Remembering Giuseppe Rotunno, a Gentle Maestro

Remembering Giuseppe Rotunno, a Gentle Maestro

In 2009 I was working at Technicolor in Rome on a new remaster of Michelangelo Antonioni’s Identification of a Woman. I was with my colleague Fumiko Takagi, who was helping out with Italian-English translation during a conversation I was having with the film’s original color timer. On that same trip, we had the chance to take a look at another important film. Our colleagues at Janus Films in New York had ordered a print of Federico Fellini’s Amarcord because during that time before digital, theaters were still showing movies on celluloid. We got word that the film’s director of photography, the great Giuseppe Rotunno, would soon be at Technicolor to time a print of Amarcord. “Our print of Amarcord??” we asked. Turned out, yes, it was. Invited to sit in, we jumped at the chance.

Everybody who knew Rotunno called him “Peppino” and referred to him as “Maestro.” Although we had worked on a DVD release of Amarcord, neither Fumiko nor I had met him before. After being introduced, we talked for a bit and followed the Maestro into the theater. The lights went out and soon we knew why they called him the Maestro. He spoke out film timings in Italian like a conductor—“One point red,” “two points darker,” “minus half point cyan”—all while watching the film in real time as the lab timer took notes. Timing a film like this is truly a lost art. With digital, it’s a different vocabulary, but I always enjoy it when older filmmakers come in for video remastering and use those phrases (they still work!). We were getting to witness a masterful technician at work on his craft, long after the film had been shot and finished.

A few years later I phoned him about his Super Technirama epic The Leopard, which he made with director Luchino Visconti. We tracked down the original 8 perforation negative of the film at Technicolor London, and we spoke about a digital grading of it. Since Peppino was in Rome, I was in New York, and the film was in London, we came up with a plan. We would do a color pass remotely, and he would review it and give us notes. When he got the tape to review, he called to tell me he was working on it and offered some initial thoughts: the image from the 8 perf negative was wonderful, it was much too bright, and finally, it was very emotional for him to be thinking about Visconti again. A couple of years later he was working with our friends at L’Immagine Ritrovata in Bologna on a remastering of Senso, which Criterion released. Upon hearing of his passing this week, I looked back at my notes and found this extensive letter he sent the technicians in Bologna, which really helped them do their work. He loved to be involved.

Rotunno’s notes on Senso

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