Monday, October 06, 2008

Our Weekend at Cinema Wasteland

This past weekend, Donna and I drove four hours north of Cincinnati to Strongsville, Ohio -- near Cleveland -- where we attended the Cinema Wasteland convention. Among the guests of honor was Maestro Lamberto Bava, with whom I have been corresponding and speaking by phone since 1980, twenty-eight years ago. Travel makes me nervous, but (as I told him in an e-mail a couple of weeks ago), Lamberto could not come halfway around the world to my state without me making the effort to join him. I am so glad that I did. This picture was taken within minutes of our first meeting at Lamberto's table.

There was an instantaneous sense of warmth and familiarity, and our rapport was immediate, happy and intense. I was with Lamberto for most of Saturday and until about 1:00pm on Sunday, and despite my general lack of Italian and Lamberto's fractured English, our communication was nearly non-stop. I love this picture because it captures some of that intensity.

I snapped this picture of Donna and Lamberto. They were charmed by each other and it was such a treat to see them interact.

While snapping some "official portraits" of Lamberto and I, Donna suddenly told us, "And now just look at each other." (She got a kick out of "directing the director.") Thus resulted my favorite picture of the two of us. There is a similar photo of Donna and me from the early years of our marriage, in which the look we're exchanging seems to miraculously summarize who we are to each other. This picture has a similar quality.

I guess this is our "John Bender meets Francesco de Masi" moment, but it wasn't a conscious recreation. The emotion here is very sincere. To communicate with Lamberto from long distance is one thing, but it was so much more meaningful for me to communicate with him in person. His eyes twinkle; he's a truly genial person, and it was a treat to sit beside him at his table and see him greeted by a constant procession of his admiring public. Most of what has been written about Lamberto's work in English has been of the "He lives and works in the shadow of his father, Mario Bava" school, and while that may be the general critical view, it's not a realistic view. I saw numerous awestruck people approach Lamberto's table and tell him that his movies -- his, not his father's -- inspired them to become artists, writers, painters, actors, or just horror fans. I felt so pleased for him.
My favorite overheard story came from a couple who run a day-care center, who told Lamberto that DEVILFISH was loved so much by their kids that one group actually watched it five times in two days! I'm sure that's the best review DEVILFISH ever had!

When Lamberto was talking with me, sometimes his English failed him and he asked fellow guest of honor Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni (the Dario Argento diva also featured in Lamberto's own DEMONS 2: THE NIGHTMARE CONTINUES and GHOST SON) to translate his thoughts. Meeting Coralina was one of the sweetest treats of the weekend for us, and I refer you to today's posting at the Bava Book Blog for more about this special lady.

Also present was Italian horror director (and Coralina's lucky companion) Mariano Baino, whose DARK WATERS was released here on DVD by No Shame in a deluxe box set with amulet. I haven't yet seen DARK WATERS, which Lamberto gave a strong and persuasive endorsement, but I much enjoyed meeting and talking with Mariano, who has an encyclopedic knowledge of cinema and likewise had that combination of warmth, friendliness and intensity.

I was so pleased to finally be in Lamberto's company that I never left his table except to attend to the call of nature. On Sunday, we got into the dealer's room early and I had a little time to visit some of Lamberto's immediate neighbors on Celebrity Row and that's when I discovered that, just a few seats to my right, all along, was none other than writer-director Jeff Lieberman! As a horror fan hitting all the drive-ins back in the 1970s, Jeff became an instant genre luminary with the release of SQUIRM, and he completed his Big Three with the cult classics BLUE SUNSHINE and JUST BEFORE DAWN. In reviews I wrote at the time, I compared Lieberman to David Cronenberg and the later release of REMOTE CONTROL (his VIDEODROME, if you will) supported the comparison. Jeff told me about some exciting new irons he has in the fire, and I look forward to seeing more of his work, which has always been original and healthy for the genre.

