Crescenzo Notarile, ASC, AIC: from inspiration to art

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Retrace the journey of the cinematographer from his childhood in Brooklyn to the big screen.

Crescenzo Notarile, ASC, AIC, was raised in Brooklyn, NY, by parents of Italian immigrants who were artists; his father was a painter and a famous artistic director, and his mother was a sculptor and interior designer. After studying cinema at New York University and the New York Institute of Technology, where he obtained a BFA, Crescenzo worked as a personal assistant in his father’s advertising agency, then joined IATSE Local. 644 to start his career.

More than 40 years have passed since then, but Crescenzo refers to some of his early professional credits as his favorite experiences. “They stand out because they always inspire a powerful emotional response in me,” he says. “I was very impressionable and experienced new worlds. My eyes and my creative heart were like a sponge.

that of Sergio Léone Once upon a time in america (1984), shot by Tonino Delli Colli, AIC, was instrumental both professionally and personally. “That’s when I made my transition from assistant camera to camera operator, and being behind the lens on this film was a blessing,” Crescenzo says. “Working with the Italian team reconnected me to my Italian heritage and I became very close to them. There was an undeniable ‘sympatico’. We have worked together several times since, and as a result, I became a member of AIC after being sponsored by the legendary Dante Spinotti, ASC, AIC.

A few years later, Crescenzo found himself traveling the world aboard a private Lear jet to film Pink Floyd’s A momentary failure of reason tour (1987-88) for director Larry Jordan. “We took this art form to the highest level,” explains the cinematographer, who shot live performances, behind-the-scenes footage and concept films that were sometimes projected onto stage. “One particular moment of the concert at the Palace of Versailles in France stands out: it was dark, and I had 14 Panavision cameras on. Working on the handheld, I took to the stage with the frontman of Pink Floyd, surrounded by 360 degrees of light and lasers. When the band started playing “Comfortably Numb” I took my eyes off the eyepiece to look at the audience, breathe and hold this image in my head like an everlasting photograph. It was glorious and it changed my life!

Like many young filmmakers, Crescenzo found filming music videos at the peak of MTV creatively liberating. “You can explore and invent without being afraid of making mistakes,” he says. The video for “The Eyes of Truth” (1994) of Enigma, directed by Julien Temple, takes her to India and Nepal. “There I was, a boy from Brooklyn, riding an elephant in India and shooting a music video! We took a helicopter to the top of the Himalayas to shoot a scene. I looked out the window as we landed and saw all these little children come out of their huts in the blinding snow to greet us. While filming I took Polaroids of the children, and the expressions on their faces when they saw the pictures were beyond words – they had never seen themselves from that angle before, because there is no mirror up there.

Crescenzo was part of a team of cinematographers on the Michael Jackson project Moon walker (1988), directed by Jerry Kramer; the others were Robert Collins and ASC members Tom Ackerman, Frederick Elmes and John Hora. “This is the first time I really understood what the ‘It Factor’ is,” he recalls. “At one point I was doing a close-up portrait of Michael with my 400mm lens while we were in between shots, and as I looked through the lens he was just standing there – still and still – and I saw an eye that I was fascinated with. Then we called “Action” and he became a different person, just like that. ”

Another collaboration with Temple, the cult crime drama Ball (1996), is also distinguished by Crescenzo. “It was my first feature film as a director of photography and I learned the discipline of storytelling, on-screen continuity, rhythm and all the stages of making a film, from preproduction to post. It also taught me how to enlighten actors who hit their marks – and be prepared for actors who don’t hit their marks! Most of the time, experience has taught me that in photographing a story you have to be true to that story, putting aside your visual indulgences so that they don’t distract from it. Above all, I quickly learned that without a director of photography you don’t have a movie no matter who is playing it or how awesome the script can be. You need visual execution, or you just don’t have a movie.


Crescenzo recently published a book of his fine art photography, titled Naked.

AC covered the cinematographer’s work on the series Gotham and Star Trek: Discovery.

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