Obituaries: Ruggero Mastroianni

Tony Sloman
Sunday 23 October 2011 02:34

The position in cinema of the film editor is, quite rightly, underrated and often mis- understood by film critics and the public. The editor's work should be seamless, his job to render the audience totally unaware of the effort and general chicanery, not to mention technique and craft, that goes into making any film suitable for presentation to paying spectators.

Ruggero Mastroianni was, arguably, the finest Italian film editor of his generation. Among his credits, distinguished for any country, he included six of Luchino Visconti's late masterworks, and 12 of Federico Fellini's chefs d'oeuvre. He also edited for Nanni Loy, Elio Petri, Francesco Rosi, Lilana Cavani, Mario Monicelli, Marco Ferreri and Sergio Corbucci, among many others.

The editor is in control of, and is responsible for, the film's pace, the positioning of the dialogue and music, the all- important overall rhythm, and, inevitably, the length. All, in an ideal world, at the behest of the creative ideals of the film's director, or the financial control of the film's producer, but invariably working with his own experience to guide him and his own artistic conscience at the helm.

Mastroianni's editing break happened, as so often does the leap from assistant to editor, as the result of two coincidences. The distinguished Leo Catozzo, who had edited all of Fellini's films since La Strada (1954), had invented a tape splicer (the "Italian" joiner) that revolutionised the cutting rooms and replaced cement joining, and, as his invention became used (and still is used) all over Europe, he retired, a millionaire, on the profits, leaving Fellini without an editor after 8 1/2 in 1963, the film on which Ruggero Mastroianni was both assistant and assembly editor.

Fellini's next movie was Juliet of the Spirits (1965) and he upgraded Mastroianni to editor. Fellini knew him well: Mastroianni's older brother, the actor Marcello, had starred for Federico in La Dolce Vita and 8 1/2, and Fellini had already established a social rapport with the well-liked Ruggero. In succession, Mastroianni edited for Fellini Juliet of the Spirits, Toby Dammit (Fellini's episode of Histoires Extraordinares, 1968), Fellini: A Director's Notebook (for NBC, 1969), Fellini Satyricon (1969), The Clowns (1970), Fellini Roma (1972), Amarcord (1973), Fellini's Casanova (1976), Orchestra Rehearsal (1979), City of Women (1980), And the Ship Sails On (1983), and Ginger and Fred (1985).

In two of these (City of Women, Ginger and Fred), Ruggero was in the unenviable position of editing his own elder brother's performance, a positive demonstration of the tact needed by a great editor. (Only one other pair of siblings in the world have a similar relationship, the British editor John Bloom and his actress sister Claire.) Certain critics of Fellini felt that when Mastroianni replaced Leo Catozzo as editor, Fellini's films never regained their pace, and became often over-long and unwieldy. But as the relationship between film editor and director is symbiotic it might well be said that it was Fellini himself who had lost his early brilliance.

Mastroianni alternated Fellini's films with those of another great son of Italian neo- realism, Luchino Visconti, replacing Visconti's regular editor Mario Sarendrei, to whom Mastroianni was also a former assistant. The relationship began with The Outsider (1967), ironically starring Marcello Mastroianni who, incidentally, Ruggero strikingly resembled, and continued with The Damned (1969), Death in Venice (1971), Ludwig (1973), Conversation Piece (1974), and Visconti's last film, L'Innocente (1976). These were all long and complex works, and Mastroianni's contribution to them is considerable.

Certain criticism implied that the editor was responsible for enabling both Fellini and Visconti to indulge themselves in such long and self- serving films as the former's Satyricon and City of Women or the latter's Ludwig, is given the lie by the pace and style of Mastroianni's work for other directors. For Francesco Rosi, Mastroianni assembled Salvatore Giuliano (1961), allegedly, in only 72 hours. He was assembly editor for Mario Sarandrei, who was involved in the specifically Italian work-method of editing several films at once, and Mastroianni eventually went on to edit the terse and brilliant Illustrious Corpses (1981) for Rosi, plus the intricate Three Brothers (1982) and the picaresque Chronicle of a Death Foretold (1986). In fact, he was working for Rosi on The Truce at the time of his fatal heart attack.

He also edited several notable chunks of mainstream Italian cinema that barely achieved UK exposure: films like Cannon's The Berlin Affair (1985) for Liliana Cavani, Eleo Petri's wacky science fiction fantasy The Tenth Victim (1965) and Pasquale Feste Campanile's bawdy romp about castrati, White Voices (1965). He also worked on his fair share of trash: Mario Monicelli's international disaster Lovers and Liars (1979, also known as Travels with Anita), pairing Goldie Hawn with Giancarlo Gianninni, and a Steve Reeves peplum made at the height of Reeves's popularity, Son of Spartacus (1963).

Mastroianni's work was particularly outstanding, well- trusted, and he clearly enjoyed a special relationship with Fellini. Indeed, they had pet names for each other. Visitors to their cutting rooms would hear Fellini call Mastroianni "Donovan", while Mastroianni addressed his director as "Kerrigan". Their work together was superb: the actual structure of Amarcord or Roma was created in the cutting room, and much of the dialogue in Fellini's films was actually written around the editing bench, since Fellini never shot usable sound.

The combination of Mahler's music and Dirk Bogarde's performance in Death in Venice (1971) was put together by the hands of Mastrioanni, the seminal ending of that film exquisitely timed by the director and his editor. Nanni Loy's Five Days of Naples (1963), Marco Ferreri's Tales of Ordinary Madness (1983), 20 years apart, pay testimony to Mastroianni's versatility.

Even if he had not worked on the films of Fellini and Visconti, Ruggero Mastroianni would still be recognised for the fine craftsman that he was. But with his passing vanish stories of how those great films came to be put together, tales of collaborating with such volatile screen giants, and creating movies at Cinecitta Studios throughout the Sixties and Seventies. For the son from a poor working-class family, working his way up from the Roman laboratories to editing the Academy Award-winning Amarcord, Ruggero Mastroianni leaves a great legacy and a career unlikely to be equalled in world cinema.

Ruggero Mastroianni, film editor: born Turin 7 November 1929; married (two daughters); died Rome 9 September 1996.

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