TREVISO, Italy – Renato Casaro was taking a trip down memory lane, a long career journey stretching from the 1950s, when Rome was known as Hollywood on the Tiber, to the last decade when Quentin Tarantino asked her help on the 2019 movie “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood”.
“I have constantly adapted,” said Casaro, who is just days away from his 86th birthday. “That’s why I continued to work when the others stopped. “
For more than six decades, his hand-drawn movie posters have drawn audiences into theaters, acting as abridged portents of delicacies to come.
“The important thing was to capture the essential: this moment, this look, this attitude, this movement that says everything and condenses the whole story. That’s the hard part, ”Casaro said, adding a warning:“ You can’t cheat. You can’t promise something that’s not there.
What is essential could be the tender embrace he portrays on the poster for a 1955 Russian ballet version of “Romeo and Juliet.” Or it could be a terrified candle-lit eye for the 1969 thriller “The Haunted House of Horror”. Or maybe an incredibly muscular sword-wielding Arnold Schwarzenegger as “Conan the Barbarian” in 1982.
Although his art has been seen by millions of people, Mr. Casaro himself is mostly invisible, his work largely uncredited (except for his carefully printed signature hidden discreetly in a margin). He is best known to collectors, and to the many producers and directors who have asked him to connect their images.
“It’s a sensitive point,” Casaro said in a recent interview in Treviso, the city in northeastern Italy where he was born and returned to live a few years ago. As far as he knows, he said, he was only credited once in the final titles, in 1984, by Sergio Leone for his work on “Once Upon a Time in America”.
But now Mr. Casaro is in the limelight as Treviso celebrates his art through an ambitious retrospective: “Renato Casaro. The last movie poster maker. Treviso, Rome, Hollywood.
“We are very proud to celebrate the maestro who has given emotions to so many people,” said the Mayor of Treviso, Mario Conte. Many of Mr. Casaro’s posters had become icons, “forever etched in our memories,” he said.
The show’s title traces the trajectory of Mr. Casaro’s career – from creating movie posters as a teenager in exchange for free tickets to the Garibaldi theater in Treviso, to a time when extravagant films d he sword and sandal set in ancient Rome were shot in modern Italian. capital, to his brushes with prominent Hollywood actors.
Mr Casaro said he was “born with a brush in hand”, a natural talent who improved “with a lot of experience”.
He moved to Rome in 1954, just as it was becoming a favorite with international filmmakers, who took advantage of the city for its incomparable setting, the production expertise of Cinecittà studios and the appeal of rising local stars like Sophia Loren. .
He found work in a famous advertising design studio specializing in movie posters.
“You learn on the job,” said Casaro, who ended up fending for himself. “You have to be able to draw everything, from the portrait to the horse to the lion. “
It was truly la dolce vita, he recalls.
“We were emerging from the trauma of the war and Rome was full of life,” he said, as movie stars and tourists filled the chic restaurants of Via Veneto. He was out of that league, but he tried to squeeze into the hottest places.
“We lived on the margins, but come on, it was wonderful to be young and to go to Rome and discover this world,” he said in the desecrated church of Santa Margherita, one of the places of its exhibition.
His mother, he noted, was less excited about his calling and location. Growing up in the province of Treviso, Rome could just as easily have been on another planet. “She thought Rome was the city of perdition,” he said. “She cried, she worried, ‘I lost my son.'”
In Rome he worked constantly. Roberto Festi, the curator of the exhibition, estimated that during this first phase of his career, he produced around 100 posters per year.
To better understand the atmosphere of a film, Mr. Casaro often went to the set. Sergio Leone wanted him to attend a key moment in New York in Once Upon a Time in America.
“They were shooting the scene where the youngest boy is killed,” Mr. Casaro recalls, an image that eventually evolved into the movie poster. “It was beautiful and the highlight of the first part of the film.”
The turning point in his career, which attracted attention outside Italy, came when Dino De Laurentiis hired him to design the poster for the 1966 blockbuster “The Bible: In the Beginning…”. De Laurentiis, and friendship helped put him in Hollywood’s crosshairs.
Mr. Casaro designed the posters for the Conan Trilogy, groundbreaking films for Mr. Schwarzenegger, who in 1982 was best known as a bodybuilder. For the first film, Mr. De Laurentiis, one of the producers, told Mr. Casaro to focus on the actor’s face, not just his muscles. “Dino wanted to launch it,” Casaro said. “He knew Schwarzenegger would explode as an actor.”
Another big star of the day, Sylvester Stallone, loved the way Mr Casaro portrayed him in his role as struggling Vietnamese veteran Rambo. “Stallone said that I had entered his soul,” Mr. Casaro said.
Mr. Casaro’s initial style, which he called “impressionist”, became increasingly realistic in the 1980s when he began to use an airbrush. This made his technique more photographic but also “more magical,” he said.
“When he started working in hyperrealism, that was the big change,” said Nicoletta Pacini, head of posters and film memorabilia at the National Cinema Museum of Italy. “It was pure Casaro, and others started to copy it.”
The artist is not sure how many movie posters he has created in total, but estimates it to be almost 2,000.
“He always understood the spirit of the film” by creating “special and distinctive” images, said Carlo Verdone, one of Italy’s most famous comedy actors and directors who hired Mr. Casaro to make posters for several films.
Mr. Casaro stopped making posters in 1998, when the taste for hand-drawn images waned in favor of digital and photoshoped renderings. Not for him, he said.
He focused on drawings of African wildlife – and elaborate reworking of famous Renaissance paintings populated by movie stars.
In a reinvention of Michelangelo’s “Last Judgment”, Marilyn Monroe holds the court. “She has always been the ultimate myth for me,” Mr. Casaro said. “With all its weaknesses, it still represents a special moment in the history of cinema.”
Then, out of the blue, Mr. Tarantino called, asking for posters in vintage spaghetti western style for “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood,” the director’s love letter to Los Angeles of the 1960s.
He designed two posters featuring Leonardo DiCaprio, who plays an aspiring actor who travels to Italy to make spaghetti westerns and jumpstart his career. One of the posters is for a fictional film called “Kill Me Now Ringo, Said the Gringo”.
“These movies have always had incredible titles,” Mr. Casaro said with a laugh.
Mr. Tarantino sent him a signed photo of Mr. DiCaprio posing for the poster with a message that read, “Thank you so much for your art that adorns my photo. You have always been my favorite.
For admirers of Mr. Casaro, the Treviso exhibition is long overdue.
“Art history tended to marginalize posters because they were designed for the masses, and illustrators were seen more as craftsmen,” said Walter Bencini, who directed a documentary on Mr. Casaro. . “But movie posters can be folk art in the truest sense of the word, because they are part of the collective imagination but also evoke so many personal feelings linked to specific moments.”
The feelings evoked in his poster for “The Sheltering Sky”, richly filmed by Bernardo Bertolucci in 1990, make him one of Mr. Casaro’s personal favorites. “It captures the mystery,” he said, “the notion of immersing yourself in the wilderness.”
If the films are primarily about entertainment, then Mr. Casaro’s summary of his career is apt.
“I had fun,” he says. “A lot of pleasure.”