Academic journal article Post Script

Poet as Film Editor: An Interview with Roberto Perpignani

Academic journal article Post Script

Poet as Film Editor: An Interview with Roberto Perpignani

Article excerpt

Roberto Perpignani was an aspiring twenty-one-year-old painter with an interest in child psychology when he was offered a job as assistant editor by an American director about to cut a feature film in Fregene, a coastal hamlet on the outskirts of Rome. Though frequently attending new and retrospective films at the many cine clubs throughout the city in 1961, Perpignani had not a shred of hands-on filmmaking experience and intended to turn the director down. A friend exclaimed that he must have lost his senses to decline such an offer. Perpignani then changed his mind and accepted. The decision altered the course of his life.

The American director was Orson Welles and the film was The Trial (1962), based on the Kafka novel of the same name, and according to Welles, "the best film I have ever made." (1) Though something of a peregrination through the fire of Welles' harsh, dictatorial methods, Perpignani absorbed the masters' ways of working and approach to scene construction that was to endure for him ever after. It was the unlikely beginning of a five decade, multi-award winning career as one of the most revered and influential editors of film, not only in Italy but throughout the world.

Perpignani's 102 films to date include Night of the Shooting Stars (1983), 11 Postino (1985) and Caesar deve moire (2012), each of which won Best Editing at the David di Donatello Awards (the Italian Oscars). Other important Perpignani edited films are Sotto il Segno dello Scorpione (1969), San Michele Aveva un Gallo (1972), La Polizia Ringrazia (1972), Le Orme (1975), Padre Padrone (1977), The Good Soldier (1982), Kaos (1984), Night Sun (1990), Fiorile (1993), Elective Affinities (1996), Marianna Ucria (1997), Dancing at the Blue Iguana (2000), The Lark Farm (2007), Operation Autumn (2012), Wondrous Boccaccio (2015). Over the course of forty-six years, Perpignani cut seventeen consecutive films for iconic co-directors Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, essentially becoming their house editor.

In 1963, after returning to Rome from Paris, where the last six months of The Trial were edited, Perpignani was sought out, because of his experience with Welles, by another director. This was Bernardo Bertolucci who, almost exactly the same age as Perpignani, had already directed La Commare Secca (1962) and was looking for a non-traditional editor to cut his next film. Though Perpignani had never edited on his own, Bertolucci chose to work with him and together assemble shots according to rules made as they proceeded. The result was Prima della Rivoluzione (Before the Revolution, 1964), arguably Bertolucci's first masterwork, with an edit in the open spirit of the French New Wave that was as original as it was unpredictable. Perpignani would continue with Bertolucci on two documentaries for RAI (Italian national television): Il canale (1966) and the three part La Via del petrolio (1967), before the features Partner (1968), "Il Fico Infruttuoso," ("The Barren Fig Tree," a segment of Amore y rabbia, a film anthology, 1969), The Spider's Stratagem (1970) and as co-editor of Last Tango in Paris (1972).

While making Before the Revolution, Perpignani also met the assistant cameraperson on the production, Vittorio Storaro, and the camera operator, Camillo Bazzoni, close friends seeking to jump start their careers as cinematographer and director respectively with short films that often played before the main fare in Italian theaters. Storaro and Bazzoni soon recruited Perpignani as their editor on these films, some directed by Bazzoni brother Luigi. Two were especially extraordinary: L'Urlo (The Scream, 1966), chosen to represent Italy as Best Short Subject at the Academy Awards and for which Storaro won the Silver Ribbon for Best Black and White Cinematography; and Rapporto Segreto (Secret Report, 1966), a stun ningly executed for:y-eight minute noirish classic that garnered Storaro another Silver Ribbon. Storaro later shot The Spider's Stratagem, The Conformist 1970) and Last Tango in Paris, the first of eigl t films as cinematographer with Bertolucci

This interview v/as part of my research for the biography of Vittorio Storaro, The Path to Light, to be published by Columbia University Press. …

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