Sitting to my immediate right throughout the weekend was the great Brett Halsey, who starred in two Mario Bava films (FOUR TIMES THAT NIGHT and ROY COLT & WINCHESTER JACK) and also worked with him during the filming in some sequences for the Riccardo Freda costume adventure THE SEVENTH SWORD. I've known Brett via phone and e-mail for five or six years, and this was our first meeting. Now that the Bava book is done, I was able to broaden the scope of our subject matter and he told me some fascinating stories about working with Freda and he also gave me a surprising insight into the personality of the late Steve Reeves, someone I approached to be interviewed for the Bava book a few times without success. He told me that it was his understanding that Reeves' parents were deaf-mutes and that Steve himself did not learn to speak until he was seven years old. This is something I don't recall ever reading about, and it explains a good deal of Reeves' personal reserve. Brett kindly gave me a copy of John Murray's new book about his career (from Midnight Marquee Press) and I bought the new edition of his novel THE MAGNIFICENT STRANGERS, out of print since the 1970s, and newly revised and expanded in its current edition from I-Universe.

During our Sunday morning stroll along Celebrity Row, we met Betsy Palmer, who was wearing either her original Mrs. Voorhees sweater from FRIDAY THE 13TH or something very like it! Now 83, Betsy turned out to be a real sweetheart and hugged us both for commemorative photos. As die-hard fans of I'VE GOT A SECRET, we asked for some behind-the-scenes stories about her curmudgeonly co-star Henry Morgan (a personal favorite), and boy, did we get 'em! A short but very sweet encounter.

The surprise of the weekend came when Donna and I were heading to the elevators to get ready for dinner on Saturday, when I heard an unmistakable voice call my name from around the corner. It was Don May, Jr. of Synapse Films! Don (seen here at the right, with his partner Jerry Chandler in the middle) has been a friend and reader/supporter of VIDEO WATCHDOG since the beginning, then became a contributor of articles about HIGHLANDER and THE EVIL DEAD, and now he heads one of the most important independent horror/exploitation DVD labels around. As this photo shows, every moment I spent with these two guys was an absolute joy. Support Synapse Films and Impulse Pictures products! They tell me they'll be bringing Christina Lindberg to the next Cinema Wasteland convention!
I don't have a photo to commemorate the event, but during Saturday night's dinner with Lamberto, Coralina, Mariano and Mike Baronas (who brought everyone together at this event -- bravissimo, Michele!), our table was approached by an effusive admirer of Lamberto's whom I immediately recognized as Adrienne King, the female lead of the first FRIDAY THE 13th. It seems Adrienne is quite an admirer of classic Italian horror, knew all about the movie's debt to TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE, and we invited her to join us. She added still more excitement to an already happy and animated table, and Brett Halsey also dropped by, completing a perfect evening.

This weekend also allowed for a personal reunion for Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni and her aunt and uncle, Bruno and Rose Botti, whom she hadn't seen in about five years. She told me that they weren't very familiar with her work in movies, and the convention gave them an opportunity to see their famous niece in her professional element. They were very nice, friendly people, clearly very proud of their niece, and you can see how moved Coralina was to be in their company again.
As the clock ticked down the moments to the time of our departure on Sunday afternoon, we finally succeeded in assembling the Italian horror contingent for a commemorative photo. From left to right: Brett Halsey, Donna Lucas, John Saxon (so consistently in-demand at his signing table that we had very little time to get reacquainted), Tim Lucas, Mike Baronas, Lamberto Bava, Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni and Mariano Baiano. The photo was taken by John Saxon's fiancée Gloria Martel, a terrific lady, and I consider it one of the great keepsakes of my life.
In fact, once Gloria started setting up the shot, she was suddenly joined by a half-dozen other photographers... and as the flashes started going off, they were joined by other camera bugs who followed the bombardments of light over to our corner. Soon, our eyes were all dazzled by the blue afterburns of flashing cameras.

This picture was snapped dozens upon dozens of shots later, just as we thought we had finally finished. Then one of the many photographers, a member of the Cinema Wasteland staff, suddenly exclaimed, "This is too good to pass up; I'm getting in on this!" -- then handed his camera to his girlfriend and sidled through the tables to stand in front of the group. More pictures ensued. And then more people joining the group to be photographed ensued! The expressions in this candid shot -- the way Donna and Mike and I are laughing, the way Coralina is looking at me, the way John is looking at the Cinema Wasteland staffer who wants a piece of this historic moment ("Oh yeah? You want a piece of this?") -- capture the spirit of the weekend in ways that the posed shot doesn't, and that's why I cherish it just as much.

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