Gabe talks with Mario Bava's biographer about his book and Anchor Bay's DVDs
Writer and critic Tim Lucas is one of my personal heroes. Along with other writers like Kim Newman, Maitland McDonagh, John McCarty, and David Schow, Lucas’ intelligent and enthusiastic devotion to film criticism, specifically the horror genres, not only inspired me to discover less popular movies, it inspired me to write.
Lucas and his wife Donna are the driving forces behind Video Watchdog magazine, which started as a column in Video Times magazine. Tim has also had reviews and articles published in Cinefantastique, Gorezone, and Sight and Sound magazines, among others. In his 2005 blog, New York Times critic Dave Kehr wrote "Tim pretty much invented video reviewing as a genre distinct from movie reviewing”.
Lucas has work published in book form as well, including entrees in "The Famous Monsters Chronicles” and the Kim Newman edited “The BFI Companion to Horror”. Most recently he has finished work on a mammoth Mario Bava biography entitled “Mario Bava: All the Colours of the Dark”. The self published tome is 1128 pages and twelve pounds of information encompassing the filmmaker’s entire career, and includes an introduction by none other than Martin Scorsese.
Lucas also supplies the expert audio commentaries for the latest Anchor Bay/Starz Mario Bava DVD collections. Lucas’ commentaries are engaging and infinitely informative, in the same league as those of Japanese film expert Tom Mes and Hong Kong film expert Bey Logan. While preparing my rushed review of Anchor Bay’s second volume of Mario Bava DVDs I took a few trips to Lucas’ blog (which won The Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Award for best website), and mustered the courage to contact him for an interview, which would coincide with my review. Lucas graciously accepted, and the result went a little something like this.
DVDActive.com: How do you prepare for a commentary track?
Tim Lucas:I prefer to be scene-specific as much as possible, so I watch the film and time-code it, jotting down a minutes and seconds of when each scene begins and ends. Also, I jot down an idea of what I might discuss during that portion of the film; if I don't have one at the ready, I fill it in later. The time codes give me an idea of how long I need to speak about something to do with each scene, and it all comes together from that.
DVDActive.com: Were you consulted by Anchor Bay about the films while they were putting the Volume 2 set together?
Lucas:Not at all.
DVDActive.com: Was there any particular reason you recorded commentaries on some of the films, but not all of them?
Lucas:In the case of the new collection, I recorded commentaries for the films they requested. I would have much preferred to do a commentary for Five Dolls for an August Moon than for Baron Blood, but in retrospect, Baron Blood was a good choice. It was one of Bava's commercial hits and the track turned out well.
DVDActive.com: Are there any non-Bava films you've provided commentary or liner notes for?
Lucas:Quite a few liner notes (various Jess Franco films, Castle of Blood, etc), but no non-Bava commentaries so far.
On the House of Exorcism commentary track producer Alfredo Leone portrays Bava as a sort of fragile prude. How could such a conservative director have made such wonderfully vulgar, violent, and sensual films as Bay of Blood, Five Dolls for an August Moon, and Four Times That Night?
Lucas:You're confusing taste and restraint with prudery. Bava objected to some of the things Leone proposed because he considered them sleazy, and that's something he never aspired to be.
DVDActive.com: You didn't record a track for House of Exorcism, what are your honest opinions on the feature?
Lucas:While I object to it as I would object to any desecration of an artist's vision, I understand its commercial necessity and I think it's actually a fairly clever reworking of the material—the way it links the new footage to the Lisa and the Devil footage through rhyming images is interesting and intelligent, and the possession scenes are well played by Elke Sommer. I think its reputation would be better if it had a more coherent ending. The explanation that Alfredo Leone provides for the closing image in his audio commentary is one that I doubt anybody could reach on their own.
DVDActive.com: I can't find very much information on Roy Colt and Winchester Jack, am I correct in assuming the film made in reference to My Name is Trinity?
Lucas:It was actually made before the Trinity films and was a pioneering title in terms of the latter-day comic Spaghetti Westerns.
DVDActive.com: Rabid Dogs is sold as an incomplete feature, but I personally like it better than Lamberto Bava’s Kidnapped cut. Was (Mario) Bava really planning on shooting more footage, or was he just unable to assemble a final cut with what he had?
Lucas:The film hit trouble late in its production when one of the producers died, and all the film was impounded by the courts and stayed there for twenty years. The film was nearly finished, and the version known as Rabid Dogs was the rough cut assembly; it still needed fine-tuning and some additional second unit photography. So it wasn't a failure on Bava's part—he literally had his work taken away from him, and he couldn't get his hands on it again. Kidnapped is Lamberto Bava's attempt to finish the movie as Mario would have wanted it, but it's badly let down by a lousy music score. Even if Rabid Dogs is unfinished, it's a better piece of work.
DVDActive.com: What classic Bava feature has yet to see a DVD release, and are there any more 'lost' Bava features out there?
Lucas:The most important still-missing Bava title is The Odyssey—a Dino De Laurentiis-produced miniseries made in 1968. It was mostly directed by Franco Rossi, but Bava directed an entire seventy-minute segment involving Ulysses and his men trapped in the cave of the cyclops Polyphemus. It's the best special effects work of Bava's career, and it also reunites him with Carlo Rustichelli, the composer of the music for The Whip and the Body and Blood and Black Lace. Many fans are still eagerly awaiting Caltiki The Immortal Monster[//i], for which Bava was largely responsible, and my book reveals that Bava's true directorial debut was [i]The Day the Sky Exploded, made in 1958, so we need that, too. I'm also hopeful that my book will prompt someone to start importing the best of the films that Bava photographed in the 1940s and '50s.
