Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Screenwriter Tonino Guerra Passes On

Tonino Guerra, who wrote the screenplays for such classic films as Blowup (1966), La Avventura (1960), and Amacord (1973), passed on 21 March 2012 at the age of 92.

Tonino Guerra was born Antonino Guerra on 16 March 1920 in Santarcangelo di Romagna, Italy. During World War II he was captured and sent to a German concentration camp. It was there that he began writing poetry. Following the war, in 1946, a collection of his poetry was published under the title I Scarabocc. He worked as a teacher for a few years before he moved to Rome. It was there that he met future director Elio Petri. Mr. Guerra would share his first screenwriting credit with Mr. Petri and others, the 1957 film Uomini e lupi. For the next few years he would write screenplays for Cesta duga godinu dana (1958), Un ettaro di cielo (1958), and La garçonnière (1960). It was 1960 that Tonino Guerra's first collaboration with director Michaelangelo Antonioni, the classic L’Avventura, was released. The film would essentially make both of their careers. Mr. Antionioni and Mr. Guerra would collaborate many more times over the years, including on the films La notte (1961), L'eclisse (1962), Il deserto rosso (1964), Blowup (1966), Zabriskie Point (1970), Il mistero di Oberwald (1981), Identificazione di una donna (1982), Al di là delle nuvole (1995), and Eros (2004).

Over the years Mr. Guerra worked with most of the major Italian directors. He collaborated with director Elio Petri on L'assassino (1961), La decima vittima (1965) and Un tranquillo posto di campagna (1968). He collaborated with Federico Fellini on Amarcord (1973), Il Casanova di Federico Fellini (1976), E la nave va (1983), and Ginger and Fred (1986). With director Francesco Rossi he worked on C'era una volta (1967), Uomini contro (1970), Il caso Mattei (1972), Lukcy Luciano (1973), Cadaveri eccellenti (1976), Cristo si è fermato a Eboli (1979), Tre fratelli (1981), Carmen (1984), Cronaca di una morte annunciata (1987), and La tregua (1997). With director Mario Monicelli he worked on Casanova '70 (1965), Caro Michele (1976), and Il male oscuro (1990).

Not only would Tonino Guerra work many of the greatest directors in Italian film history, but he would have a particularly long career. His first film was released in 1957. His last film, Everybody's Fine, was released in 2009. In his later years he worked on such films as Nostalghia (1983), Kaos (1984), Good Morning, Babylon (1987), Il sole anche di notte (1990), To vlemma tou Odyssea (1995), Le chien, le général et les oiseaux (2003), and Um Ano Mais Longo (2006).

In his later years Mr. Guerra took up writing and publishing poetry again, as well as working in fiction. He would also paint and sculpt.

In any language Tonino Guerra was arguably one of the greatest screenwriters of all time. Indeed, not only were his screenplays always intelligent and possessed of a poet's sensibilities, but he was also extremely versatile. My best friend and I often noted that co-writers Michelangelo Antonioni (who also directed) and Tonino Guerra scripted the quintessential film about Swinging London, Blowup; they were two Italians who captured the time and essence of the place where native Englishmen had failed. This was not an isolated case in Mr. Guerra's career either. With co-writer Lino Iannuzzi, Tonino Guerra was able to capture the feel of Prohibition New York City in Lucky Luciano. Tonino Guerra had a singular talent for capturing the essence of any time and any place with his screenplays.

Another example of Tonino Guerra's versatility was the fact that he began writing films that fell firmly in the Italian neo-realist camp, he would go onto write one of Federico Fellini's more stylised and symbolic films, Il Casanova di Federico Fellini. He also wrote in a number of genres, from sword and sandal films (Perseo l'invincibile, released in 1963) to crime (L'assassino) to science fiction (La decima vittima) to comedy (Anonima cocottes, released in 1960). Given the sheer variety of genres in which he worked and how prolific he actually was (IMDB lists 104 films on which he worked in some capacity as a writer), it is even more amazing when one realises that not only did Tonino Guerra produce a number of classics, but most of the movies he wrote were quite good. A bad film written by Tonino Guerra was indeed a rare thing. Versatile, intelligent, and possessed a poet's view on life, Tonino Guerra was a great screenwriter in any language.

No comments: