Gianni Bozzacchi, Photographer and Author
ELIZABETH TAYLOR: THE QUEEN AND I
"During the 1960s and early 1970s I had the opportunity to capture glamorous celebrities on my black-and-white TRI X film. I was caught up in this world for twelve years, and when I finally walked away from the photography business, I was a very long way from where I had begun."
Gianni Bozzacchi was born in a poor neighborhood in Rome, Italy, in 1943. As a teenager, he was introduced to the world of photography as an assistant to his father, Bruno Bozzacchi. The elder Bozzacchi was director of the photography department at Rome's Patoligia del Libro-the "hospital of the book"-where he used cameras, coupled with ultraviolet and infrared light, to expose where faded ink had once etched parchment. Blank pieces of paper, half-lost pages of books, and letters and tomes from artists of the Renaissance came alive through this restoration process. The education was never formal, but Bozzacchi learned the intricacies of scientific photography at his father's side. For a restless teenager, however, this apprenticeship grew into a darkroom imprisonment. Bozzacchi abruptly left his father and what he then perceived as the photography of the dead.
He continued to work within photography as a retoucher, but the job served only to finance a new love-auto racing. Only after a tremendous accident from which he suffered a massive head wound, did he find real value in the art of photography. He drifted in and out of a coma for ninety days following the accident, and upon recovery, he realized what a gift his father had bestowed. Within six months of regaining consciousness, Bozzacchi took a job at Rome's Pierluigi Agency, named after the famous Italian photographer. There, Bozzacchi honed his skills as a retoucher and began to photograph models and celebrities.
Bozzacchi's life changed dramatically when he was sent to Africa to serve as special photographer on the set of The Comedians starring Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Alec Guiness, and Peter Ustinov. The film's publicist feared Bozzacchi's rough-edged youth and forbade him to photograph Taylor. He took this warning as a challenge, and his camera found the actress repeatedly, and she in turn found him. Before he left the set to return home, she offered him a job as her permanent traveling photographer. Elizabeth Taylor was arguably the world's most famous woman at the time and undoubtedly its most glamorous. Her marriage to Richard Burton claimed international attention, and together they were the quintessential jet-set couple. Bozzacchi accepted the position and worked with Taylor and Burton for the next eleven years.
He was extremely vulnerable in his new position, as his instinct and talent were precariously balanced with a lack of culture and formal education. Artistically, this was a good mix as it created just enough insecurity to give his work its edge. Ultimately, Taylor and Burton became Bozzacchi's professional ticket to extraordinary success, as he documented all of their film productions and acted as a special photographer on the set of many other films. Publications wanted his services as did the movie and fashion industries, celebrities, political figures, and the merely famous. Subjects during this period included the Royal Family of Monaco, the Shah of Iran and his wife Farah Diba, Noel Coward, Tito, Picasso, George Raft, Clint Eastwood, Warren Beatty, Michael Caine, Peter O'Toole, Lawrence Harvey, Anthony Hopkins, Alan Delon, Brigitte Bardot, Virna Lisi, Claudia Cardinale, Giancarlo Giannini, Luchino Visconti, Rod Steiger, Rock Hudson, Robert Stack, Robert Mitchum, Mia Farrow, Steve McQueen, Al Pacino, Ringo Starr, Raquel Welch, George Stevens, Eric Segal, Gore Vidal, Henry Fonda, Peter Ustinov, Jacqueline Bisset, Maximilian Schell, Terence Stamp, Yves Montand, Sergio Leone, Coco Channel, Genevieve Bujold, and scores of others.
Bozzacchi's unique photographs won critical acclaim, and he was awarded the honor of International Photographer of the Year three times. His relationship to Taylor and Burton changed from that of retainer to friend and member of the extended family. He lived with the couple in Puerto Vallarta, London, Gstaad, the Beverly Hills Hotel, and aboard their yacht. Indeed Bozzacchi became a celebrity himself during this period, the subject of articles, layouts, and television interviews. At his first wedding, where Taylor and Burton served as maid of honor and best man, over one hundred photographers waited outside to capture the event. Inside, only one man was allowed to ply his trade, Pierluigi, Bozzacchi's first employer.
Bozzacchi's career as a photographer lasted twelve years. Among his reasons for quitting were the divorce of Taylor and Burton, the death of his father, and the frustration of no longer being challenged. For Bozzacchi, photography was no longer fun nor art. It was time for him to break with the past and move to another form of expression, so he transitioned into movie production. His gift for visual composition was such that the greatest directors in Europe sought him out for advice. Among those with whom he collaborated, sometimes uncredited behind the scenes, were Michelangelo Antonioni, Sergio Leone, Pietro Germi, Vittorio De Sica, Francois Truffaut, Federico Fellini, and Luchino Visconti.
As he transitioned into film, Bozzacchi took his first steps under the instruction of producer Elliot Kastner. Without screen credit, he produced three features for Kastner: The Missouri Breaks, directed by Arthur Penn, starring Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson; The Medussa Touch, directed by Jack Gold, starring Richard Burton and Lee Remick; and Farewell, My Lovely, directed by Dick Richards, starring Robert Mitchum and John Ireland.
Following these three features, Bozzacchi produced his own movies, including the cult spaghetti Western China 9, Liberty 37, directed by Monte Hellman, starring Warren Oates; and Together, directed by Armernia Balducci, starring Jacqueline Bisset, Maximilian Schell and Terrence Stamp. He then began a special relationship with the incomparable Italian filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni. Without screen credit, he helped Antonioni develop and produce Mystery of Oberdan and Identification of a Woman. He also worked with Antonioni in developing The Crew and Winter, both features he was to produce while Antonioni directed. Unfortunately, Antonioni was felled by a stroke and both projects were put indefinitely on hold.
Bozzacchi used this break to write, produce and direct the film I Love NY, starring Scott Baio, Kelley Vander Velden, and Christopher Plummer. He also co-authored the screenplays Cops and Cons with Max Schulman, and Across the River and into the Woods with Robert Altman and Roy Scheider. After I Love NY, Antonioni asked him to resume work on The Crew, serving as both producer and co-director. Again, however, the acclaimed director was struck down with an even more severe stroke, from which he has never fully recovered.
At this point, Bozzacchi decided to form his own production and development company. To turn this dream into reality, Bozzacchi entered into partnership with Roy Scheider, and recruited an outstanding international staff. Their current project is a multi-film chronicle of the Italian Renaissance, produced in conjunction with an American cable network and corporate sponsors, European investors and the Italian government. This series, for television, video and educational institutions around the world, will incorporate the talents of the best-known Italian and Italian-American artists and filmmakers.
THE UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN PRESS