Otello Martelli, the doyen of Italian cinematographers who was long associated with the work of Federico Fellini, for whom he shot several films including the 1960 classic “La Dolce Vita,” died Feb. 21 in Rome of undisclosed causes. He was 98.
Martelli was one of Italy’s last surviving masters of black-and-white cinematography. A pioneer in the field, his experience helped pave the way for celebrated Italian lensers of later generations such as Vittorio Storaro, Giuseppe Rotunno and Carlo Di Palma.
While he began his career as an assistant cameraman in the silent era, it was not until the introduction of sound that Martelli shot his first feature, Alessandro Blasetti’s “Old Guard” in 1935. From then on, he worked with some of Italy’s most important directors, gaining an international reputation during the neo-realist period of the late 1940s and ’50s.
For Roberto Rossellini, Martelli shot “Paisan” in 1946 and “Stromboli” in 1949; for Giuseppe De Santis, he was d.p. on 1947’s “Tragic Hunt,” 1949’s “Bitter Rice” and 1952’s “Rome, 11 O’Clock”; and for Alberto Lattuada, he shot “Anna” in 1952 and “Guendalina” in 1957.
Martelli first collaborated with Fellini on “Variety Lights” in 1950, which was co-directed with Lattuada. He became Fellini’s favorite cameraman for many years, following in 1953 with “I Vitelloni,” “La Strada” (1954) and “The Swindle” (1955). He also shot the segments directed by Fellini and Vittorio De Sica in the 1962 feature “Boccaccio ’70.”
Martelli is best remembered, however, for his work on Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita.” His images from that film of Roman high life on the Via Veneto and Anita Ekberg splashing in the Trevi Fountain have become an indelible part of film history.
Among the many other films shot by Martelli are Jules Dassin’s “Where the Hot Wind Blows” (1969), Rene Clement’s “This Angry Eye” (1957) and two films starring Sophia Loren, Mario Soldati’s “Woman of the River” (1954) and Blasetti’s “Lucky to Be a Woman” (1956).
In addition to his feature work, Martelli is remembered as the cameraman sent by Italian government newsreel company Istituto Luce to cover explorer Umberto Nobile’s historic 1928 expedition to the North Pole.