2016 Cinematography Lifetime Achievement Award

VITTORIO STORARO: THE JOURNEY CONTINUES

            Vittorio Storaro, ASC, AIC has played a seminal role in the evolution of the global art and craft of filmmaking. He has earned 48 cinematography credits for cinema movies and eight for narrative television films. Storaro received Academy Awards for Apocalypse Now in 1979, Reds in 1981 and The Last Emperor in 1987 and was nominated for Dick Tracy in 1990.  He also earned an Emmy for the television movie Dune in 2000 and a nomination for Peter the Great, Part III in 1986.

That is a short list of the recognition Storaro has received for his artful cinematography and the indelible memories he created for movie audiences around the world.  His peers at the American Society of Cinematographers presented Storaro with the ASC Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001 while his career was still evolving. He was the youngest cinematographer to receive that recognition.

Iconic cinematographer Haskell Wexler, ASC, wrote, “Vittorio has influenced me in the sense that he is a total camera-man. He understands technology and is able to present his concepts in a literate way. His ideas are totally visual.”

Notice his use of the hyphenated word camera-man. Wexler explained that it was a way of saying that Storaro is an extension of his camera.

“Vittorio has mastered both the art and craft of recording moving images on film,” he emphasized. “That enables him to express his concepts in a visually literate way. The meanings of different colors are locked into his psyche and he has the ability to apply that knowledge in ways that touch the souls of audiences.”

The story of  Storaro’s life and career could be a script for a feel good movie about a seemingly impossible dream that comes true. He was born in Rome in 1940. His father was a projectionist at Lux Film Studio, which was the home of the Italian narrative film industry. As a youngster, Storaro frequently sat in the booth while his father projected films for producers and directors. He couldn’t hear sound in the booth, so the youngster learned to interpret meanings of moving images.  

“My father dreamed about what it would be like to be a cinematographer,” Storaro said. “He put that dream into my heart.”

When the studio installed a new projector, Storaro’s father brought the old one home. He showed his family silent Charlie Chaplin movies projected on a white wall.

Storaro enrolled in a photography school when he was 11 years old and graduated when he was 16. He subsequently spent mornings studying at the Italian Cinemagraphic Training Center. During afternoons, Storaro worked at a photography shop, where he processed film, printed still pictures and swept floors.

Storaro was one of 500 applicants to the state film school in 1958.  He was one of 30 finalists.  There were only three openings. Storaro was one of the students chosen.

His first job after graduating was as a focus puller on an Italian movie produced in anamorphic format. His third job was as a camera operator. 

“From that moment on I considered the camera to be an instrument like a pen that you use to draw images,” he said. “That taught me how to make every second count.”

After his third film as a camera operator, the movie industry in Italy went into a steep decline. Storaro decided to study philosophy and art, including music, literature and painting. During the next several years, he studied the lives of Mozart, Rembrant, Faulkner, Vermeer and Caravaggio and the diverse arts they created,

In 1965, a camera operator that Storaro had worked with was preparing to work on a film with a young director. He asked Storaro to join the crew as his assistant cameraman. Bernardo Bertolucci was the director. The film was Before the Revolution. 

Storaro earned his first cinematography credit in 1968 for a black and white film titled Giovinzezza, Giovinezza.  He was working on his second film in 1969 when Bertolucci called and said that he wanted to meet and talk about his next project.

They collaborated on the production of The Conformist in 1970.

That was a giant step in a remarkable journey that is still evolving.

Read a recent magazine interview with Storaro here.