Monday, August 6, 2007

The Words of a Beautiful Italian

The past week has seen the near-simultaneous deaths of two legendary directors. I’ve spent some time thinking about what this means to me, only to come to the embarrassing conclusion that I feel absolutely unqualified to really discuss them at this point in time. Not because I haven’t seen their work but because I haven’t seen enough of their work and have been resistant to diving down that rabbit hole to fully immerse myself in their worlds. The last 15 minutes or so of the movie represented here in what I find to be a haunting image mean as much to me as anything the two men ever created…there’s some sort of power to it that stays with me, I’m just not certain I could say why. There are many films I have yet to see and in the meantime I’m still learning.

Friday night at the Egyptian for the Fantasy, Horror & Science Fiction fest was a double bill of Italian movies presented in conjunction with the Trieste International Science Fiction Film Festival. First on the bill was Lamberto Bava’s newest film, GHOST SON. Laura Harring, looking every inch like a fifties movie star, is a woman living a life of bliss in South Africa with husband John Hannah. After he is killed in an auto accident, she becomes totally distraught, even considering suicide. She then begins to have visions of her husband coming to her, which begin to turn extremely sexual in nature and those visions begin to take on a certain dark feel. Shortly afterward, she discovers through family friend Pete Postlethwaite that she is in fact pregnant. She has the baby, but soon enough she begins to have certain fears about just who the child is that she has given birth to.

Attractively shot in Scope, the majority of GHOST SON takes place in the isolated house of the main character, lending the film a continuing feel of Harring becoming more and more closed off from the world. The film is far from perfect—implications that the car accident might be supernatural in nature never seem to pay off and the ultimate solution seems a little overly familiar and simple, but I did find sections of it effective. Part of that was helped by a basic feel that this movie would not have been made by a studio in this way here in the states. Along with liberal doses of nudity and uses of African superstitions, it also contains the single most disturbing breast-feeding scene I’ve probably ever witnessed. Harring is excellent--much of the film is pretty much a one-woman show for her and it’s a shame to think how she never would have played this part if the film were made in America, where they certainly would cast someone at least ten years younger. Coralina Cataldi Tassoni, who starred in Bava’s DEMONS 2 and also appeared in Argento’s OPERA and his upcoming MOTHER OF TEARS, also appears.

Most interesting about the film is how the story of the dead reaching out to the world of the living echoes several films directed by Lamberto’s father Mario, most particularly 1977’s SHOCK, his final film and one which Lamberto reportedly had a hand in. SHOCK, for those who haven’t seen it, stars Daria Nicolodi as a woman who begins to suspect her late husband, who was a drug addict, is beginning to take possession of the son that she had while he was still alive. It isn’t close enough to be considered an actual remake but its theme of the dead reaching out to the world of the living makes allows certain familiar themes to reemerge. Some of these ideas also go all the way back to the elder Bava’s THE WHIP AND THE BODY and GHOST SON even contains an unmistakable update of what remains SHOCK’s most memorable scare.

It’s hardly a surprise, then, that the second film on the double bill was SHOCK, shown in a faded vintage print that contained the American release title of BEYOND THE DOOR II. Since Quentin Tarantino is one of those thanked in conjunction with the series, it’s possible this print is his. Whatever the title, the film retains its delirious dreamlike feel and the biggest scares remain potent. Nicolodi is also quite mesmerizing and it was very interesting to contrast her performance with Harring’s. In addition, I found myself noticing more bottles of J&B in the film than I ever had before.

Coralina Cataldi Tassoni, much more beautiful in person than she is allowed to be in her minor role in GHOST SON, appeared before the first film for a brief discussion. The extremely fetching actress discussed what was being screened, but more importantly the subject of MOTHER OF TEARS was brought up. She offered her opinion that this eagerly awaited final chapter in Dario Argento’s Three Mothers trilogy was not just an important film for Italian horror cinema, but for Italian cinema in general. Later that night, when the final scene of SHOCK played, I recalled the words of this beautiful Italian as I thought of how it echoed the legendary ending of TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE. I thought about THE WHIP AND THE BODY and the final image of the Vurdalak section of Bava’s BLACK SABBATH. And after recalling the similarities SHOCK shared with GHOST SON, which led me to thinking of Tassoni’s presence, I thought of Argento and his work at various points with both Bavas. I thought of Argento’s own interest in the work of Antonioni, particularly in hiring David Hemmings for the lead in DEEP RED. And Antonioni, this great artist, has left us and there are still films of his that I have yet to explore. My mind began to spiral as it went in all these directions as I tried to think of Italian Cinema, its past and, hopefully, its future. I’m still learning about that history and in the meantime I look forward to MOTHER OF TEARS with enormous anticipation, hoping that even in a small way it helps to keep Italian Cinema, in all its different forms, alive.


Nostalgia Kinky said...

Extremely cool and informative post. I am so jealous of these great events you get to attend. Glad to hear Lamberto is still swinging away, I have always found him a bit underrated.
"Shock" is one of my favorite Bava pictures and I paid tribute to Daria's performance earlier this year at Moon In The Gutter. I think she is spellbinding in it...
I share your excitement for the new Argento and I can't think of a film I am anticipating more...great post.

Mr. Peel aka Peter Avellino said...

It's several weeks later now, but I wanted to thank Coralina for all the kind words she had for what I wrote. She also sent me this photo taken of her at the Egyptian, which I was proud to post here.

I wish her all the best with the upcoming, eagerly awaited, premiere of THE THIRD MOTHER. I can't wait to see it.