At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Tonino Delli Colli – cinematographer

Craftsman who shot Life is Beautiful and Italy's first colour film


Tonino Delli Colli worked with some of the leading  directors in Italian movie history
Tonino Delli Colli worked with some of the leading
directors in Italian movie history
Antonio (Tonino) Delli Colli, the cinematographer who shot the first Italian film in colour, died on this day in 2005 in Rome.

The last film he made was Roberto Benigni’s Life is Beautiful, shot on location in Arezzo in Tuscany, for which he won his fourth David di Donatello Award for Best Cinematography.

Delli Colli was born in Rome and started work at the city’s Cinecittà studio in 1938, shortly after it opened, when he was just 16.

By the mid 1940s he was working as a cinematographer, or director of photography, who is the person in charge of the camera and light crews working on a film. He was responsible for making artistic and technical decisions related to the image and selected the camera, film stock, lenses and filters. Directors often conveyed to him what was wanted from a scene visually and then allowed him complete latitude to achieve that effect.

Delli Colli was credited as director of photography for the first time in 1943 on Finalmente Si (Finally Yes), directed by László Kish.

Toto a colori was the first Italian movie to be filmed in colour
Totò a colori was the first Italian movie
to be filmed in colour
In 1952 Delli Colli shot the first Italian film to be made in colour, Totò a colori. He had been reluctant to do it but was given no choice by his bosses.

The cinematographer once recalled in an interview that he had to make do with lighting for black and white films as colour lamps didn’t exist at that time and that he felt sorry for Totò, the comic actor, who was being constantly showered with light.

The arrival of colour changed everything and Delli Colli had to study each new product carefully. He became infuriated with Kodak as whenever a new product came out he had to start again from scratch.

He went on to work with acclaimed directors such as Sergio Leone, Roman Polanski, Louis Malle, Jean-Jacques Annaud and Federico Fellini. Annaud's The Name of the Rose (1986), based on the book by Umberto Eco, is regarded as among Delli Colli's best work.

Delli Colli shot three of Leone's biggest triumphs -  The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Once Upon a Time in the West and Once Upon a Time in America.

Delli Colli received a number of awards for his achievements
Delli Colli received a number
of awards for his achievements
He worked particularly well with Pier Paolo Pasolini, with whom he made 12 films and formed a close bond.  The two teamed up on Pasolini’s first film as a director, Accattone (1961), and remained together throughout the director’s career, culminating with Salò (1976), which he helped restore after Pasolini’s death.

In 2005, at the age of 81, Delli Colli was awarded the American Society of Cinematographers’ International Achievement award.

Later that same year he suffered a heart attack and died at his home in Rome on August 16.

Delli Colli was posthumously awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 13th annual Camerimage Film Festival in Poland.

The Cinecittà complex in Rome, situated about 12km (8 miles) southeast of the city centre
The Cinecittà complex in Rome, situated about
12km (8 miles) southeast of the city centre
Travel tip:

Cinecittà in Rome, the hub of the Italian film industry, is a large studio complex to the south of the city, built during the Fascist era under the personal direction of Benito Mussolini and his son, Vittorio. Delli Colli began working there just a few months after it opened for business. The studios were bombed by the Allies in the Second World War but were rebuilt and used again in the 1950s for large productions, such as Ben Hur. These days a range of productions, from television drama to music videos, are filmed there and it has its own dedicated Metro stop.

The Badia delle Sante Flora e Lucilla in Arezzo
The Badia delle Sante Flora e Lucilla in Arezzo
Travel tip:

Life is Beautiful, for which Delli Colli won a David di Donatello Award in 1998, was shot in the centro storico of Arezzo, an interesting old town in eastern Tuscany. One of the scenes was filmed in front of the Badia delle Sante Flora e Lucilla, a medieval abbey. Right in the centre of the town, the 13th century Basilica di San Francesco is the most famous tourist attraction, as it contains Piero della Francesco’s cycle of frescoes, The Legend of the True Cross, painted between 1452 and 1466 and considered to be his finest work.

More reading:

The actress who stood by Pier Paolo Pasolini

The distinctive style of Sergio Leone

How Roberto Benigni became the first Italian male actor to win an Oscar

Also on this day:

1650: The birth of globe maker Vincenzo Coronelli

2006: The death of Umberto Baldini, who saved hundreds of artworks damaged in Florence floods


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