An undisputed master of black-and-white cinematography, Italian cinematographer Ortello Martelli was a pioneer in his field through his work with some of Italy's most legendary directors. A longtime collaborator of Federico Fellini, Martelli is perhaps best remembered for the indelible images he created for Fellini's La Dolce Vita, including scenes of high society on Rome's Via Veneto and a voluptuous, blissed-out Anita Ekberg splashing around in the Trevi Fountain for a suitably appreciative Marcello Mastroianni.
A native of Rome, where he was born May 10, 1903, Martelli got his professional start working as a cameraman's assistant when he was only 13. After serving as a cameraman for the Italian government on explorer Umberto Nobile's 1928 expedition to the North Pole, Martelli shot his first feature, Alessandro Blasetti's 1935 Old Guard. He went on to gain an international reputation during the Italian neo-realist period of the 1940s and '50s, creating sumptuous black-and-white imagery for the likes of Roberto Rossellini (Paisà, 1946, Stromboli, 1950), Giuseppe de Santis (Caccia Tragica, 1947, Riso Amaro, 1948, Roma ore 11, 1952), and Alberto Lattuada (Anna, 1951, Guendalina, 1956).
However, it was through his long-time association with Fellini that Martelli truly made his name and established his reputation. In addition to 1960's La Dolce Vita, Martelli collaborated with Fellini on Luci del Varietà (1951), I Vitelloni (1953), La Strada (1954), Il Bidone (1955), and Le Notti di Cabiria (1957). He also worked on Boccaccio '70 (1962), shooting the segments directed by Fellini and Vittorio De Sica (with whom he also worked on L'Oro di Napoli, 1954).
Effectively retiring from the cinema in the mid-'60s, Martelli left behind a singular legacy that influenced such renowned cinematographers as Vittorio Storaro, Carlo di Palma, and Giuseppe Rotunno. He died of natural causes in Rome on February 21, 2000. ~ Rebecca Flint Marx, Rovi