Monday, March 24, 2008
I didn’t make it to every night of the Bava series at the Egyptian, but the ones I did show up for were well worth it. The one big disappointment was that the print of PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES apparently wound up elsewhere, through no fault of the Cinematheque. I heard rumblings that there would be a make-up screening of the film some point this summer. That should please not only the people who were there Thursday night, but the ones I talked to who hadn’t been able to make it and will be thrilled if they get another chance.
As for what I did see, LISA AND THE DEVIL remains fascinating, if very much a tough film to get a grip on. The lead character of Lisa Reiner as played by Elke Sommer seems to affect the events around her as much as an average dream where we ourselves have no control over anything. While this adds to the unique mood of the film, and I give Sommer a lot of credit for being willing to play such a role, it still makes her a difficult character to willingly follow along with. But while the overall experience may be slightly ponderous, some of its more humorous moments involving Telly Savalas lend a sort of gallows humor feel to it, as if Bava was trying to say that none of this should be taken too seriously, it’s just the legendary mysteries of life and death that we’re dealing with here. If nothing else, it’s an attempt to expand the boundaries of the genre beyond where it ever goes even today and if it’s never really been seen by many people. The privilege of viewing one particular shot of Sylva Koscina with that ultra-plunging neckline that doesn’t seem to be held up naturally on a giant screen at the Egyptian is one of those moments that you simply don’t easily forget.
Seeing A BAY OF BLOOD aka TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE in such a place is also slightly revelatory because it frees it from grimy looking and sounding tapes, discs and grindhouse prints and lets us judge it in a manner which makes it play as more of a pitch-black comedy of manners more than anything else. It’s a surprising development considering it is esentially a very early version of what we know as the slasher movie. But after countless examples of those types of movies with essentially nothing to them, it’s great to see one which not only remains enjoyable, but seems to have more to offer as the years go by. Along with its viewpoint on the ways of the world is an enjoyably eccentric group of chacters including—hell, especially—the women, represented by Claudine Auger, the unknown Anna Maria Rosati and the eccentric Laura Betti. And it was a print which beautifully showed off the array of colors throughout and sounded great, the better to focus on the striking score by Stelvio Cipriani. Plus it has that ending. Few things will ever top the giddy feeling that you could sense in the audience when I saw a screening of this film about a decade ago, but hearing the audience response yet again was a wonderful thing.
What can I say about FOUR TIMES THAT NIGHT, which played after A BAY OF BLOOD? No, seriously, what can I say about it? The RASHOMON-stylings of the plot—presenting four possibilities of what really happened on a date between a young couple—aren’t really worth getting into, but what is worth discussing are the moments throughout where Bava is clearly doing something unexpected with the material such as the compositions of gorgeous female lead Daniela Giordana presented nude but not really nude or how he implies a busy nightclub with very little means at his disposal. It goes on too long and by a certain point I really didn’t need to see the doorman run up and down the stairs yet again, but I still feel like watching a few sections of it again. I should point out that not only does male lead Brett Halsey seem to drink nothing but J&B based on how many bottles of it he has but, as the friend I was with pointed out, he doesn’t even seem to have a kitchen in his swanky bachelor pad that comes complete with a swing. And I know how random this sounds, but am I the only person who expects the “Scientist” who appears to explain things to us to be revealed as the devil at the end? Yeah, probably.
I didn’t need to see DANGER: DIABOLIK again, especially since it just played at the New Beverly a few months ago. But I wanted to. Getting to see it in a theater yet again (even in this Paramount archival print that seems to have some sound issues) is just pure pleasure for me. It’s the look of the film, it’s the mood, it’s the music, it’s all ultra-cool, guilt-free pleasure for me. Diabolik and Eva, as portrayed by John Phillip Law and Marisa Mell are a couple without an ounce of realism to them, played by actors who barely seem human to begin with. And yet, they each bring a dimension of feeling, of heat, to what they play and it’s a combination of elements that somehow works. You don’t need to be convinced that he’d do anything for Marisa Mell. Looking at her when she looks at him, you could believe that maybe anything is possible. Just like how the films of Mario Bava give us something other than what is normally expected and while you may not be able to pin down what is so unique, the effect it has is unmistakable. There’s nothing really to add in closing right now. It’s just another series of reminders of why I love film as much as I do.