INTERVIEW WITH TIM LUCAS AUTHOR OF MARIO BAVA ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK
Tim Lucas is founder of Video Watchdog and author of Mario Bava All The Colors Of The Dark, an absolutely massive, comprehensively detailed look at Bavas life and career. I knew that I had to interview him the moment I heard about the project. Several email exchanges later he sent answers to a number of questions that I hope whet your appetite for this fascinating filmmakers work and Tims own book. I have my own copy and can say with all seriousness it is simply a book for the ages. One can hardly imagine a time when it wouldn’t be must reading for anyone commenting on Italian cinema.
DAVE: Exactly how long was this project in production?
TIM I started researching the book in 1975. I would say that roughly half the book was written, sporadically over the years, at the time I resolved to get serious about finishing it, in 1999. I wrote the balance of the book between 1999 and 2004, roughly, with additional material added as recently as early this year. It was sometime in 2004 that Donna began working on the actual layout and formatting my shapeless manuscript into the handsome book it is now.
D: Do you ever see yourself tackling anything this large again?
T. Probably not from scratch. However, this project has prevented me from collecting my past writing in book form, which is something other critics habitually do, so now I have more than 30 years of professional work to draw from. I could assemble books of reviews, articles, essays, interviews, blog writing, even books about specific genres and subgenres -- all from previously published material -- and I intend to. A book of the collected Video WatchBlog alone, at this point, would be close to a thousand pages.
D: Do you continue researching Bava at this point?
T: I am collecting corrections to the text for the sake of future editions, in English and other languages. Beyond that, it's too early to say.
D: What are the most common misunderstandings about Bava and his work?
T: That he was a hack, that he was zoom-crazy, that the English language versions of his work are representative of his intentions, that he never made a good movie after BLACK SUNDAY (as Danny Peary's book CULT MOVIES once claimed), even that BLACK SUNDAY was his debut. When I started writing this book, it was rare to find any positive commentary about Bava. Even Carlos Clarens' ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF THE HORROR FILM denigrated his work. This was one of the most important reasons for my undertaking this long project.
D: How did you become involved with the Anchor Bay box sets?
T: Perry Martin, a DVD producer at Post Logic Studios, got the job of producing the Bava sets for Anchor Bay and he wanted me aboard -- because I had been a commentator for the previous Bava discs from Image Entertainment in 2000, VCI's discs of BLOOD AND BLACK LACE and THE WHIP AND THE BODY, and Paramount's DANGER: DIABOLIK . Those sets were very well received critically and also sold well.
D: Has Anchor Bay expressed an interest in continuing with the release of more Bava and have they contacted you about possible involvement?
T: In addition to three commentaries for the second box, I recorded an audio commentary for ERIK THE CONQUEROR, which ABE is selling separately. There are no current plans on the table for further Bava releases, at least not that I've been told about yet.
D: What Bava films would most like to see available in the US or as Special Editions? What would a third box set look like to you?
T: If I was planning a third Bava box, I would include the early films he either co-directed or directed unofficially: I VAMPIRI, HERCULES, HERCULES UNCHAINED, THE DAY THE SKY EXPLODED, and CALTIKI THE IMMORTAL MONSTER. Actually, the two Hercules films would work best separately, as would the three black-and-white horror titles. I'm very hopeful that my book will excite new interest in Bava's early work as a cameraman -- there is so much in that body of work that warrants wider awareness.
D: Was there ever a point when you were afraid that the book or the box sets just wouldn’t happen?
T: There were times when I despaired of ever finishing the book, but once you begin working with other people on any project, I think you stop worrying about whether something is going to happen. It's going to happen, the more that people pool their resources together.
D: Do you think the generation after Bava, that developed Giallo for instance, paid close enough attention to the things that have given Bava’s work such long life?
T: The subsequent generations have been, if anything, too slavishly imitative of Bava. I think the reason we see so few giallo films anymore, indeed so few Italian films anymore, is because they tend to be imitative by nature and this prevented them from moving forward and evolving into fresh areas. Argento brought outside influences like Antonioni and Freda to the giallo and it made him unique; Bava is so central to the genre that it's enough simply to work in the genre to pay him hommage; to quote his old scenes seems almost redundant and certainly counterproductive.
D: A lot of Bava’s work is enjoyed as camp, the Hercules films for example, what would Bava have made of that?
T: Outwardly, Bava would have agreed and mocked them himself. Inwardly, Bava would have suffered.
D: Have we come to the place where all horror is basically camp? Would there even be a place for the gentle whimsy, heroics or horror drenched atmosphere bava provided, today?
T: I think what you're really asking here is if there is room in today's world of movies for personal filmmakers like Bava, who made movies to express themselves rather than with an eye toward a big opening weekend. In terms of the movies we see in theaters, those days are probably gone. They don't have to be, but movies are now made by committees and every artist is ultimately answerable to moneymen, distributors and test audiences. I talk about this at length in my book's final chapter, called "Mario Bava Lives" -- which laments that an artisan of Bava's particular skills could not survive in the movie business as it is set up today. This is everyone's profound loss, that hundreds of millions have to be spent to create more realistic illusions onscreen, when someone like Bava could have saved his producer hundreds of millions by approaching his job with simple ingenuity. Today, it's not what you save but what you spend that commands respect in the industry. We really don't have the cinema of Bava's time anymore; our sacred texts are comic books and drama has been replaced with amusement park rides. Fortunately, there is the alternative of direct-to-video and DVD sales, but it's rare to find anyone using these tools who isn't catering to some low or lower common denominator to ensure themselves shelf space at Best Buy. I think most artists agree that we're in some kind of new Dark Ages, so Bava would not be at home in this time or place. But the interest in his work that seems to be thriving gives me some measure of hope for the future.