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Vittorio Storaro: The Shadow and Light of

Caravaggio

A film devoted to Michelangelo Merisi, universally recognized by the pseudonym Caravaggioan extremely tormented character and celebrated artist of the seventeenth centurywill be shown on Italys RAI Uno TV channel and in movie theatres in two distinct versions this year. The film directed by Angelo Longoni and shot by the three-time Oscar-winning cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, ASC, AIC was produced by Ida Di Benedettos company Titania with RAI, in co-production with France, Spain and Germany. InCamera met the legendary cinematographer Storaro to find out what motivated him to sign on to this project.
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What made me embrace this film project on Caravaggio was something one of my teachers in photography school used to say: My dear boys and girls, you cannot know everything in life, what is important is to learn where things are, so that as they move faster youll know where to look for them. My spirit is that of an eternal student, always looking for new opportunities to broaden areas

of knowledge, philosophy and the arts. When Caravaggio was offered to me by the producer Ida Di Benedettoto whom I am enormously grateful for allowing me to devote a part of my life to this undertakingI knew that it would be a real opportunity to study in depth the trajectory and work of this genius and visionary protagonist. Caravaggios genius caused an earthquake in the figurative arts, and they have never

been the same since. Nowadays, photography, architecture and cinema cannot forego a profound knowledge of the oeuvre of this artist who left an indelible mark on world culture. Moreover, Caravaggio allowed me to explore further the mystery of light and shadow. This is a theme that, right from the beginning, has always been at the centre of my personal cinematographic story. Caravaggios shadow

is the visualization of where the unresolved states of mind dwell, a condition innate in the human unconscious. To do this, I thought of proceeding visually with a style of writing with light that would make the bodies emerge from the darkness, and enable me to make conscious what had for some time resided in the unconscious.

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Actor Alessio Boni plays Caravaggio Extract from Judith Beheading Holofernes Caravaggio was an accomplished swordsman A scene from the film

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Film is an archival medium, so the negative will be there for future generations to see what this ecosystem was once like.
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How much did the work Q of Caravaggio stimulate and inspire your own personal artistic journey? Just as a writer tells a story with words and a A musician expresses a mood with music, we cinematographers write and transmit emotions through the harmony and conflict between light and shadow. The intersection of these two entities generates colours. When I made Tis Pity Shes A Whore and Giordano Bruno at the beginning of my career, I wasnt aware of the profound symbolic and conceptual meaning of these elements, but possessed a purely technical preparation from my studies in cinema and photography. It was then that I visited the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi in the centre of Rome with my fiance Tonia, who later became my wife. There I made a discovery that changed my whole way of life and my approach to images. I discovered through an analysis of a few paintings, how much the use of light and shadowdirected, concealed, or filtered on a subjectcould underline and emphasize a concept written in words. Thus the viewer watching a complex work like a film and experiencing the sensations arising from the energy flows on the screen, can feel an emotion.

While I was walking around inside the church, I discovered the Contarelli Chapel, decorated with extraordinary paintings by an artist whose name I didnt know at the time. One in particular took my breath away: The Calling of St Matthew, which I later learned was by Caravaggio.

gradual focusing of the light on his subjects, making the background ever darker, and ending with a revolutionary passage from natural to artificial light. The painting genius found his maximal creative expression in his first official commission from the Church: notably the The Calling of St. Matthew and The Martyrdom of St. Matthew for the Contarelli Chapel in San Luigi dei Francesi. Caravaggio was also a Q man who was continually torn between the diabolical and the saintly: a duality synthesized in the struggle between light and shadow in his paintings. What solution did you use to explain this dichotomy? I adopted a philosophy of light that closely followed the course of his creativity and his life. If we analyze the paintings in the Contarelli Chapel, in fact, we see that Caravaggio visualized The Calling through the natural light of day and depicted The Martyrdom of St Matthew with artificial light at night. He succeeded in transmitting the sense of the Saints passage from life to death, through the passage of light.

