DPP Home Profiles Douglas Kirkland: Master Of Italian Cinema

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Douglas Kirkland: Master Of Italian Cinema

Douglas Kirkland got a unique assignment from Vanity Fair Italy, and he turned it into a masterpiece

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Otto e Mezzo
DPP: Some of the staging was pretty massive. How did you get that done?

Kirkland: The crews I had were fantastic. We had 25 to 30 people working with us for a month over our two trips to Italy. During construction of the sets, they would keep running up to me with blueprints, asking, “Is this okay?” On Ladri di Biciclette (The Bicycle Thief) on the lot of the Cinecittà Studios in Rome, they repainted the wall within five minutes to more accurately emulate the original look of the 1948 movie. Same thing with Il Buono, il Brutto, il Cattivo (The Good, the Bad, the Ugly), which we also shot at Cinecittà. A guy can get very spoiled working this way.

We did one photo for Fellini’s La Strada, which starred Anthony Quinn and Giulietta Masina, which was supposed to take place during the winter. We photographed Ennio Fantastichini and Lucianna Littizzetto near the Via Appia Antica, but we were shooting during midsummer. My crew put a huge silk over the top to achieve the gray light, which, of course, meant lots of sandbags and high rollers.

DPP: Was it a little confusing for the actors to be on these film sets you created for stills and not be going through scenes? Did they feel they had to freeze instead of allowing the camera to do that for them?

Kirkland: I wanted them to dance; I wanted them to talk; I wanted to hear them. These are professional actors. I said to them, “I’m not using you as a model. Do what you do best!” And they did. For example, for La Ciociara, we did a very dramatic scene on location near Turin with Giovanna Mezzogiorno. The 1960 movie starred Sophia Loren. Her character had just learned that retreating soldiers had raped her daughter. She’s running after the soldiers screaming and shouting, eventually breaking down in anguish.

I said to Giovanna, “You know the role. Think about who you are. Think about what’s happened to you—how you must feel.” Then I gave her starting and finishing marks. I treated my camera like a movie camera and ran backward as she came toward me. I wanted her to scream, so I told her, “I want to hear you. Feel this. Perform it. You are a great actress.” Then I shouted, “Action!” and she treated it like we were shooting a film and moved around in character. I shot with gray afternoon natural light in a stone quarry. We shot it in three takes. This is the only occasion when I shot JPEGs, which allowed me to shoot at four frames per second.

Il Buono, il Brutto, il Cattivo
DPP: You also did an image for Mamma Roma that needed to convey motion. How did you do the motorcycle shot?

Kirkland: I wanted to shoot it from the back of a moving car, but the actress, Laura Morante, was afraid to actually be riding, so we got a big fan and talked Laura and her costar Federico Costantini through it. We then added a little motion blur to the final image.

DPP: Directors and DPs use extreme angles and lenses to create drama or to convey a message. Were you thinking about that when you shot the low angle on Luisa Ranieri in a rice field near Turin?

Kirkland: The 1949 film Riso Amaro (Bitter Rice) with Silvana Mangano didn’t have that. I took the liberty of departing from the original because I thought this angle with Luisa against the sky made her look more powerful and majestic. She reminded me of Jane Russell. I tried to do the shot with HMIs, but it was so bright I had a problem with Luisa squinting, so we switched to strobes, which ran from a generator truck that we had on location.

DPP: Were all shots done in Italy?

Kirkland: For one shot we went to Portugal from Italy for a day. It was for the cover shoot of Monica Bellucci channeling Gina Lollobrigida’s character in Pane, Amore e Fantasia (Bread, Love and Dreams). We brought with us a foldable square silk and battery-operated strobes—both are great for their portability. Monica was amazing. She’s a great beauty.

DPP: The movie and stills worlds seem to have bonded for this project. In a sense, you were making 26 mini-movies in a one-month period.

Kirkland: And it was the most enjoyable assignment I’ve ever had. In addition to the film scenes, I also photographed each of the actors individually with my 8x10 Deardorff and TRI-X, culminating in a majorexhibition of Freeze Frame and An Homage to the Italian Cinema last September at the Museum of the Triennale in Milan.

To see more of Douglas Kirkland’s work, visit www.douglaskirkland.com. Kirkland’s An Homage to the Italian Cinema will be exhibited at the Italian Cultural Institute of Los Angeles during Cinema Italian Style 2009 in November 2009. Go to www.cinemaitalianstyle.org.


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