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On Suspiria - a meeting with a Master: Luciano Tovoli AIC ASC

05 Feb 2019 9:05 AM | Amber Wakefield (Administrator)

The film 'Suspiria' shot by Luciano Tovoli, and directed by Dario Argento, is seen as the high point of 1970's Italian, and indeed European horror. This Masterpiece of mood, lighting and mayhem, has recently turned 40, and has spawned a current remake, and also a book. I caught up with Luciano and had a conversation about all this.

Luciano, how did you come to be on the project?

Dario Argento contacted me direct - to propose to me to be the 'Suspiria's Cinematographer. I accepted.

What was the film you had worked on before Suspiria?

Leading up to this, I had worked on several Italian films and some French. Most notably Michelangelo Antonioni's masterpiece “The Passenger”.

Was the look of the film your idea or a request from Dario?

Of course Argento had already a vision but my involvement in the film helped him to transform his dream in a precise colour dramaturgy. I made myself a lot of tests on colours and presented the tests to Argento who approved them, and we started to shoot the film without more meetings or consultations.

Can you remember what stock, camera and lenses you used?

The camera was a Technovision Camera with Technovision Anamorphic Lenses and the stock was the classic 5248 Eastmancolor.

What shot in the film are you most proud of?

Maybe the close up of Jessica Harper in the taxi at the beginning of the film.

Tell us about the most difficult shots.

Difficult.. The “grand final” with explosions and coloured lightning. Not one single shot of the film has been treated in post production.

Where there planned shots that didn’t make the film?

No. We fully realised all our imaginations.

There is the remake of ‘Suspiria’ directed by Luca Gaudagnino which has been released this year – did you have any contact from them?

No. Not any contact. I read Guadagnino declaring that he was immensely impressed by the colours of 'Suspiria' when he saw the film at the age of fourteen. This touched me a lot and ideally I give him all the liberty to do whatever he wants, and he is too intelligent and talented to try to make a faithful remake of 'Suspiria'. That would be in any case impossible.

What is your view on the film being remade?

No special opinion. Freedom for everybody to express his talent.

A crucial part of being a Cinematographer, is being in control of, and guiding the look of the film. With a film as singular as 'Suspiria' this is doubly so. When we talked in Finland, you mentioned a transfer to Blue Ray that went very wrong – and you had no idea. What are your experiences of film to digital transfers?

My experiences are absolutely positive especially when I am called to collaborate, but that it is not always the case. In my absence many errors can be made by a Colourist left alone. Unfortunately it happened for me four times with disastrous results.

With the ascent of grading, and Colourists, do you think that Cinematographers are losing the rights to be truly authors of the image?

Colourists are not my enemies but better they understand that the inspiration and realisation an the rights of the images belongs to the guy, the Cinematographer, who made the film. The Colourist can be victim of the tragic illusion often unfortunately under the encouraging eye of a Director, to believe to magically become the author of the images but it is only an illusion!  I do not blame them as I blame the Producer and more the Directors. In those cases I consider all of them like furtive night thieves putting their hands on some (pure images) that belong morally and artistically, essentially to others. 

In those unfortunate cases the poor Colourists are only the physical instrument of the “crime.”

Quite sad it is to note how even before to be legally recognised  Authors of the Cinematography and Co-authors of the film as we indubitably are, we risk very seriously to loose our status. For that IMAGO can be a defensive wall !

You recently were interviewed for a fantastic book, by Piercesare Stagni and Valentina Valente entitled «On Suspiria and Beyond».  Was it a surprise that 40 years after the film, there is such love and interest for the film?

What impresses me the most, is that two young Italian film historians like Valentina and Pierceare, as thousands or tens of thousands  and more of young and mature spectators all over the world continue to consider 'Suspiria', after forty years, as an exemplar essay of employment of colours on dramaturgical terms. 

Let’s talk about the book.  I don’t think I have ever seen such a book – a talk about a film, from the Cinematographers perspective – how did it come about?

We started at the beginning of the past year one very long interview around my career and we realised that we had enough material to print five books, and that was just speaking of the few of my films that, crossing the steep barrier of the Italian language, travelled the world. Frightened by this perspective and 2017 being the quadrennial of Suspiria we escaped the danger, deciding to analyse only this one !

Luciano  - what have you been up to recently?

Voluntary work for IMAGO as chair of the Authorship Committee. And recently I shot a film in my Tuscany with a young first time director.

A quick and final, question regards Directors. You have worked with some of the more maverick directors in European film history – Argento, Antonioni, Schroeder, and Scola. Where you drawn to working with these directors, or where they drawn to you?

I would like not to forget Vittorio De Seta, Maurice Pialat, Francis Veber and Andrei Tarkowski between the many who gave me the priviledge to collaborate at their films. With very few exceptions I have always been called by the directors through the vision of one of my films. Not through agent recommendations, not through producers calls and with this very simple system I made, at today, more than 80 films for theatres and exceptionally only two documentaries for television, a medium of which it's meaning of expression, is too much and too often misused on it's real potentiality.

The Book 'On Suspiria and Beyond: A conversation with Cinematographer Luciano Tovoli'

By LucianoTovoli, Piercesare Stagni and Valentina Valente (Artdigiland Press 2017) can be bought on Amazon, or direct from the publisher in Milan who can print a higher quality 'on demand' copy on request – contact Silvia Tarquini (

by Marc Swadel

(Committee Member NZCS/Cinematographer member ACS)

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