Last Year at Cinecitta: Mario de Vecchi
He sat there, Mario de Vecchi, smoking feverishly in an off-yellow suite at the Ritz. Outside lay the Common with its formal drabness, and ten floors below, the Brahmins had gathered noiselessly to commune over impeccably dry martinis in a little bar itself so impeccably austere that it must often puzzle the stranger to Boston with its undeniable similarity to an anteroom in a plush, and extremely respectable sanatorium. Upstairs, behind a swirling curtain of smoke that burst at frequent intervals from just below his faintly smiling mustache, sat Signor de Vecchi, catlike in his expectation.
"Well, here you are," he exclaimed in the fluid tones of the Via Veneto and then sprang lightly toward me, proffering a loosely-packed Nazionale. "You want to know about my career as film importer, yes?" queried the elegant Roman as he pointed to a chair and chose for himself the corner of the bed. "My great love for the film started when I was child, in the days before projectors had motors. Every Saturday I would go to the theater near my house and help them rewind, for hours."
He rose suddenly and began to pace as he described his student days at the Centro Sperimentale, a government subsidized school for filmmakers. It was there that he met Fellini, Visconti, Antonioni and all the other men who now dominate the Italian film industry.
"If I go to Italy tomorrow, the first thing after I leave the plane, I call Federico Fellini, and he invites me to his house and we sit up maybe all night talking. You know, when he was making La Dolce Vita, he told me, 'Mario, I can't do this job without you here.'"
And so de Vecchi left New York, where he is a vice-president of Astor Pictures, in charge of foreign movies. He spent the whole year in Rome and then supervised American release of the completed film.
"They trust me, the directors, because they know that I understand about cuts and subtitles. Also I understand about films themselves. When I saw for the first time the overexposed scene from Marienbad, I knew right away I wanted to bring it here. Then I talked with Resnais one evening, and he decided to give all his pictures from then on to me exclusively.
"No, I don't bid competitively. Last year, I made eighteen trips to Europe to see my friends and their films. Anytime I found a picture I liked, I bought the rights, whatever they cost me," de Vecchi concluded with an operatic gesture.
To the careful observer leaving that smoky room, it might have seemed not wholly unlike an Atlantic crosssing in late August, when one embarks at Naples with the sun high overhead and flooding the streets, only to land in Boston where the autumn already is casting long shadows. I left the hotel through an exit marked "Not an accredited egress door," and descended into dingy Arlington station.