Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Lamberto Bava and the Family Cross

When I met Lamberto Bava at Cinema Wasteland this past weekend, I told him that I had two great fears about our meeting. One: that he would tell me wonderful stories about his father that I didn't know to include in my book MARIO BAVA ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK; and Two: that he would open the book, point to something, and say, as nicely as possible, "Uh... maybe not."

Both things came to pass.
On the first count, he told me a wonderful story about Mario Bava's first encounter with horror cinema, which may have been the childhood moment that predisposed him to a fascination with the macabre. When Mario was a young boy, he lived with his family on the top floor of an apartment building. From the bed in his room, Mario could look out the window at a neighboring movie theater. On warm nights, the roof of this theater rolled back to let in the cool night air... but, from Mario's perspective, the opening of the roof revealed the theater screen. One night, the young Mario happened to be looking out his window when the theater's roof opened to reveal... F.W. Murnau's NOSFERATU (1922), which he proceeded to watch with a sense of mounting terror. The film clearly left its impression on the boy, who included an inversion of NOSFERATU's undercranked coach ride sequence in his official directorial debut, BLACK SUNDAY. Good story.
On the second count, Lamberto is unsure of the validity of the Mario Bava signature on the Brett Halsey photo included in the book's chapter on FOUR TIMES THAT NIGHT. I told Lamberto that it was the only signed photo of Mario I had ever seen, and he answered, "Maybe not his." Lamberto's reason is that everyone in the Bava family signs their name in a manner that includes what has become known as "the family cross" -- a cross worked into one of the letters. He showed me what he meant with his own signature, in which the L of his first name grows out of an initial cross. Later in the day, Lamberto watched me sign a copy of MARIO BAVA ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK for someone and saw that I drew a line through the middle of the S at the end of my name. "Since [I told you]?" he asked, smiling. But no, I explained that crossing my S started years ago, when I carelessly added the bridge too my A too far to the right. I liked the effect and kept it, sometimes as a dash after my S, sometimes as an elongated tail of the letter that extends across it, but more commonly as a line through my S -- the way I draw lines through my 7's in the European manner. I'm sure there are copies of the Bava book which I signed that don't have a crossed S, because the task of signing one thousand books required some variation to break up the monotony; likewise, I remember signing some of the books straight across and others more diagonally. That's why I believe the signed Halsey photo to be genuine. I know that I'm inconsistent and occasionally careless about the way I sign my name. But you can see what Lamberto means by comparing the signature on the book's title page, which has the family cross, to the one on Brett's still.
As we were preparing to leave on Sunday, Lamberto presented both Donna and me with signed photos of himself. The one he gave to me was signed, in Italian, "To Tim - an honorary member of the family." As the recipient of this tremendous compliment, I will do my best to live up to it by taking care to cross the closing S's in all my signatures from now on.

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