Saturday Night Bava at The American Cinematheque

Written by Joe D on March 23rd, 2008

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I went to last night’s installment of the Mario Bava Retrospective. The night began on a sour note. I left early so I could grab a hot dog at Skooby’s on Hollywood Blvd. unfortunately it was inexplicably closed!
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So I hit The Pig and Whistle for a draft Guiness, it’s right next door to the theater and a great way to start an evening of Cinematic fun.
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First off Chuck D got up to do the intro, I had a bad feeling because of the way the screen was masked, we weren’t going to be seeing a 35mm print! That’s exactly what Chuck revealed, spinning a tale of woe about the print of The Whip and The Body. According to Chuck the Cinematheque has an arrangement with a film director/collector who let’s them borrow films to screen. It seems this director (Chuck wouldn’t tell his name) allows a friend of his access to his collection that’s stored at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. This friend borrowed the print of The Whip and The Body and decided it was suffering from “vinegar syndrome”, a deterioration of acetate film that produces a vinegar like smell. Now this was an original print from the 60’s, possibly a dye transfer Technicolor print. Chuck said they had screened it in 2002 and it looked good. Anyway the friend decided to try and restore the print and in the process destroyed it! I really was hoping to see this film projected , ideally from an old dye transfer print! It makes such an incredible use of color and as Ernest Dickerson commented in his introductory spiel, great use of darkness! One of the earliest color films to use so much rich deep black! The (I think it was laser disk?) digital projection looked very good but seeing a film in it’s original form is like a trip through time! I went to a Technicolor Festival a few years back and saw some films projected from Technicolor nitrate prints, it was amazing! I encourage everyone to go see this series if they ever run it again! I watched The Phantom Of The Opera with Claude Raines and it was a major deja vu experience. (I had seen the film when I was about 10 in a re-release) So Dear Mr. Unknown Film director/Collector and your equally Unknown Friend, please have your films restored professionally at Triage Motion Picture Services, don’t destroy rare and priceless treasures with good intentions. Ask Martin Scorsese’s Fund to finance the restoration and get it done by people that know what they are doing. Our beautiful IB Technicolor prints are disappearing, it’s like someone going to a museum and erasing the paintings.
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The next film shown was Bava’s Kill Baby Kill and it was shown in 35mm from a print loaned by Alfred Leone and made around 2000 A.D. , unfortunately it looked like it was made from a bad dupe and a lot of detail and color was just not there. This is such a visually stunning film, with so much delicate shading of light, color,and atmosphere that any reduction in the quality of the image is a major detriment to the overall impact . I’ve seen the DVD of this film and it looks great. It needs to be restored. So there must be a good element somewhere. I appeal to Mr. Leone send the negative or whatever you have to Triage, ask for Tony or Paul, tell ‘em Joe sent you.
p.s. Here’s a piece about Kill Baby Kill.