100 years after his birth and after almost 35 years since his death include Mario Bava in the most productive period of the Italian cinema, that goes from the fifties to the seventies, in which the Sanremo director was the protagonist yet extraneous: his figure is in fact associated with that of the great names of the Italian cinema, from Roberto Rossellini, Mario Monicelli and Steno (for which he was an operator and a director of photography), to the various Federico Fellini or Dario Argento, up to his American colleagues, Ridley Scott, Tim Burton, Martin Scorsese and up to the many who from his directing works have taken up more than just a formal intuition. Despite these similar characteristics defining him as founder, however, his cinema remains after all a hidden cinema which is considered only related to itself: which is not in itself an evil, if it is true that Bava was pursuing a very personal path also within the popular genres where he used to work as well. It is sufficient to observe only a sequence of his films to realize his very original look and his full and special ability of putting on authentic figurative universes, even detached from the story which from time to time is told (often with little interest and conviction). His painting studies and love for drawing in fact present us a director who is capable of strengthening the style to content, by tracing geometries and spaces through continuous redefinition, within a path that is tending more and more to abstraction: from the cohesiveness of Black Sunday (scintillating debut in 1960), and so on till the swirling windmill of murders that make up the later Twitch of the Death Nerve (1971), Bava creates kind of worlds in which he literally make his characters disappear, imprisoned in shadows visual grids, forms that regenerate in a manner always new, where even the “grammatical mistakes” caused by the overuse of the zoom and out of focus acquire a particular expressive value in shaping a magmatic and changing space, yet always incredibly physical. The predilection for the body, seen as an icon around which can rotate the visual patch of his many inventions, is the other big news, prior to the eighties horror poetic: a body which often is vilified (just think of the cruel deaths of the models in Blood and Black Lace), dispossessed of one’s self (in Planet of the Vampires), but which still intensely wants to be flesh (the morbid in The Whip and the Body), although he cannot but to be confused with that inane and beautiful immobility of the mannequins (the little-watched Lisa and the Devil). That’s why his cinema appears to us as a cinema capable of reflecting a melancholy ideal of beauty, of transience to grasp and raise to a power: it is sure that, there is great fun in the putting up these falls (just think of the final grimace in Black Sabbath that discovers the fiction of the set), so much that someone has moved elsewhere comparisons with Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup, where form becomes content but also criticism, in a dialectic of complicity and in keeping its distance from the narrated subject. Sophistication and banality are in fact two sides of the cinema according to Bava, cultured and however popular, full of a sincere affection for the worlds that he is trying to build, although even then it is very hard and ruthless towards the characters (openly unloved) and without the innate desire to agree particularly to the expectations of the viewer (who maybe will try to make ends meet in the planned stories not to converge in the details). It’s one of the key reasons why his movie looks so modern even in the classical patterns, and is able to flow in an extremely generous and spontaneous way between various languages: science-fiction in Planet of the Vampires already has the flavor of horror, while gothic in Kill, Baby, Kill, fully sinks in the pure Surrealism, through which it can express the “real functioning of thought”. The opportunity to tear away its work from oblivion, memories or from sporadic housewives’ visions in order to return them to the big screen is, therefore, the most generous and highly valued act that we can bestow on him.
Davide Di Giorgio