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Fulvio Lucisano still going strong

Five decades in the film business

ROME — Italian producer Fulvio Lucisano stands as testimony that there is really just one type of movie: a good one.

Over five decades in the biz, Lucisano has mounted more than 150 projects in a panoply of genres, from Mario Bava’s pulpy classic “Planet of the Vampires” to Franco Zeffirelli’s “The Young Toscanini,” starring Elizabeth Taylor as a primadonna soprano, to Buster Keaton-starrer “War, Italian Style,” which oddly paired Keaton and Italo comic Franco Franchi.

Sci-fi, horror, Italo comedies, soft porn, but also highbrow works by some of Italy’s most revered auteurs like Liliana Cavani, Marco Ferreri, Lina Wertmuller and Euro arthouse greats like Carlos Saura, whose “Goya in Bordeaux” Lucisano is particularly proud of, even though it was a flop.

To him they are all pretty much the same.

“Genres don’t exist,” says Lucisano. “The only thing I care about is the moviegoers. They are our judge.”

Lucisano says he has always paid heed to the advice Buster Keaton gave him in 1966 on the Rome set of “War, Italian Style,” in which Keaton played a hapless German general, one of his last roles.

“He told me: ‘Any kind of movie you make, look at what happens in the first reel, and make sure that, if it’s a comedy, there’s a laugh early on; if it’s a drama or an action movie, then something surprising has to happen in the first 10 minutes.’ ”

One year earlier, in 1965, Lucisano had proudly shepherded Bava’s “Planet of the Vampires,” his first pic shot in Cinecitta’s legendary Studio 5, later to become Federico Fellini’s second home.

“Planet of the Vampires,” considered a major influence on Ridley Scott’s “Alien,” was a co-production with American Intl. Pictures, James H. Nicholson and Samuel Z. Arkoff’s low-budget Hollywood studio that spawned Roger Corman’s films, which were distributed in Italy by Lucisano’s Italian Intl. Film.

Early days

Lucisano started out in production in 1949, assisting an American company making a Catholic docu shot inside the Vatican and St. Peter’s to commemorate the coming year’s Holy Year Jubilee. But all he remembers about his first movie gig is that they used color film stock, which in those days was unheard of in Italy where the first color pic dates to 1952.

A lawyer’s son, who has a degreee in law himself, Lucisano until recently personally drafted all his own contracts.

He set up Italian Intl. Film (IIF) in 1958 and soon started his collaboration with AIP on “Warriors Five” a WWII drama starring Jack Palance, followed by “Sexy magico,” a faux docu about sexual rites around the world, after which came campy Jane Mansfield starrer “Primitive Love,” a mondo sex farce in a similar vein.

“What Have You Done to Solange?” is one of Lucisano’s relatively early productions that he likes to reminisce about. It’s a now-classic 1972 England-set giallo, a big Quentin Tarantino genre fave, helmed by Massimo Dallamano with a typically atmospheric Ennio Morricone score.

Lucisano recalls that “Solange,” centered around a string of murders in a Catholic girls school and starring Buster Keaton’s grandniece Camille Keaton, was the first giallo he managed to open in Rome’s central Adriano movie theater, which usually snubbed those types of pics.

Indeed, to measure how far genre pics have come, in 2005 the Venice Film Festival celebrated Lucisano with a special Fulvio Lucisano Day as part of its Tarantino-presented “Secret History of Italian Cinema” retro, during which restored copies of both “Vampires” and “Solange” unspooled.

But besides the Italo B-movies, Lucisano has also shepherded artier titles more likely to wow the folks at Cahiers du Cinema.

In 1975, just three years after “Solange,” Lucisano made Mauro Bolognini’s “Per le antiche scale” (Down the Ancient Staircase), a dark drama starring Marcello Mastroianni as a shrink trying to isolate an “insanity virus” in a Fascist-era asylum. It won Locarno’s Special Jury nod.

He has produced Liliana Cavani’s Nazi-era “The Berlin Affair,” Luigi Comencini’s “A Boy From Calabria” and Francesca Archibugi’s foreign-language Oscar-nommed debut “Il grande cocomero” (The Great Pumpkin), just to name a few of his forays into auteur territory, not all of which were felicitous.

“I’ve made lots of mistakes: if I start thinking about my mistakes it could could drive me crazy; but I also got some things right,” muses Lucisano about his share of flops.

As a distributor, IIF has released hundreds of pics, including “Thelma and Louise,” thanks to a strong relationship he had with MGM; Andrei Konchalowski’s “Maria’s Lovers,” as part of a longstanding deal in those days with Menahem Golan’s Cannon; and “Four Weddings and a Funeral” through his tie at the time with Polygram. His most recent release was Sylvester Stallone’s “John Rambo” in February.

Lucisano, a former chief of Italy’s motion picture association Anica, is also a longtime exhibition player, a side his company beefed up lately by buying up Naples-based Gruppo Stella, the largest exhibitor in the country’s underscreened South.

“It’s harder in that part of Italy because when the weather is nice folks are more likely to hit the beach than go to the movies. But we like to veer off the beaten track and make it work,” he says.

After all, that’s what Lucisano has been doing for 50 years.

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