Venantino Venantini

I’m in a crappy hotel room but it doesn’t matter, I’m in Rome.

Someone knocking at the door. It’s Liz, Riney, Kennedy, I forgot which since she and Hal went through many iterations through the years. I think this was a marriage period. Liz is in tears but they don’t affect me.

‘Hal’s having a breakdown!’

‘Liz, I’m a director, not a shrink.’ (Cold enough for you?)

She explains that Hal is having trouble dealing with Giambelli, a restaurateur that Ernest Gallo has forced upon him for this commercial we are filming outside Rome. Giambelli strongly resembles the undertaker character in THE GODFATHER, a tiny man, sharp features, no charisma.

Liz is a truly spectacular woman. So I console her, but keep the door open.  To make matters a bit worse, she had been flirting with a handsome, debonair actor onset, Venantino Venantini, while Hal would brood in a corner struggling with his script. Giambelli was incapable of any kind of a performance and hated being in Rome, as he was originally from Milano. At dinner one evening, he waved a finger in my face after I raved about the food saying, “Isa no goodfood inna Roma.”


‘Only in Milano.’


‘Eesa closer to Parigi.’

Thanks for the geography lesson. Through the years, I find that there isn’t a great cuisine in Rome but there are (were?) several excellent restaurants.

Giambelli isn’t that big a problem as all he does in the spot is look around the table at his fellowmen enjoying the inexpensive, yet delicious, Gallo wine he has brought from the New World.

Venantino became a bigger problem and Hal cut him from the spot.  I guess he noticed that Liz didn’t sit near him during the filming.  She was nearer Venantino.

He and I bonded, partially because he was a failed painter (as I was) and had a passion for Ferrari (as I did). He drove away in the tiny village in an elegant Fiat Dino Spyder. That was a Fiat with an engine built by Ferrari. Venantino was the only person that could pull off a sweater tied over the shoulder without looking pretentious or self-conscious.

Through the years, I worked with him at every opportunity, because he could always pull off a special performance. He did many films through his career but never ‘broke out.’ He explained that Italy could only support a few male stars and in his time it was Marcello Mastroianni.

When I saw Trintignant in AMOUR I thought of Venantino. I would have loved to drag that kind of performance from him, but sadly he has passed away.

Funny (as in strange) sideline.  I was concerned about dailies since I had never shot in Rome before.  We drove up to Technicolor after the second day’s filming to see the dailies from the first day.  We were met by the president of the lab and the chief timer, two elegant gentlemen.  We entered the screening room sipping our espressos and the lights dimmed.  I was particularly concerned with a specific shot, a silhouette of a man in the foreground with a waiter in white walking through harsh sunlight in the background.  Also, the shot was at the beginning of a reel and if mis-timed, could affect the rest of the reel’s look.

The shoot had been difficult for some of the reasons above and some others, and it was important to have the reward of a good dailies screening.  I was shocked as the dailies contained the colors of Italian painters, burnt umber, raw sienna, and the shot I was concerned about was better than perfect, the timer placing a perfect balance on the contrasts.

Then I realized how STUPID I was. ROME!!! Fellini. Antonioni. Bertolucci. Storaro.


Ironically, we were never able to duplicate the magic palette that we had seen in the dailies, back in the U S of A.

There is a sad footnote to everything that may or may not be true. I heard it from a Riney-ite and they loved to tear down Ernest, and Gallo in general. I was told that Giambelli invited Ernest to New York to celebrate the commercial at Giambelli’s restaurant. Ernest flew to New York on the Gallo plane with some select people to eat. After dinner, the Maitre d’ presented Ernest with the check.

Go figure.