Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Bava influence continued...

"Movies are a magician’s forge; they allow you to build a story with your hands. Who knows... at least, that's what it means to me. What attracts me in movies is to be presented with a problem and be able to solve it. Nothing else; just to create an illusion, and effect, with almost nothing. That's the best thing about it." – Mario Bava

As I mentioned in my previous entry regarding Nicholas Meyer’s comment about "art thriving on limitations," that the production teams of The X-Files and Millennium share traits that are similar to the work and approach of Mario Bava. This great director thrived with working on low budget pictures. To a degree this was a conscious choice on his part, as he seemed to feel that by working on low budget pictures, he was allowed a freedom to craft his films to his vision without the interference of larger studios. While many might question why he never made his way to the United States to direct features for Hollywood, one reason was his preference to exclusively work in Italy, as well as this desire to have the creative freedom that low budget productions afforded him. This also drove him to be highly inventive. One classic example of his preference to work within limitations can be found in a story about the production budget of Danger: Diabolik. Dino De Laurentis had budgeted the film for three million dollars, and in an unprecedented outcome, Bava completed the film for around four-hundred thousand dollars, leaving enough to spare to direct a sequel! One of the reasons why I have a fondness for the early seasons of The X-Files was that due to limited budgets, they too were often forced to be inventive. The need to be inventive is a dying trait in a business that is offering younger directors every bell and whistle before it is truly earned.

When Bob Goodwin was interviewed in 2009, he did offer up that the visual look for The X-Files was inspired by Italian painter Caravaggio (1571-1610), which is interesting when you consider Bava’s initial interest in being a painter. One could speculate that the 1013 Productions team and Bava shared similar inspirations. When I interviewed cinematographer John S. Bartley in 2008, I questioned from a list of cinematographers who influenced him, and I asked about Mario Bava, and he did not cite Bava as a personal influence for the show. As of this writing, I have not interviewed Jon Coffin, Ron Stannett, Joel Ransom, or Bill Roe, and so I cannot cite any concrete evidence of Mario Brava’s visual work as an influence on The X-Files. This also holds true in regards to Millennium. I have not been in contact with Robert McLachlan, and hold no concrete evidence of a Bava influence on that series.

Possible Visual Influences

While The X-Files application of lighting for a shot tended to be more subtle, certain patterns reflecting the techniques of the Maestro Bava become hard to ignore. As cited below:

Black Sabbath – The Wurdulak / The X-Files – Firewalker

Bay of Blood (Twitch of the Death Nerve) / The X-Files – Conduit

Mario Bava, as well as the production teams for The X-Files and Millennium used locations as a key element of establishing a sense of place, atmosphere, and mood. In fact, horror films depend greatly on location to establish, psychologically, this sense of dread, or entering into another reality. Locations can also establish a sense of decay, Bay of Blood (1971), or something amiss, "Conduit."

The X-Files – The Post-Modern Prometheus / The Girl Who Knew Too Much

Chris Carter’s use of black and white in "Post-Modern Prometheus," as well as his framing may have been inspired by Frankenstein (1931), but they also share a striking similarity to Bava’s approach to compositional framing in The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1962). Could it have been an unconscious choice or influence?

Danger: Diabolik / The X-Files – Fight The Future

The use of back lighting, which is a common technique and does help to create depth, still does depend on the cinematographer having a psychological understanding of how best to create tension. Again, one could see a possible influence between this sequence from Diabolik (1968) and Fight The Future.

Hercules in The Haunted World / Millennium – The Time is Now

While this sequence from "The Time Is Now" might evoke the flavor of Dario Argento’s approach, Bava would utilize colors to create a psychological mood or a descent. For example, the descent into Hades from Hercules in the Haunted World (1961).

Rabid Dogs (Kidnapped) / The X-Files – Drive

Rabid Dogs (1974) has a visual directness, a dry and gritty feel; such an episode as "Drive" shares a similar sensibility.

Lisa and The Devil / Millennium – Force Manjure
Bava was known for using bold, innovative camera angles. Aside from the beautiful composition of this shot of Telly Savalas in Lisa and the Devil (1973), one could see the same sensibility of low angle camera blocking in this Millennium episode with Brad Dourif. As a matter of fact, this shot would not be out of place in the film, Bay of Blood.

Hercules In the Haunted World / Planet of the Vampires / The X-Files – Fight The Future

The use of artificial color schemes in many of Bava’s films, through the use of colored gels in the lighting rig, the heavy use of green to create an otherworldly atmosphere, as demonstrated in Hercules in the Haunted World (1961) and Planet of the Vampires (1965), could be seen in the ending sequence of Fight The Future.

The X-Files – The Post Modern Prometheus / The Girl Who Knew Too Much

Often, it was not only in the lighting that helped to create a mood or flavor, but the compositional choices; the floral patterns in the window light from The Girl Who Knew Too Much added additional textures. This sequence from The X-Files’ "Post-Modern Prometheus" would not be too out of place in Bava’s film from 1962.

Black Sabbath (The Drop of Water) / The X-Files – Dod Kalm

Two stills: The Whip and the Body (1963) / Millennium – The Fourth Horseman

The use of colors to evoke a sense of isolation, especially blue, could be seen in the Drop of Water sequence from Bava’s masterpiece Black Sabbath (1963), the pulsating neon light through the window adding tension. Or the light from the decaying ship in The X-Files’ "Dod Kalm", or the isolation of Daliah Lavi, or the ghostly hand of Christopher Lee from The Whip and The Body (1963), as well as the quarantine segment from Millennium’s "The Fourth Horsemen."

While all of the above examples cannot cite proof of an influence, one could be left to speculate that a second or third generation influence impacted the choices of many of the cinematographers who worked on The X-Files or Millennium.

I would strongly recommend to not just rely on viewing clips of Bava’s work on YouTube, but to invest in many of the titles now available on DVD. Bava’s films have to be fully experienced. Anchor Bay has re-released a number of titles, including two box sets that feature the bulk if his important films. Volume 1 includes, Black Sunday, Black Sabbath, The Girl Who Knew Too Much, Knives of the Avenger, and Kill, Baby...Kill. Volume 2 includes, Four Times That Night, Five Dolls for An August Moon, Roy Colt & Winchester Jack, Bay of Blood, Baron Blood, both versions of Lisa and the Devil, and both versions of Rabid Dogs. Anchor Bay has also re-issued Erik The Conqueror. The quality of all of these packages is excellent. Fantoma has released an excellent DVD print of Hercules In The Haunted World. Paramount Video has re-issued an excellent copy of Danger: Diabolik. VCI Entertainment has issued excellent prints of The Whip and The Body, and Blood and Black Lace, packed with extras. MGM / Midnight Movies has a basic print of Planet of the Vampires still available. Blue Underground has re-issued Shock. Image Entertainment did have a sizable catalogue of Bava films available, before they were discontinued, and some of the titles can still be found.

Special thanks to Xscribe for her assistance. X-Files and Millennium still images courtesy of Chrisnu, Most stills from Bava films were primarily taken from this site, as well various sources.