Vittorio Storaro is considered one of the most influential cinematographers in cinema history. He’s known for his notable use of expressive light and cinematic composition. He has worked with filmmakers such as Bernardo Bertolucci, Carlos Saura and Francis Ford Coppola.
For each of his films, Storaro adopted a different approached differently. Reviewing Storaro’s works can help to clarify the role of the director of photography. He creates his own style of cinematic presentation and the use of expressive light, specifically in biographical films on subjects such as Goya and Caravaggio. He creates a cinematographic expression in order to approximate the artists’ lives and their works of art as closely as possible.
What is a crucial part of the task of director of photography is arranging the visual pattern of the cinematic work. The DP maintains a singular visual style during the narration, creating compositions and utilizing these elements in order to visualize the narration. Vittorio Storaro has proven himself to be a perfect practitioner of his art. He is a most reliable directors of photography who reflects the intent of the cinematic auteur (screenwriter and/or director).
10. Goya in Bordeaux (Carlos Saura, 1999)
Storaro’s representation of Saura’s Goya has the same visual influence of the artist’s works. If in some cases, it’s visually romantic and then oppositely in other occasions, it’s partly similar to a caricature that’s because Goya’s style has the same sense.
Goya in Bordeaux, as any other Saura’s film, has a touch of theatrical approach. In some scenes, the internal walls of the house seem to be transparent, the effect is not permanent, meaning that only through reflecting light (the light of a candle that for instance one of the characters is carrying) the solid internal decoration of the house turns to be a theatrical stage, a non-cinematographic mise-en-scène reflecting the romantic spirit of one of the most expressive artists ever existed.
The task of Storaro here was to illuminate the scene as a theatrical setting while diversely the set was not theatrical; meaning that no fourth wall is eliminated and obviously being a cinematic narration and on contrary of the theater, the angles and points of view are changing, the camera moves a lot.
So unlike theater, lights are not only to cover a permanent point of view and the stylist approach of Storaro in keep justifying the source of light (existent on the scene), paradoxically completes Saura’s theatrical approach.
9. Tango (Carlos Saura, 1998)
Tango, just like any other Saura’s film, is happening on a theater set, the result of representing such a theatrical ambient on screen is decorative abstraction. The number of scenes in which the spectator sees the character dancing on a wooden dance floor, before a blank wall/screen is numerous.
Tango is filled with color, and it’s not just any colorful representation: the colors in Tango are sharp and saturated, giving a hint of the emotional weight of the passion that Tango is trying to express in a choreography.
What Saura’s films like Blood Wedding (1981), Carmen (1983) and Tango are expressing cinematographically is representing a translation of human emotions and feelings in physical movement and after all this is what dancing is all about.
8. Dick Tracy (Warren Beaty, 1990)
In Dick Tracy, what gives the proper dramatic background to use expressive color as a visual element is not merely the sources of light but the colorful costumes of the characters. They are gangsters strangely dressed in red, blue or green. The narrative style of the film gives space to camera movements and loads of Dutch tilts.
Exaggeration in character treatment gives the director of photography to use more expressive visual elements, but since Storaro keeps justifying the source of light, its color texture and intensity but an existent element in the ambient, we still face a film that is visually created on the basis of the production design and ambient treatment in the screenplay.
7. One from the Heart (Francis Ford Coppola, 1982)
Colors rule the scenes of One from the Heart. The film is unsimilar to any other previous experience of Coppola. Visually, One From the Heart is about contrast of the ambients that are reflecting diverse (if not opposed) mode of living.
What makes Storaro’s task in this film quite crucial is choosing the proper dominant color for each scene and justifying this source of light, dramatically. The green tone in the airport and later in the car accompanies the protagonist’s depression; blue is the dominant color of the external rainy scene, while dancing scenes which are dramatically representing a much warmer sensation are obviously warmer colors.
6. Last Tango in Paris (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1972)
The internal and urban architecture is the most dominant conceptual element of Bertolucci’s film, it is actually embodying the characters, their state of mind and isolation of each of them.
The empty, abandoned apartment can be a physical representation of Marlon Brando’s character, explaining him the best and maybe that’s why the internal locations specially in Last Tango have been emptied of any other visual elements: the apartment represents the character, so visually what Storaro has done is making a unified visual combination that embraces both the character and the ambient.
The colors are plain and almost bear the same tone of the colors that the narrative space is reflecting. Storaro’s job in Last Tango in Paris was precisely not leaving any visual detail to come out and attract attention.