Monday, February 20, 2017

Francesco Rosi

Francesco Rosi, Toronto, Sept. 1994

WHILE THE DECADE DIDN'T SEEM TO HAVE MUCH TO RECOMMEND IT AT THE TIME, I've come to miss the '90s. There were a lot of things that I took for granted that I would learn - too late - were on their way to disappearing. Things like quality literature on the bestseller lists, the last pretense of political objectivity in the news media, the news media itself for that matter, and art house cinema.

Francesco Rosi worked as a children's book illustrator and a reporter before he began his career in film working as an assistant to Luchino Visconti. He made his first film as a neorealist before moving away with a series of ever more stylized films about politics, organized crime and corruption - subjects that Italians sadly know more about than most other countries. By the time he made More Than A Miracle with Sophia Loren and Omar Sharif, he'd moved far from the neorealist camp.

Francesco Rosi, Toronto, Sept. 1994

Rosi was at the film festival in 1994 to publicize Carmen, his film version of the Bizet opera starring Julia Miguenes and Placido Domingo. There was a day when filmed operas were something seen regularly on movie screens, and not just as simulcasts from the Met in New York. One more thing to add to that list of things I didn't know were disappearing - opera as part of mainstream culture.

Rosi said his main inspiration for the film was Gustav Dore's illustrations of Spain, which he was sure were a major visual resource for Bizet, who had never been to the country. I had learned about Dore over a decade earlier in art class at school, and was obsessed with his engravings for Dante's Inferno and the Bible for years. I still have one on the wall of my office. And there's another thing that's gone - high schools teaching kids about 19th century French illustrators and Dante.

Francesco Rosi, Toronto, Sept. 1994

I'm guessing I photographed Rosi at one of the main film festival hotels - the Sutton Place or the Four Seasons, also both gone now. The wallpaper was an appropriate backdrop; a neutral texture until you started to notice it, and I took pains with these scans to bring it out a bit more than I would have in the original prints I handed in to NOW magazine.

I don't think Rosi could have looked more like an Italian film director, do you? He has a relaxed dignity, helped along nicely no doubt by his well-tailored blazer and boulevardier shades. His very wry smile does a lot to convey a man who's keeping a good joke to himself. He had more than enough self-possession that my instructions to him while we shot were probably minimal, though it was only the thousandth time in my life when I wished I spoke Italian.

Francesco Rosi died at home in Rome on January 10, 2015.

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