Nerd's Progress: The Life and Career of Tim Lucas

 

Lucas makes a living watching four or more movies a day and writing about them for an eager and interested audience that relies on him and looks up to him as an undisputed source on the "director's cut" of thousands of films. His readership is small but devoted, and Lucas has been able to sustain the magazine without advertising.20

"I was hesitant about jumping into a regular publication that I would be mostly responsible for writing at the beginning," says Lucas, "but I was also hesitant about jumping into marriage, and we've been happy together now for 32 years."21

Which brings us, finally, to Mario Bava, and Lucas's massive biography of him.22

VW: Mario Bava Bava (1914-1980), the son of a sculptor and photographer, directed some 27 films between 1957 and 1977, the most significant or famous of which are Black Sunday (AKA Mask of the Demon, Mask of Satan, 1960), which introduced gothic horror to Italian cinema; La ragazza che sapeva troppo (The Girl Who Knew Too Much, 1963), widely considered the first giallo, or slasher film; Black Sabbath (1963), an anthology film that influenced Quentin Tarantino; Blood and Black Lace (1964); Planet of the Vampires (1965), a science-fiction film that had an indluence on Alien; Kill, Baby... Kill! (1966), widely held to be Bava's masterpiece; Danger: Diabolik (1968); 5 Dolls for an August Moon (1970); Hatchet for the Honeymoon (1970); Twitch of the Death Nerve (1971); and Rabid Dogs (AKA, Kidnapped, 1974). He also directed spaghetti westerns and Hercules movies.

Bava is heralded by fans and fellow filmmakers alike - including Martin Scorsese, who contributes a foreword to Lucas's book - for his vivid and rich use of color and the dreamlike quality of his narratives. "What Mario Bava brought to the evolution of the horror film was [a] brand of chromatic daring, combined with an Italian eye for detail and florid exaggeration and an underlying sense of irony," writes Lucas. "It was not the ugly things in his films that frightened audiences: instead, Bava unnerved them with instances of beauty, poetry, symmetry, inverted imagery, metaphysics, mysticism, and above all color. Color of abnormal intensity. Color that drew the eye to places it would not normally wish to linger. Color that shouted or whispered warnings. Color that did not belong - that, in a realistic setting, could not possibly be there, thus intimating the presence of the supernatural."

Bava's reputation has only risen among fans since the advent of DVD - and here, once again, Lucas has been policeman, monitoring the transfers for fidelity and completeness. He has also contributed liner notes and audio commentary tracks to several Bava discs. But Lucas has also felt a deeper interest and commitment to Bava enough to spend the last 32 years researching and writing a 742,090 word volume on the director.23

"Bava's name always stood out for me," says Lucas, "from the first time I saw it mentioned in print (before I first saw it on television), in a way that suggests in hindsight that our fates were already written. When I started researching Bava, he was a very remote, retiring, Garbo-esque figure, a mystery man. I found his address and sent him a letter announcing my intention to write a book, and telling him some of my feelings about his work. When he died, his son wrote to me and said he found my letter in a drawer with other important papers his father kept. This seemed to me proof that our bond, however ethereal, was mutual."

Among Lucas's intentions with his book is to establish Bava as an artist on an equal footing with other Italian greats such as Fellini. "If you look at books written about horror film history prior to the appearance of my first articles on Bava - like Carlos Clarens's book or Danny Peary's Cult Movies - you'll see that they all share the idea that Bava was a bad director with a good visual sense, who was plagued by bad scripts," Lucas says. "Now those books look ridiculous in their stance on Bava. Today he's considered one of the greats, which I believe he was - he's one of the very few geniuses of the genre, and perhaps the only one who was fully consecrated to the genre, against terrible cultural odds. But without reference to the facts of his personal life, there is a limit to which anyone can appreciate what he achieved in his art. So the more I found out about him - like the 20-year career as a cinematographer that predated his 20-year career as a director - the more I became convinced that his story had to be told... and it took a hell of a long time for me, as a guy in Ohio, to do."

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