DVDActive.com: You were an interview subject for Garry Grant's documentary Mario Bava: Maestro of the Macabre. Have you ever considered making your own, more complete Bava documentary?
Lucas:No, but Perry Martin—who produced the ABE Bava discs—was interested in working with me to adapt my book into a documentary, but the Bava titles had a budget crunch as ABE turned into Starz Entertainment and it didn't happen. The film rights to my book are still available.
A page from Mario Bava: All the Colours of the Dark
DVDActive.com: Sergio Leone, Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni, Sergio Corbucci and Bernardo Bertolucci all have political subtext to some of their work. Even Dario Argento, Antonio Margheriti, and Lucio Fulci dabbled in politics in their own waya. Was Bava generally disinterested in politics, or am I reading his films incorrectly?
Lucas:I was told he was generally apolitical but leaning to the left—like me.
DVDActive.com: What was Bava's relationship with other Italian filmmakers like? Most accounts seem to describe him as just about the nicest man that ever worked in the industry.
Lucas:He was widely liked, and he seemed to know just about everybody. Fellini and Antonioni came to preview screenings of his movies. The only exception to the rule was Antonio Margheriti, with whom Bava had some antipathy, but Margheriti's son Eduoardo recalls going to a restaurant with his father and finding Mario Bava seated there. He was aware of their problems with one another, but he says that Bava cordially rose and invited them to join him.
DVDActive.com: I can't seem to ever get a specific answer to this question, perhaps you'll have one: what exactly did Bava do for Argento's Inferno (his last work in film before he died in 1980)?
Lucas:He created visual effects shots—the matte painting of the full moon that appears throughout the movie, another painting of a scary pair of eyes peering through the dark, the startling effect at the end of Death crashing through the mirror, and he also recreated the Manhattan skyline out of milk cartons covered in photographs. Very little of the movie was actually shot in New York, but Bava's trickery made it seem it was all made on location.
Interviewer’s note: Anyone who’s seen Inferno should be wildly impressed by these facts
DVDActive.com: It's hard to get normal people to watch older, foreign films. What one or two Bava features should I use to suck my friends into the director's world?
Lucas:I would suggest Black Sunday for fans who are fond of the old Universal horror classics, Bay of Blood for fans of more contemporary Slasher fare, and Kill Baby… Kill! for fans of J-Horror.
Another page from Mario Bava: All the Colours of the Dark
DVDActive.com: Talking a little about your book, Martin Scorsese wrote the introduction. How does one go about getting such an introduction?
Lucas:Marty has been a VIDEO WATCHDOG subscriber since our first year. His office contacted ours in search of a photo of Bava to include in his documentary about Italian cinema, which we provided, and I took the opportunity to counter with a request for an introduction. He was agreeable, but he insisted on reading the finished manuscript first, so that was a big incentive for me to finish as quickly as I could.
DVDActive.com: What other filmmakers were you able to reach for contribution, and were there any you were unable to get a hold of?
Lucas:Though various channels, I was able to get blurbs from Joe Dante and Guillermo del Toro, as well as some comments from Quentin Tarantino, Tim Burton and Roger Corman.
DVDActive.com: I'm guessing Sean Cunningham and Ridley Scott were unavailable for comment, seeing that they both more or less refuse to admit any influence.
Lucas:Cunningham was a fellow interviewee in the Maestro of the Macabre documentary and, in that, he admits that anybody working in horror films in the 1980s was indebted to Mario Bava. I used the quote in my book.
Interviewer’s note: D’oh!
DVDActive.com: How exactly does one go about writing the "the most detailed, probing, and complete examination of any single filmmaker, anywhere in the world, ever"? (as quoted by DVDTalk.com’s Stuart Galbraith IV)
Lucas:In my case, with two fingers and a thumb. Seriously, it took a hell of a lot of time (thirty-two years of research, more than ten years of steady writing) but I also think there was a certain amount of fate involved, as well as stubbornness. I truly feel that this subject chose me to write this book because it would be hard if not impossible for me to do, given my place in the world as an American who speaks very little Italian. But it was a promise I had made to myself and many other people, and I was determined not to leave the job undone. I've met a lot of people, in and out of fandom, who share their lives with pet book or screenplay projects, and I've seen some of them die without ever actually writing a word of them. Take it from me: it's much better to stop talking about it, and do what you say you're going to do.
DVDActive.com: The Beastie Boys' Body Moving music video and an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 are a lot of people's first introduction to Bava's work. As a man that spent years writing a book about the director, do you find that fact disconcerting?
Lucas:I would only find it disconcerting if the MST3K episode predisposed them to not respect Bava's work or to take no serious interest in it. The Beastie Boys video is a fairly loving piece of work, I think. Anything that brings Bava to wider attention and appreciation is a good thing.
DVDActive.com: What's next for Tim Lucas?
Lucas:Millipede Press is publishing my book about David Cronenberg's Videodrome later this year, as the first book in their new "Studies in the Horror Film" paperback series. At 144 pages, it's a good deal shorter than the Bava book. I also want to start working on putting together some collections of my past writing—my articles, interviews, reviews and blogs. There also seems to be some optimism in the air right now that Joe Dante may be getting closer to filming a script that I co-wrote with Charlie Largent, right after finishing the Bava book. It's called The Man with Kaleidoscope Eyes, and it's a comedy about Roger Corman, Jack Nicholson, Peter Fonda and Chuck Griffith and the making of the 1967 LSD movie The Trip. And there's always a next issue of VIDEO WATCHDOG.
You can order Lucas' gigantic book, Mario Bava: All the Colours of the Dark, right HERE. Buy me one too while you're at it, I don't have the cash right now.
Editorial by Gabriel Powers
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