Giuseppe Rotunno (1923-2021)

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Yesterday, the news reached me that Italian cinematographer Giuseppe “Peppino” Rotunno died. With his passing, the last of the main crew members of Luchino Visconti has disappeared. In previous years costume designers Piero Tosi and Vera Marzot, set designers Mario Garbuglia and Mario Chiari, screenwriters Suso Cecchi D’Amico, Enrico Medioli, and Nicola Badalucco, production manager Pietro Notarianni, producer Mario Gallo, assistent-director Rinaldo Ricci, and set photographers Osvaldo Civirani, Paul Ronald, G.B. Poletto, and Mario Tursi said goodbye, all people I interviewed or helped interview in the past, in the 1980s for my MA thesis, and from 2004 for my book Reframing Luchino Visconti: Film and Art.

I first met Giuseppe Rotunno in the late 1980s when helping Dutch journalist Marion Derksen with a series of interviews for the VPRO TV guide. Rotunno met us at the moat of the Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome. Here he had shot the final images of Visconti’s Senso (1954), when Visconti decided for a different ending, all shooting in Verona had finished, the Director of Photography Robert Krasker had already returned to the UK, and leading actor Farley Granger had returned to the US – so that the final shots were done with a stand-in whose face was kept out of sight. With these images, as well as the final images with Alida Valli shot somewhere in Trastevere, Rotunno, who had been camera operator for years including second unit operator for Senso, became DOP himself. With Visconti he first shot as DOP Le notti bianche (1957), even if he had already first worked as operator on the episode with Anna Magnani in Siamo donne (1952). Unforgettable is his black-and-white, at times Caravaggesque cinematography of Visconti’s Rocco and his Brothers (1960), and his tour de forces for the whirling epic fresco of the Risorgimento in Sicily, Visconti’s Il Gattopardo (1963). Of course he is also well remembered for his films with Fellini (all films between Toby Dammit and E la nave va), as well as his work for a whole range of excellent postwar Italian and foreign filmmakers. He experimented with HDTV and Showcam and won many prestigious awards. For years he was involved in the restoration of classic films by Visconti and others, and he also taught younger generations at the Roman Centro Sperimentale between 1988 and 2013. Yet, he always remained a modest man, who kept his small working room at the film school, where he would be many hours before colleague and students would enter.

In 2004 I was invited to his home in Prati for a lengthy interview, for the research for my book on Visconti. But Rotunno’s pre-Visconti life was just as, if not more interesting, as he told more and more about his experiences during the war years. Incredible adventures and tragedy. Time flew by, so we decided to do a second meeting – which didn’t occur. I still cherish this interview, which should be published in English or Italian by a journal. Anyway, I never forget the anecdote Caterina D’Amico told me. A lavish book had been made by her on photos made as study material in Basilicata, when Visconti and his crew considered to include a prologue to the story of the Southern migrants settling in modern Milan in Rocco and his Brothers. Nobody could identify the name of the photographer. It was only after the book had come out, and Caterina told him she was sorry she didn’t manage, that he calmly told her he had been the author of the photographs. He didn’t want to make any fuss about it. That was Peppinno Rotunno, the modest maestro.

~ by Ivo Blom on February 8, 2021.

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