Saturday, September 15, 2007

First Look: ABE's LISA AND THE DEVIL

Because I worked as a commentator for a number of the movies included in Anchor Bay Entertainment's forthcoming MARIO BAVA COLLECTION VOLUME 2, I've been sent a set of preview test discs for the new remasters included in this compendium, as well as ERIK THE CONQUEROR, which will be released separately at the same time. I've already watched a few of the movies and I'm here to tell you that the movies have indeed been conspicuously improved over their previous issues. If you're already excited about this incredible bargain of a set, prepare to get more excited.

My breath was taken away by Post Logic Studios' restorative work on Bava's baroque masterpiece LISA AND THE DEVIL (1973). I've never seen this film on video in a presentation that didn't look like a poor cousin to HOUSE OF EXORCISM (1975, which is largely composed of footage from LISA) -- which makes sense because the original negative of LISA was lost or destroyed as it was being used to create 16mm TV prints at Allied Artists. Only once did I see the film as it was meant to look, at a showing of a restored 35mm print supervised by the late Carlos Sylva at the American Cinematheque in the early 1990s. That version, I recall, was sharper and more boldly colored than any other I had seen... and that stunning viewing experience is pretty much perfectly replicated by ABE's newly remastered version.

The heightened detailing is evident from the very first shots of the animated titles sequence, with new textures evident in the red table surface and the white glove turning over the cards of the Tarot deck.

Even when Cecilio Paniagua's nostalgic-looking cinematography turns misty-eyed, in closeups of Elke Sommer and in faintly sun-dazzled shots like this, the mistiness never softens the essential sharpness of the picture.

In this shot of Alida Valli familiarizing herself with Sommer's face, as Telly Savalas rhapsodically describes the coloring of her hair, you can see how the colors have a certain Technicolor strength without losing the naturalistic subtlety of their coloring. The blue of Valli's eyes manage to pop while the purple of her dress remains muted and not overpowering.

This closeup of Savalas, as Leandro, is one of the shots I remember best from the American Cinematheque screening. I remember Alfredo Leone being annoyed by the pale quality of the color in past home video presentations, which diminished the ruddiness of Savalas' skin and god knows what else. On the big screen, Savalas looked distinctly redder than the other cast members, betokening his devilish caste, and this was something always lost on video. The effect has now been fairly well reinstated.

And here you can see how lovely are the presentations of skin tones, hair gloss, even the honeyed warmth of Sommer's hair color. All of these improvements help to make a very sensual film play more sensually, and to better delineate the fascinating components of its rococo set decoration. LISA AND THE DEVIL finally arrives on disc as ravishing as it was always intended to be, and it actually looks better to me than the glimpses I stole of HOUSE OF EXORCISM, which is featured on the same disc. But the LISA footage has always looked good in that heretofore prevailing context.
The only drawback: Sylva Koscina's bludgeoning death (intact in HOUSE OF EXORCISM) remains unintegrated, a problem that I hope can be corrected at some point in the future. Otherwise, Bava fans can rejoice because LISA AND THE DEVIL has finally triumphed in pictorial beauty over its more financially successful, frog-barfing twin.
And, in the "if I do say so myself" department, I was very pleased with how my audio commentary for the film plays. This is partly the work of disc producer Perry Martin, who edited my talk, eliminating some "um's" and "uh's" and sometimes shifting bits around for heightened effect -- a very happy collaboration. Together, I think we've done a very good job of shedding a bit of light on one of Bava's most mysterious and beckoning works.
I'll be continuing with previews of other titles in the BAVA COLLECTION 2 set in the days ahead.

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