Thursday, March 13, 2008

Bravo for Bava!

In Los Angeles, between the New Beverly Cinema, the newly remanaged Silent Movie Theatre, occasional AFI screenings at the Arclight and the American Cinematheque, to name a few, you have no paucity of repertory movie options. This is often a double-edged sword for me since even though I try, due to other social engagements or lack of energy, I can only attend a fraction and always feel I missing some great series. I cannot imagine the lack of social life and fresh air that I would be confronted with if I lived in New York or the 1970's when the rep theatre was in its renaissance.

One series I will definitely be attending, though not as often as I'd like, is The Egyptian series Mario Bava: Poems of Love and Death dedicated to the Italian master genre filmmaker. As shameful as it is to admit, up until last year I had seen a grand total of one of his films, Black Sunday, but started to make up for it in 2007 by purchasing both of the Mario Bava's Anchor Bay DVD sets as well as two of his films that were not in either set, Danger: Diabolik! (I also saw it at the New Beverly during the Edgar Wright fest where Gremlins director Joe Dante introed it and then sat in the aisle across from me!) and Blood and Black Lace and am becoming a huge fan of his.

Thanks to the DVD sets and the assistance of biographer Tim Lucas, who literally wrote the book on Bava (the 1128 page and 12 pound All the Colors in the Dark featuring a foreward by Martin Scorsese) and drops his knowledge on many of the commentary tracks featured in the sets, Bava has been reassesed and his unique use of color, inventive camera work and the amount of followers he inspired has finally earned him some long overdue respect outside of horror fanatics.

Here's the schedule for the program, most of these are now on DVD so if you do not live in Los Angeles or cannot make it, you can at least recreate the festival at your own home, though good luck getting Joe Dante and Eli Roth to speak at your place.

Thursday, March 13th:
Black Sunday & Black Sabbath:

While Bava's colorful production design is often lauded (and for good reason!), with Black Sunday , his "official" directing debut he proves he can be just as crafty with black and white cinematgraphy. Barbara Steele stars as a witch who returns from the dead 200 years after being forced to wear a mask of spikes and she's not in a particuarly forgiving mood. Black Sabbath is an anthology film featuring Boris Karloff in the wraparounds and one of the stories. Roger Corman distrubted and reordered the stories in America, but they are presenting the European cut of the film that provided the name for Ozzy Osbourne's band. Joe Dante introduces the films.

Friday, March 14th:
Five Dolls for the August Moon & Blood and Black Lace:

Although I own August Moon as part of the Bava DVD set, I haven't gotten around to watching it yet (sadly an all too common occurrence, damn life!), the Egyptian calendar describes it as a Pop Art giallo where the idle rich gather for a swinging weekend only to be murdered one by one, which would make it a great mate for Black Lace which is about fashion designers and models being killed off one by one and is considered the first official "slasher" film, and definitely inspired Scream, but telling you how would be revealing a key element. One nitpick, why does Blood not preceed Five Dolls seeing how it was made six years prior?

Saturday, March 15th:
Lisa and the Devil & Baron Blood:

I have tickets for this already and am psyched since shamefully once again I have not seen either. Lisa features Elke Sommer as a woman lured into a spell by the satanic Telly Savales and Baron Blood with its used of Technicolor has been said to be what a Douglas Sirk horror film would look like. Joe Dante introduces and there will be a conversation with producer Alfredo Leone.

Sunday, March 16th:
Kidnapped & Shock:

The common theme of these two films is Bava's collaboration with his son, a horror filmmaker in his own right, Lamberto Bava. Kidnapped was just recently rediscovered after sitting in a vault in Rome for over 20 years before being completed and edited for the DVD release by Lamberto. This is an extremely rare theatrical print screening. Shock was Mario's final film, at the age of 63, co-directed by Lamberto, three years before Mario passed away.

Thursday, March 20th:
Danger: Diabolik & Planet of the Vampires:

You know I find myself more and more disenfranchised with the overuse of CGI in today's filmmaking, and thusly embracing more and more older filmmakers like Bava's optical tricks and set design prowess, both in full display in Diabolik one of the great (if not the greatest) comic book adaptation. It features an amazing Ennio Morricone score (not available on CD...crap) and inspired the Beastie Boy's video for "Body Movin'". Vampires is another Bava blindspot (although I have recently ordered a copy of the DVD) for me, but like Diabolik Bava proves his diversity with another genre other than horror (sci-fi here), although it does contain horror elements. It's said to be a big influence on Ridley Scott's Alien.

Friday, March 21st:
A Bay of Blood (aka Twitch of the Death Nerve) & Four Times That Night:

After inventing the slasher genre with Blood and Black Lace, Bava further redefined it seven years later by creating the limations of a remote location, and thus Friday the 13th and its ilk were born. Bay of Blood features a twist that proves the adage "no one is truly innocent" and a hilarious final scene that comments on violence in a simpler, shorter and more straightforward manner than a Michael Haneke film. While Bava is best known for his horror work, the guy had range; he directed pirate films, westerns, even a James Bond spy spoof along with other genre pictures (the already mentioned Diabolik and Planet of the Vampires) and frequently inserted humor into his horror films. Four Times That Night is inspired by Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon and is of all things, a romantic comedy. Introduction by a guy who made some money homaging Bava's work and style, Eli Roth.

Saturday, March 22nd:
The Whip and the Body and Kill, Baby, Kill!:

The Whip and the Body features Hammer alum Christopher Lee who returns from the dead to haunt and entice his brother's wife (again, haven't seen it yet). Kill Baby Kill! besides having one of history's greatest film titles, is one of Bava's most deliberately filmed picture and none other than Tim Lucas declares it his favorite of the director's work. It's atmospheric nature and use of ghosts of dead children has infulenced the latest wave of J-horror films and their American remakes like The Grudge and The Ring. Former Spike Lee cinematagropher and director of the Snoop Dogg zombie film, Bones, Ernest Dickerson introduces the film.

Sunday, March 23rd:
The Girl Who Knew Too Much & Hatchet for the Honeymoon & Cal Tiki The Immortal Monster:

The series ends with a triple bill of films I haven't seen, The Girl as the title suggests is a Hitchcock homage about a woman who sees a murder and finds herself hunted. Features John motherfucking Saxon! Hatchet is a black comedy about a wedding dress designer who murders brides before their nupitals. Bava was a cinematographer on Cal Tiki before original director Riccardo Freda walked off the set and he completed directing duties. Bava worked as a cinematagrapher for many years before he began his directing career and pretty much shot his entire directorial output. How appropos to end the series with the film that launched his career!

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