italian national television as at the Aero Theater. Only someone with the stature and influence of Storaro could have implemented and sustained such a format amid the rigid, prevailing international standards.

Lavish with historic characters and intimate detail of the epoch, the film depicts the painter's evolving creative methods and commissioned paintings that correspond with Caravaggio's inner turmoil. Storaro's cinematography is characteristically sensuous and luminous, reiterating the works of the painter in light, shadow and color. "Ravishing" remarks one critic. (2) "A feast for the eye," writes another. (3)


The queue of students, faculty and campus visitors streaming into the James Bridges Theater at the University of California, Los Angeles, well before 1:00 PM on October 9, 2007, trailed back through the entire breadth of the bright, busy foyer and then into the adjacent corridors of the Film and Television Department of Melnitz Hall on the other side. All had arrived for a screening of Caravaggio, the film biography of the renowned but deeply afflicted post-Renaissance painter but, more particularly, for a special presentation by the cinematographer of the film, Vittorio Storaro.

By the time Storaro assumed the forefront of the Bridges Theater, accompanied by Caravaggio director Angelo Longoni, the aisles and rear of the auditorium had been filled with additional portable seating and virtually every other space taken by standing observers. Such was also the case when Storaro appeared with Longoni the following day to field questions within, if a more limited venue, the F-TV complex for the UCLA master class, monitored by cinematography professor Bill McDonald. That session far exceeded the appropriated two hours.

Storaro's stature is clearly matched by his popularity. The official West Coast premiere of Caravaggio was the culmination of the "Cinema Italian Style" film festival in Santa Monica at the cavernous, vintage Aero Theater on the following Sunday, October 14, 2007, promoted "with the appearance of Vittorio Storaro," was sold out far in advance. The cinematographer's personal experience with and perspective on Caravaggio, as well as responses to audience queries at events in Los Angeles are reproduced here except for commentaries that duplicate remarks at an earlier venue. What is missing are the mellifluous tone of Storaro's voice, the undiminished passion with which he speaks, and the demonstrative gestures that accompany his words.* [RG]


(director of Caravaggio, via translator)

One of the distinctive qualities about Carvaggio is the relationship between light and shadow, which are not only deeply contrasted but at the same time interdependent. …

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