10 Questions with Tim Lucas
The name Tim Lucas should be familiar to many movie fans. His film reviews have appeared in countless magazines such as Film Comment, Cahiers du Cinema, Fangoria and Cinefex, and you can find his insightful essays and audio commentary included with many popular horror DVDs. He's also a novelist and comic book author. Tim currently writes for Sight & Sound and he has published and edited the award winning magazine Video Watchdog for many years.
His recent project is an impressive 1128 page book called Mario Bava - All the Colors of the Dark. This "12-pound labor of love" delves deeply into the rich life and fascinating film career of the Italian fantasy and horror director Mario Bava who's responsible for many genre classics including Black Sunday (1960), Danger: Diabolik (1968), Blood and Black Lace (1964), Kill... Baby, Kill! (1966), Planet of the Vampires (1965) and Bay of Blood (1971). Tim was kind enough to answer some of my questions about Mario Bava - All the Colors of the Dark in the first of a new on-going feature here at Cinedelica called 10 Questions.
1. When did you first become seriously interested in Mario Bava and what originally drew you to his films?
Tim Lucas: "Long before I saw his films, Bava's name seemed to jump out at me whenever I saw it mentioned in magazines like Castle of Frankenstein. I didn't get around to seeing his movies until they began to appear on television when I was a young teenager. When I was about 15 or 16 years old, I happened to see Bava's Kill, Baby... Kill! and Fellini's Toby Dammit (in Spirits of the Dead) about two weeks apart and I became obsessed with both movies and the character they mysteriously shared, the spectral blonde-haired child with the bouncing ball. I was able to find all kinds of material on Fellini, but almost nothing on Bava -- whose movies got "BOMB" ratings in the TV Movie Guide books. Even the few books on horror movies that existed at the time had little good to say about Bava, so I determined to investigate and hopefully set the rest of the world straight about these films, whose quality I felt was obvious."
2. Mario Bava - All the Colors of the Dark is an exhaustive study of Bava's life and work. How long did it take you to complete the book?
Tim Lucas: "I started researching in 1975 and generally collected information, conducted interviews. I did some writing of chapters, but all this early work was discarded as I matured and the way I saw the films began to change. It's easy to take your time on a book when you don't have a publisher and have lots of other demands on your time. It really took the news that Troy Howarth was writing a book on Bava to get us to fully commit, so we began accepting pre-orders circa 1999 to assess interest in our book, which we knew would be pricey if it was done the way we envisioned it. That support was there, so I set to work and spent all my free time writing the book until I had a complete draft, around 2004. It then took my wife Donna another three years to design and execute the layout and to digitally restore the materials used in the book, and I continued to add to the manuscript as other eyes were proofreading it."
3. What was one of the most interesting things you discovered about Mario Bava during your research?
Tim Lucas: "That he loved to work and solve problems so much that he spent his spare time working in secret on other director's movies, in technical capacities. This made my work very difficult, because it meant I had to look at movies Bava didn't make, in search of traces of Bava's brushstrokes, shall we say. Right up to the end, I was discovering things -- I saw a French tape of a Riccardo Freda movie called Seven Swords for the King, and suddenly in the torture chamber scene, there was all kinds of Bava-like lighting. The star was Brett Halsey, whom I had interviewed, so I e-mailed Brett and asked him if Bava had worked on the film secretly. He wrote back within minutes, telling me that, yes, Bava did work on the film -- in fact, that was where they had met! None of this had come out during our interviews about Four Times That Night and Roy Colt & Winchester Jack! I also found it amazing to discover that Bava was likely the first cameraman to film aboard an actual submarine, and that he had used his special effects expertise to fake Italian victories in wartime newsreels."
4. Is there anything you didn't include in the book that you wish you could have?
Tim Lucas: "There are some beautiful posters that Donna spent a good deal of time restoring that ultimately had nowhere to go, and I regret that they aren't in there, but really I have no severe regrets."
5. As you're well aware of, Mario Bava's son Lamberto is also an accomplished director. Did Lamberto Bava contribute to Mario Bava - All the Colors of the Dark in any way or help you with your research?
Tim Lucas: "Yes, I've been in touch with Lamberto, off and on, since 1980 -- mostly through his daughter Georgia, who speaks English naturally because she was schooled in Ireland. When Mario died, Lamberto discovered some letters I had written that were kept among his father's "important papers," and he determined to assist me because his father was touched enough by my letters to keep them. I had written to Mario Bava in the 1970s to tell him I was writing a book about him and sending some initial questions, but he never replied."
6. Your wife Donna seems to be very supportive and obviously helped with the book’s impressive design. Can you share a little more about her involvement with the project?
Tim Lucas: "She did everything but write the book, and it would not exist without her. I provided the materials and offered some guidance about their placement, but she designed the layout, digitally restored most of the photos, farmed out the work she couldn't handle to other capable hands, and she spent years slaving over the presentation, as well as spending six months alone on compiling the Index. Then she auditioned printers, handled the pre-orders and the financing -- she made it all happen, which would have been beyond my capabilities. What she did is truly amazing."
7. Why did you decide to self-publish the book?
Tim Lucas: "No one else would have agreed to do it the way we did it; other publishers would have wanted a shorter book without all the color. Also, we have been publishing since 1990 and it didn't seem an unreasonable commitment to make, especially since Video Watchdog's readership provided our target audience for this book and their financial commitment encouraged us to proceed. Also, and not least importantly, self-publishing is the only way we could begin to make any kind of profit from all the time we had invested."
8. Mario Bava - All the Colors of the Dark also features an Introduction written by the celebrated American director Martin Scorsese and a Foreword from the talented Italian genre director Riccardo Freda. How did they become involved?
Tim Lucas: I sent a letter and questions to Signor Freda in early 1984 and his reply, translated, became the Foreword exactly as it appears. As for Martin Scorsese, he's been a VW subscriber since the beginning and his people contacted our office for a photo of Bava to use while he was preparing his wonderful documentary Il Mio Viaggio In Italia (It was used in the movie and I got a screen credit.) It was this contact that encouraged me to ask if he'd be interested in writing an Introduction for the book, and he accepted in principle -- though he wanted to read the book first. This gave me some initiative to finish it, which I did as quickly as possible."
9. Do you have a favorite Mario Bava film or a few favorites that you could share with our readers?
Tim Lucas: "Kill, Baby... Kill! is my favorite. It's the most dizzying, disorienting, metaphysical horror film of them all, made with more ingenuity than means, and I also love that it's a classic hidden behind the worst title in the history of horror movies. It becomes a kind of test that only the most devoted and undiscerning of horror fans are likely to stumble across it. It's like the old saying, "If you want to find buried treasure, you'll have to dig."
10. Last but certainly not least, do you have any more book projects planned for the future?
Tim Lucas: "I need to get serious about collecting the best of my past criticism, essays and interviews in book form. That will probably be the next book or books. I am also working on a Jess Franco viewer's guide but I'm not able to work on it as diligently as it needs to make serious progress. It's hard when you're also doing a monthly magazine AND a blog. What I really should be doing is finding time to focus on writing more novels and screenplays -- something with the possibility of earning enough for us to retire on. To be a novelist was always my adult ambition, but my teenage dream of becoming a film critic seems to have taken precedence."
We'll be looking forward to your future projects Tim!
In the meantime, you can find updates and recent news about Mario Bava - All the Colors of the Dark at The Bava Book Blog and if you're interested in purchasing this impressive publication please see the Video Watchdog ordering page: Order Mario Bava - All the Colors of the Dark
- Kimberly Lindbergs