nOne of the world’s most influential poster designers, 86-year-old Renato Cassaro is best known for his classic windswept and swept-back paintings: a powerful reminder of the pre-digital era. His style transforms idols into Michelangelo, from Stallone to Schwarzenegger, Costner to DiCaprio. His posters are unabashedly theatrical performances, full of sweaty biceps and high chests, that transport the gambler out of the shooting room to a thrilling third reel.
Cassaro was born in Treviso, Italy in 1935, when he was a boy who visited the local cinema every day hoping to take home posters of out-of-date films, so he could try to reproduce them. As a teenager, he made deals with the owners: free tickets in exchange for painting their walls with huge original posters. At the age of 18, he joined Studio Favalli, the design center for the film industry in Rome, before opening his own art studio three years later.
His first mentor was brilliant magnate Dino De Laurentiis, who first commissioned him to produce a poster for John Huston’s mega-melodrama The Bible (1966). The huge billboard that hung on Sunset Boulevard for the most famous was an effective calling card for Cassaro, who for decades had been at 12 hours a day, seven days a week, sometimes forced to finish a poster in one sitting, and the demand was so great.
De Laurentiis took Casaro’s art very seriously, making sure it was as integral to every production as possible, often placing it in a lavish hotel suite so he could paint while visiting the film’s set. About to board the plane to travel to London where Flash Gordon He was shooting, De Laurentiis instructed Casaro to bring a bag full of yellow pepper, those available in the UK then were of insufficient quality.
Other frequent collaborators include Sergio Leone, David Lynch, John Huston, and Bernardo Bertolucci, with whom he produced some of the most iconic film arts of all time. By the end of the 20th century, the popularity of his style seemed to wane, with computer-generated labels becoming the norm. Then, three years ago, Quentin Tarantino persuaded him to rescind his retirement to create posters of fictional Spaghetti Western dishes in Once upon a time in Hollywood. In his words, Cassaro gives us a tour of some of his major works.
Navajo Joe (1966)
Dino De Laurentiis was a genius at spotting new talent. This film was a breakthrough for Burt Reynolds, and young Ennio Morricone performed the soundtrack.
The director was Sergio Corbucci [best known for Django and The Great Silence], who was always making tough movies – so the artwork had to be strong and tough as well. The advertising agencies weren’t in Italy at this point, so I’d be my own artistic director and control from idea to final image.
Quentin Tarantino loved this poster: lots of action, lots of action, and a really powerful image.
Nebraska Gym (2019)
When I got a call from the production director at an event once in Hollywood, I was told Quentin wanted some posters in the same style as the 60s. It was a great surprise because I retired.
Tarantino sent me some pictures of Leonardo DiCaprio to study his character and I had to draw him in various fake Spaghetti Westerns back in the ’60s.
The bitter pill for me was that I couldn’t make the main label.
My process hasn’t changed much. I talk to the producer or director and I give them several sketches and they pick one or two.
Solaris was easy to do. Unfortunately, I never met Tarkovsky.
Flash Gordon (1980)
Another De Laurentiis movie. I wanted Ming to be in the center of the poster: to contrast the image of the villain with the image of the heroes.
Conan the Barbarian (1982)
De Laurentiis discovered Arnold Schwarzenegger when bodybuilders only knew his name. When I visited the group in Spain, I knew right away that Conan would be perfect and have a great career. Schwarzenegger was the perfect man to paint. He had a harsh expression. His face was like a sculpture. It was a real pleasure for me – I’ve always had a weakness for champs.
How did I end up working on a file James Bond Movie? The train was passing so I jumped on it. This poster was made in collaboration with Daniel Goozee. Drawing characters. I did the work and the scene to try to tell the story of the movie.
Once Upon a Time in America (1984)
Of all the directors I worked with, Sergio Leone was the best collaborator. We were the perfect couple: one heart, one soul. This was a difficult project. The poster was for worldwide use and I was experimenting with a new technique at the time, to reduce the story to an excerpt. I decided to have the four main characters [Robert De Niro, James Woods, Joe Pesci, Burt Young] With golden faces as a symbol. Leon was happy with the graphics and so were the distributors, but one objected to the fact that there were no women. “Whenever there are strong-looking men in elegant suits, there is always a woman behind them,” answered Leon. So my poster stayed.
one of my favourites; A wonderful study of the characters. One of the actors was Silvana Mangano, who was married to De Laurentiis, who produced the film. He wanted me to place it in an important position in the artwork, and fortunately this was possible without destroying the composition. Compare this with the recently released movie posters…
Rambo: First Blood Part Two (1985)
Stallone gave me the freedom to interpret all the Rambo pictures I had as I would have liked. All I had to do was make him look like a hero. He was so excited when he saw the final thing. He became a huge fan of my work and sent me a dedication saying my work entered his soul. Every actor has something special. The goal is to capture their personality.
Dances With Wolves (1990)
I’ve created two versions of Kevin to satisfy different markets. One was a storytelling version, describing Costner and Hindi, which was mostly used in Germany. The other, used in Italy, showed him dabbing his face with paint, to show that he identified with the Indians. It is a real favourite.