Italian cinematographer Tonino Delli Colli, whose groundbreaking vision helped forge the careers of many of Italy’s greatest directors over a six-decade career spanning from neorealism to Roberto Benigni’s “Life is Beautiful,” died Aug. 17 in Rome. He was 82.
Delli Colli, who earned more than 130 cinematography credits between 1944 and 1997, was recently honored with the American Society of Cinematographers’ international achievement award.
His work with, among others, Roberto Rossellini, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Sergio Leone, Federico Fellini, Lina Wertmuller, Louis Malle, and Roman Polanski, displayed an often distinctive photographic style, yet was always functional to the specific picture’s visual requirements.
Born in Rome, Delli Colli started in the trade at 16. In 1952, when he was under contract with producers Carlo Ponti and Dino De Laurentiis, he was assigned lensing duties on Italy’s first color pic, comedy “Toto a colori.”
Though he was earning handsomely by the late 1950s working on run-of-the-mill movies, Delli Colli’s desire to be part of Italy’s burgeoning postneorealist wave prompted him to volunteer his services to work for scale on Pier Paolo Pasolini’s first film “Accattone,” marking the start of an 11-film, 15-year collaboration that ended with Pasolini’s mysterious 1975 assassination.
Meeting Sergio Leone in the ’60s sparked another crucial career phase for Delli Colli. The lenser’s execution of the meticulous spaghetti Western helmer’s supersaturated vision on “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” “Once Upon a Time in the West” and, later, “Once Upon a Time in America” are among his most memorable compositions. “In my work I’ve always tried to ‘illuminate’ the stories that are being told, using the simplicity of my feelings and the instinct that has guided me,” Delli Colli said in a recent interview.
He is survived by his son Stefano.