Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Man Who Could Cheat Mediocrity

I have a critique of Terence Fisher's THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH (1959) going into the next issue of VW -- it's available on DVD as one of those confounded "Best Buy exclusives" from Legend Films. While going through the disc in search of some screen grabs suitable to accompany my review, I was stopped in my tracks by this impressive shot of Christopher Lee, which had passed over me without particular effect as I watched the film itself. But seen here, as a composed image, I feel that cameraman Jack Asher succeeded in capturing something close to the soul of this much-too-easily-taken-for-granted actor and why I and so many of my generation love him so much.

In this film, which hasn't dated particularly well in my opinion, Lee plays the thankless "other man" role of Dr. Pierre Gérard -- just one of many laughably unimaginative French names peopling Jimmy Sangster's script. (The villain of the piece actually resides at No. 13 Rue Noire!) It's the sort of dull, stiff-upper-lip role that Lee readily accepted in his early determination not to become typecast as one of Hammer's monster men, and I used to think he was boring in it... when I was a much younger viewer not so well-versed in the ways of life and love. Seeing the movie now, I find that Lee is one of its most interesting, enduring facets: I admire his character's deeply held moral convictions, the way he values the medical experience of the elderly character played by Arnold Marlé, and especially the way he readily -- indeed, heroically -- responds in the affirmative when the film's villain, played by Anton Diffring, asks if he's in love with Janine Dubois, the heroine played by Hazel Court -- something we instinctively know he has not yet found the right moment to confide to her. It's in this single outburst of heart that he qualifies himself as the film's hero, allowing some heat to pass through his cool public image -- not that it would make any difference to Janine who, in the final reel, agrees even to damnation if it means remaining by the side of the man she loves so unwisely. The film ends with the usual incendiary mayhem and offers no real closure for Pierre Gérard, and it is only after reflecting on the film from a distance, and revisiting a shot such as this, that we realize that Janine's choice has probably damned him, too.

Few actors could have played this man with such innate nobility and melancholy, and it's high time Christopher Lee was complimented on making something so touching out of next to nothing.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Fixing A Hole

In the course of recent events, various people have asked me what it feels like to have completed the project of a lifetime. The answer I've settled on, the most truthful one, is quick and to the point: "I feel bereaved."

I now have the Bava book as a tangible thing, rather than as a ghost in my head, but there remains the feeling of having lost it. The awards it has received thus far have been wonderful and gratifying, but these honors can't begin to fill the hole that was excavated by the thirty-plus questing years that preceded it. I've experienced "post partum depression" before, with other books I've finished, but this experience is something more profound. I remember reading somewhere that F. Scott Fitzgerald burst into tears when his first novel was accepted by Scribner's, and that he explained his emotional outburst by saying that he knew that nothing else in his life would ever feel so wonderful again. In my case, I'm not weeping uncontrollably or drinking to excess or auditioning bridges to leap off; I'm just very aware that as much as 50% of what used to be Tim Lucas isn't part of me anymore. I'm also aware that, whatever my next projects happen to be, it's unlikely that any of them, separately or in combination, will completely fill the void left behind by this lifetime endeavor.

We're working on VIDEO WATCHDOG #143 at present, so it's not the right time to start writing the next novel or screenplay, but I should start taking notes toward both projects more fastidiously. In the meantime, both Donna and I are focusing on effecting positive changes in our lifestyle. Last Sunday, I went swimming for the first time since 1989 at a local health facility. I've always loved the water; I've always been the sort of swimmer who never wants to come out once he gets in, but I had been depriving myself of this pleasure with mental preccupations and sheer physical indolence for close to twenty years. I stayed in the water for about 30-35 minutes and, I have to say, it was largely a struggle. But this morning -- before breakfast, before coffee, before e-mail (!!!) -- we went back and I swam for the better part of an hour: doing laps, treading water, floating on my back and watching the white ceiling piping and blue-and-white pennants drifty by above me, then I soothed my tensed muscles for 10 minutes or so in the whirlpool. Even while getting dressed afterwards, I took notice of the simple pleasure I was taking on putting my socks and shoes back on after a swim. Then, while sitting in a chair in the lobby, drinking an electrolyte beverage while waiting for Donna to join me after her own health regime, I realized that I felt wonderful -- "attuned" might be the more precise word. And, best of all, that for the entire time I had been in the water, I hadn't taken any notice of the names, titles, dates and other preoccupations that command my attention when I'm at home, sitting in front of this infernal machine.

Funnily enough, the writing I most enjoy doing at the moment is limericks. It's a form that forces the poet to work and finish quickly. What? Someone requested a Jess Franco limerick? Sure, here goes:

There once was a filmmaker, Jesus,
Whose flicks weren't financed by Cresus
A hotel and zoom lens
Were his means to an end
And the labia majora his thesis.

There. Believe it or not, I wrote that in just slightly more time than it took you to read it. Yes, my limerick muscle is firm and readily flexed -- but I know it's not going to make me rich. This stripe of poetry pays only in author's satisfaction, much like epic poetry today. But at least that satisfaction comes quickly, on the fifth line, like euphoria from a morphine drip.

Additionally, I seem to be going through a phase, probably brought on my the highs of my recent trips to Los Angeles and Louisville: I'm not very interested in watching movies at the moment, especially horror movies. I'm strugging against the morbid streak that has been my beat for so long; as one confidant expressed it, I've tasted a bit of life and a broader circle of companionship and liked it. Other people seem to juggle work and real life -- why shouldn't I try my hand at that for awhile? It's likely to mean less blogging, but for those times when the mood or the need strikes, I'll be leaving the door here open a crack and the lights on.

Tomorrow would have been Mario Bava's 94th birthday. I send my love to his flown spirit, wherever it may be, and thank him from the bottom of my heart for having been such an inexhaustibly interesting companion for so many years, all those years when I felt he was mine alone. I either know or have met quite a few people in fandom who are engaged in various book projects, some of them in developing manuscript, some without a single word yet written, and some have dragged on almost as long as mine. I hope the example of MARIO BAVA ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK has given these writers and would-be writers more reason to finish. The longer we toil at such projects, wrestling them toward our idea of perfection, the more painful it is to separate ourselves from them, in ways so profound they're hard to imagine even if I described them to you. Empty as I feel, I have no doubt that the most important thing was to finish and move on toward the next big question mark. Isn't it best to be judged for what we do rather than for what we intend?