Good introduction to one of Italy's great film geniuses.
darragh o'donoghue | 10/30/2001
(3 out of 5 stars)
"In the 1960s, Italian directors such as Fellini and Antonioni were at the forefront of European cinema, lionised by relatively large international audiences, and figuring in the upper reaches of 'all-time best' lists. Today, however, these directors seem less innovative, less radical, less (dreaded word) relevant, than film-makers who worked in despised popular genres, such as Sergio Leone or Mario Bava. Bava's death in 1980 went virtually unnoticed, but now, as his films become more available in quality prints, his massive influence is becoming increasingly apparent. Not only, in inventing the giallo genre (basically crime thrillers filmed with horror senstion) did he give rise to the stalk-and-slasher film, but he influenced major directors from Scorcese to Burton. His low-budget sci-fi classic 'Planet of the Vampires' was reworked as Ridley Scott's 'Alien' (the latter's screenwriters assuming no-one would ever hear of a schlocky Italian B-Movie). Bava excelled in many genres, including the sword-and-sandals epic, the sexploitation comedy, the spaghetti western and the spy romp, but it is unfathomably unique horror movies like 'Black Sunday', 'Black Sabbath' and 'Baron Blood', for which he is revered today. He is often linked to his later compatriot Dario Argento, but whereas the younger man's visceral entertainments function on speed and violent editing, Bava seems to slow down the genre, and his horror films, while full of sensation and terror, are composition-based, masterful tableaux composing light and colour and art design to create idiosyncratic, perverse and disturbing images forever imprinted on the minds and imaginations of anyone who sees them.Bava's father was an important figure in Italian cinemas as a special effects artist, but his son took the long route up the hierarchical industry ladder to eventually become a leading cameraman for the likes of Rossellini and Pabst. He didn't direct his first film until he was 46, and his career barely lasted more than a decade, blighted by ill-health. He rarely worked with high-budgets, and the American stars he utilised (including Gordon Macrae, Boris Karloff and Joseph Cotten) were well past their Hollywood heyday.This documentary, a companion piece to the film on Argento ('An Eye for horror'), is more satisfying than the latter because it concentrates more precisely on the work. Directors inspired by Bava (including John Carpenter, Tim Burton and Joe Dante) and prominent critics (Kim Newman, Linda Williams) discuss the strange power of Bava's films, the entanglements of violence, death and sexuality; the transmuting of Catholic ritual into the horror film. It is significant that Mussolini's regime frowned on the genre, which had lapsed by Bava's time, although the documentary is quiet on the compromises the director and his father must have made with the Fascist-run cinema industry. Burton gets closest to the work's appeal - these studio-bound films glorying in thier own artifice - when he says that it sometimes those movies that are less surface-realistic which somehow tap into what is most true."
Pretty darn cool.
Robert P. Beveridge | Cleveland, OH | 09/17/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Mario Bava: Maestro of the Macabre (Garry S. Grant, 2000)
I kind of hate to admit it, being the horror aficionado that I am, but despite the fact that I understand how incredibly influential the films of Mario Bava have been over the years, the ones I've seen (Bay of Blood, Danger! Diabolik, Black Sunday, and-- depending on whom you believe-- Shock) have left me cold, albeit amused. I just don't get the Bava mystique, as much as I'd like to. How could I not be drawn to a documentary that attempts to explain it?
Man, a lot of people revere this guy, including some who really surprised me (Tim Burton is all over this movie gesticulating madly and talking about Bava's genius). And I have to say that after seeing some of this, it's got me willing to go back and give his other movies a chance, especially now that I know Alien was based on Planet of the Vampires. What gets me is that pretty much everyone here admitted, right out, that these were cheesy movies. The mastery accorded Bava is not that given to Hitchcock, for example, but to someone like Russ Meyer.
Do I recommend it? Absolutely. If it got me wanting to try Bava again, I imagine the established fans will love it. *** ½"