REVIEW by Willard Manus

If you've ever wondered exactly what a cinematographer does on a feature film, pick up a copy of WRITER OF LIGHT, THE CINEMATOGRAPHY OF VITTORIO STORARO (published recently by ASC Press). The 120-page book, compiled and edited by Ray Zone, is comprised of interviews with Storaro and reprints of articles on him. There are also 16 full color illustrations from some of the 40 motion pictures Storaro has shot. These include such classics as Apocalypse Now, Reds and The Last Emperor. The book lists at $34.95 and can be purchased from the American Society of

Cinematographers by calling (323) 969-4333 or visiting www.cinematographer.com. There are special discounts for students and film schools.

The Italian-born Storaro got started at the age of twenty. "I had an opportunity to express myself for the first time when I shot a black-and-white science-fiction film for a friend...like first love, you never forget it. Franco Rossi, a writer/director in Italy, saw this film, and he was looking for a young cinematographer to shoot Smog in 1962. So by the time I was 22 or 23, I was already making movies. After that, it wasn't so easy."

Once the film was in the can, Storaro realized he had acquired much technical knowledge, but little true, artistic understanding of camera work. For the next few years he devoted himself to studying not just the work of the great cinematographers before him but the work of painters, sculptors, writers and designers. This helped him develop a core philosophy which he draws on every time he makes a film.

"Visually, movies are the resolution of a conflict between light and shadows," he said. "Light reveals truth and shadows obscure it, with a broad base of tonality in between."

As Bob Fisher, one of the book's contributors, writes, "In his command of filmmaking grammar, Storaro is inordinately eloquent. For example, in Little Buddha (1993, directed by Bernardo Bertolucci), he used older Technovision lenses in some scenes where he wanted a warmer look, almost plastic in texture. Storaro explains that newer lenses record sharper, colder and more defined images."

Before he starts work on a new project, Storaro seeks out an artist who will "speak" that film. On Coppola's Apocalypse Now, for example, he decided that Paul Gaugin was the artist to study, specifically his allegorical painting "Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?"

"Look at the jungle leaves," Storaro said, "see all the greens? Look at just the dark greens....brooding jungle. See here the darkness, the danger, the fear. Brooding, you understand?"

It was in that darkness that Storaro later shot all of Marlon Brando's scenes. "His role...represents the dark side of civilization, the subconscious, or the truth that comes out of the darkness...He had to be like an idol. Black is like a magic color, you can reveal patterns and moods against a dark scene that aren't possible in other ways."

Storaro has not only made numerous films with Coppola and Bertolucci, but with such other masters as Warren Beatty, Michael Apted, Richard Donner and Carlos Saura. On the latter's Goya in Bordeaux, Storaro achieved some of his most sublime visual moments, thanks to his use of computers, scanners and Translite, a material that allows the printing of images on both sides.

Dazzling technician that he is, Storaro is quick to point out that a grasp of technology alone is not enough to make a good cinematographer. "Too often people get caught up in the technical end of things," he said. "This way there is no input of an individual personality. It took me many years to bring a creative balance to the technological lessons I learned in film school. The technology is only part of photography, and it is not the most difficult part."