Thursday, June 05, 2008

Respects to Alton Kelley

I can take or leave the album itself (I'm more of an AOXOMOXOA or LIVE/DEAD man), but Grateful Dead's AMERICAN BEAUTY, released in November 1970, is packaged in the most beautiful album cover art I've ever beheld. The master who painted it, Alton Kelley, died yesterday from complications of osteoperosis at the much-too-young age of 67.

I look at this album cover, even now, and I thrill to how it manages to look at once traditional and frontier-shattering; how the design manages to accomodate woodwork, marble, ornate metalwork and decal-design; and, most especially, how Kelley so brilliantly revolutionized the art of typography. And the piece achieves all of this in service to the simple central image of a rose. In that way, I find it analogous to the eponymous suite in Vincente Minnelli's AN AMERICAN IN PARIS: both works traverse a history of art to arrive at the fundamental beauty of nature, despite all its thorns.

Kelley and his associate Stanley Mouse spearheaded San Francisco's psychedelic art movement in 1965, when Bay Area concert venues like the Fillmore Auditorium, The Family Dog and the Avalon Ballroom hired them and other artists to design promotional posters, flyers and postcards for their weekend shows.

"We were just having fun making posters," Mouse told Joel Selvin of THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE. "There was no time to think about what we were doing. It was a furious time, but I think most great art is created in a furious moment."

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

New Bava Book from Italy

A new book about Mario Bava has surfaced in Italy: KILL BABY KILL! IL CINEMA DI MARIO BAVA, edited by Gabriele Acerbo and Roberto Pisoni, with a sizeable introduction by Joe Dante. This book was apparently published last October in a very limited edition of only 1000 copies, but I received mine only yesterday. It's 312 pages, priced at 25.00 Euros, and carries an ISBN number of ISBN 978-88-89481-13-4. It was published by Un Mondo A Parte (Viale Angelico 77, 00195 Roma), whose website can be found at www.unmondoaparte.it. That's as much help as I can be in terms of directing you to a copy of your own.
This book is an expanded print version of the Sky TV documentary film MARIO BAVA OPERAZIONE PAURA, containing what appears to be transcriptions of the full (or at least fuller) interviews originally recorded for the program with such people as Lamberto and Roy Bava, Alfredo Leone, Carlo Rambaldi, Ernesto Gastaldi, Barbara Steele, Daria Nicolodi, John Saxon, Dino de Laurentiis, Roger Corman, Quentin Tarantino, Tim Burton and others, including me. (The book actually contains two chapters of interviews with me, apparently a general one and the other about Bava's special effects work.)
Beyond this, the editors have continued their research into the subject by appending to this already sizable brain trust additional interviews with numerous Bava colleagues, including Christopher Lee, John Phillip Law, Dario Argento, Fulvio Lucisano, Mario Monicelli, Luciano Emmer, Mark Damon, Elke Sommer, Don Backy, Alberto Bevilacqua, and directors Christophe Gans, John Landis, Sam Raimi and Umberto Lenzi. Sergio Stivaletti contributes an essay about Mario's own Mitchell camera, used by him in creating special effects sequences, which Lamberto Bava gave to him after Mario's death. (The essay includes a photo of the sacred machine, the only image in the book I hadn't seen before.) Mind you, this is just a partial listing of the book's contents. Also included are short chapters by various leading Italian Bava specialists, including Manlio Gomarasca, Alberto Pezzotta and Stefano Della Casa, as well as some input from Mario Bava himself. In a creative chapter entitled "L'Alfabeto," the editors have excerpted comments from Bava's few granted interviews to compile a literal A to Z of his observations on various topics.
For me, the book's greatest surprise corrects a grievous error in my own MARIO BAVA ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK. There, and in my recent audio commentary for ERIK THE CONQUEROR, I reported the death of actor Giorgio Ardisson, who played the title role in that film and also Theseus in the wonderful HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD. My sources told me that he had died of a heart attack while watching his last movie at a preview screening, but Gabriele Acerbo now confirms that Ardisson is "alive and kicking." The book contains a two-paragraph reminiscence of Bava that Acerbo obtained in a 2005 telephone interview with the retired actor, who today is the owner of the Villa dei Principi. Of course, I regret the error, but I'm very happy to learn that Giorgio Ardisson is still with us.
The text (which includes filmography, videography and an especially welcome bibliography) is entirely in Italian, of course, and the interior is entirely in black-and-white. It's an attractive volume and Bava fans and scholars should seek out a copy while the very limited supply still lasts.
On another topic, thanks to everyone who has written to express concern over my illness. It started out as a sore throat but got quite a bit worse over the past several days. This has been the worst case of flu I've ever endured, and the first case that helped me to understand how influenza was once able to actually kill people. I haven't slept for any length of time over the past week because, whenever I would lie down, I could hear something in my larynx trying to send Morse code messages to Mars. This would then develop into a bubbling or crackling sound that signalled the approach of another hellish coughing jag, for which I'd have to sit upright. My throat was so abused from deep coughing that I couldn't speak above a whisper without causing myself horrific pain. Last night my temperature got up to slightly over 103°, which was quite alarming, as my normal temperature usually hovers below the usual norm, at about 97.2°. I resorted to ice bags and cold compresses, which helped my fever to break, and which allowed me to get more sleep than usual last night. Today is the first day in about a week that I've felt so close to my usual self; the soreness in my throat is gone and I can talk, though my voice presently sounds an octave deeper. I'm still not well, but I think I'm getting there.