The thing that struck me was the extraordinary vision of something that I was actually putting in scenes back then: a clean separation between light and shadow. I was so bowled over by that painting that I felt immediately impelled to try and understand and deepen the relationship between these two elements, to understand the most hidden, innermost meaning of that light. I had to take my studies to a level that enabled me to grasp the intrinsic significance of that representation. Caravaggio was in fact a great filmmaker, he conceptualized the subject and the composition, chose the figures, did the costumes, designed the sets, and illuminated them like a master cinematographer. As in the great revolutions in cinema, Caravaggio moved from natural light to artificial light, From Judith Beheading Holofernes on, the subjects of his paintings were almost always illuminated by a lantern. In fact, we are seeing the completion of a cycle in Caravaggios painting: first he used natural light as seen and reflected in a mirror that framed his subjects, followed by the

light that illuminates the subjects, but a pure, transcendental entity that slices through the darkness like a scalpel, dividing the human from the divine. In the painting the subjects are illuminated by a suffused light that is separate from the ray of light. At the top of the painting, the artist has placed a window that does not emit light, but establishes a balance in the horizontal composition of the work. In the film versiondirected by Angelo Longoni and which will come out both in theatres and on televisionwe imagined Caravaggio lying in his studio one morning, sick and tired, and being awakened by a ray of light entering through a small window and cutting across the foreground of the painting, superimposing itself on it, and that this gave him the idea for completing this extraordinary work. This was the revelation for portraying the Calling, the choice of an entity between the human and the divine: a ray of light.

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Which format and base support did you use to film Caravaggio?

What exactly happened that day at San Luigi dei Francesi?

The astounding effect of The Calling on the viewer stems from the artists brilliant intuition of depicting a ray of light, symbolizing the divine, coming for the first time from the right, like a ray of light at sunset. It is not seen as a source of

In general, I think that negative film is much more sensitive than the technicians say; at least there is the possibility of recording the emotions of people who participate in the construction of the images themselves. Looking at an image projected on a large or small screen, it is possible to feel the harmony or

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conflict experienced by those who contributed to creating a specific project. I maintain that the sensitivity of a filming system is not exclusively related to the technological level, but also to the intangible possibility of registering emotions. I believe this is a specific characteristic pertaining especially to negative film. We made Caravaggio in Univisium, filming on 35mm neg with a composition ratio of 1:2 and with three perforations at 25 frames per second. The 35mm films used were the basic four KODAK VISION2 films: 50D, 250D, 200T, and 500T processed by Technicolor in Rome. You have always used Q a variety of Kodak negatives within the same film, a creative choice that sets you apart from the tendency evident in many films that are shot with only one type of film. Can you tell us why you opt for this multiple choice while shooting, and why you use the Univisium format, which furthermore, you invented? 8

I think it is extremely important not to use only one type of film for all the needs that natural light and artificial light present, in the high and low tonalities they produce. I think it is a big mistake to lose the multitude of tonalities that these films are able to register when each one is used specifically for the light appropriate to it. That is lost when you decide to use just one for all the different lighting situations while shooting a film.

Kodak films (5201-52055217-5218), with their proven consistency and the reversibility between them, enable the indispensable matching of the various scenes during the editing, because they provide maximal tonal and chromatic registration in the different situations of NATURAL or ARTIFICIAL light, in low or high intensity, with a range from 50 to 500 ASA. Univisium is a system that allows you to save 25 percent on the cost of classic 35mm, thanks to the use of three perforations in the negative instead of four, and to have 25 percent more time for creativity while shooting, which

moon, the Father and the Mother. A collection of chromatic nuances from red to orange to yellow to represent the sun, and one colour only for the moon: WHITe. My expressive choice transpired from my studies of the artists oeuvre. In analyzing Caravaggios colours, I was able to verify that he had never used blue in his paintings. Never. He opted for black, symbolizing the unconscious; To conclude, Vittorio, red, representing birth and death; Q a thought about orange, synonymous with the Caravaggios colours. relationship to his childhood and A vivid and intense palette that his mother; and yellow, the colour never leaves one indifferent. of puberty, consciousness, and How did you interpret this in your LIgHT. He went as far as using cinematographic concept? greenknowledgein a few paintings. But he stopped there. In 1600 there were So I saw to it that there is never A two possibilities for any blue in our film. evenings and expressing light, using nights are depicted with neutral natural sunlight and moonlight, or pale lights. everything starts or using the sources of artificial with the BLACK, with matter, light that existed at that time, progressing to WHITe, to energy. such as torches, candles, braziers. This was done out of respect This made me want to create and admiration for the chromatic the images of the film using spectrum of an extraordinary totally distinct, but obviously artist, Michelangelo Merisi, known complementary chromatic as Caravaggio. elements with respect to two specific entities: the sun and the

is really important, especially for the scenes with a Steadicam. And all this in a panoramic format of 1:2. I would like to emphasize that to shoot in 35mm with 3 perforations, instead of S16, does not represent an alarming increase in cost, considering the superiority of 35mm and the increased possibilities for selling the product in other countries.

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For the full version of this interview, please go to http:/ /www.kodak.com/US/en/motion/newsletters/inCamera/ 3