Monday, December 3, 2018

How Mario Bava Saved Me

One of my favorite moments in Rome promoting Sei Ancora Qui, the Italian language version of I Still See You, the stellar film based on my novel Break My Heart 1,000 Times ,was a trip to Radio Rai to give an interview.  Gabriel, the publicist chaperoning Kim and I, let me know the interview would be live during our cab ride. This was only the second-most terrifying part, believe it or not. The most terrifying part was that the show I’d be appearing on was focused on films and not books like I’d foolishly assumed. The Italian edition of Sei Ancora Qui was coming out later that week and, because I am often an idiot, I assumed that people would be more interested in talking to me about that than the movie.
It has been a long, long time since I have been a movie expert. My days of being an assistant manager/usher at a local megaplex are in the distant past, and while I can speak definitively about the movies that came out during those years, I haven’t kept up. Writing, day job, writing, parenting, writing, reading--there hasn’t been nearly as much time for watching films as I would like. I’ve read far more books than I’ve seen movies over the past decade—hundreds of books; maybe three or four dozen movies. I try and keep up with del Toro and the Coen brothers and a handful of others, but that’s about it. My passive screen time has mostly been reserved for binge watching multi-season television shows and NBA basketball. So when Gabriel said that the interviewers would likely want me to talk about movies, I panicked. I felt like my brain dumped its hard drive; I couldn’t even recall any of my favorite ghost movies, which they would almost surely ask me about (The original Poltergeist, the original The Haunting based on Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, The Sixth Sense, and the remake of Thirteen Ghosts spring to mind. I hadn’t even seen my own movie yet!
Gabriel led us through the security checkpoint, where we admired the friendly guard’s origami handiwork, a collection of butterflies and bugs lining his desk, and into the studio. I was in a cold sweat, literally, when I sat down, and the interviewers started their show. It was amazing watching and listening to them work; they clearly enjoyed their jobs and were bantering back and forth in that delightful lyrical and physical cadence that characterizes Italian conversation. I looked through the glass into the mixing room where my wife and Gabriel sat with six or seven staff members, most of whom were engrossed in watching a soccer game on a screen set on the opposite wall. I smiled, weakly. No one wants to bomb in front of the woman they love, especially me.
Then the questions started coming—in English, thank God—and the main radio host had the unenviable task of translating my halting replies into Italian and make me sound interesting. My intro was encouraging, and they seemed to like my anecdote about wanting to write a “large-canvas ghost story”, because most ghosts stories are “small in the sense of being confined to a specific location, a haunted house or a church. I warmed up in talking about my trip to Canada and watching Scott Speer, I Still See You’s brilliant and tall director, encourage spectacular performances from Bella, Richard, Shaun, Dermot and many others—in scenes that scriptwriter Jason Fuchs had drawn directly from scenes I had written. Then they asked me about my favorite films and film makers.
“Mario Bava,” I blurted, truthfully.
It turned out to be a great answer.  The radio hosts both sighed and nodded appreciatively, and Kim would tell me later that the tech staff in the booth stopped watching the game for a moment and actually cheered my answer.
I really wasn’t pandering, although picking a native son like Bava (Black Sabbath, Black Sunday, Lisa and the Devil, Bay of Blood, Shock, to drop a few of the English titles) certainly seems like an obsequious move in hindsight. I think he came to mind though because when my mental hard drive crashed, taking with it most of my handy responses, stories, and anecdotes, images remained. Images that I’d seen in the trailers and bonus feature footage I’d seen of I Still See You.
Here’s the thing: the film looks gorgeous. It is wonderfully shot, framed—and this is especially important when trying to trace down the synapse that led me to say “Bava”—stunningly well lit. Every scene in Ronnie’s (oops, my Ronnie is Roni in the movie) house, the scenes in the water, the scenes in the No-Go Zone, the icy expanses—the cinematography is beautiful throughout and I feel especially fortunate that Simon Dennis brought his genius to the film. I so wanted to ask him during the filming if Bava had influenced him—the black and purples in the scenes with Brian, the amber tone in the last scene of Ronnie’s house—but I never got the chance. I recently watched Bava’s Black Sabbath for the fortieth time recently and I’d be shocked if Mr. Dennis hadn’t studied and loved Bava intensely, like I had.
Bava was a painter before he was a director, and that sensibility carries over to the best of his films, which look painted with light. One of the benefits in seeing Sei Ancora Qui before seeing I Still See You, and not speaking Italian, is that it allowed me to focus fully on the visuals and the look of the film. It’s gorgeous, in my only slightly biased opinion, composed with a similar painterly eye but enhanced by modern technique and technology. In retrospect it is quite clear why I made the synaptic connection I did between the I Still See You footage I’d seen and Bava’s work.
We wrapped soon after my sound booth ovation. On the way out, the mostly attentive guard had made a paper butterfly for Kim, one of the greatest treasures from a trip filled with them. We thanked him, thanked Gabriel, thanked everyone, and said our goodbyes. We had a movie to watch.

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