Monday, January 09, 2006

I VAMPIRI Questions

Q: I know the Bava Collection DVD is old news, but I just caught up with I VAMPIRI tonight, found the title terrifically impressive as a film (plus very well presented), and am spoiling for a conversation. Here are a couple of questions:

1. Was any part of the 'acted drama' actually shot in Paris? Is it all illusion, or if faked, how was the Parisian part all done? Just curious.

2. The more obvious question, which I'll put more briefly: How much is this Bava's movie? I don't know Freda's work overall well enough to hazard a guess, and I've got to ask! -- James Cheney

A: In brief, none of the film was shot in Paris, or specifically Montmartre. This aspect was entirely faked through Bava's use of glass mattes, which pasted blown-up photographic elements to large panoramic panes of glass, sometimes multi-layered. Freda also put some touches on these mattes. The street in Montmartre was filmed in the courtyard outside the offices of Scalera Film. I've seen some of the same views, without the Parisian scenery, in earlier films photographed by Bava, including Mario Costa's FOLLIE PER L'OPERA (1949).

About your second question: Freda directed the film on a bet that he could complete the film in 12 days. When he hadn't finished it in 10 days and demanded an extension, his producers refused and Freda walked. Supposedly only half the film was shot. A break was called in the shooting, during which time Bava worked out how to complete the filming -- ie., how to shoot the remaining half of the picture -- in only two days. By all accounts, he succeeded. I believe the film lost the services of some cast members during this period, including Antoine Balpêtre (the French actor who plays Professor Du Grand), so part of Bava's magic was rewriting the film so that Pierre, the young reporter character played by Dario Michaëlis (originally a supporting character), became the film's new protagonist.

One of the interesting changes made under Bava's watch was that Paul Muller's character of Joseph Seignoret was newly interpreted as a junkie rather than what he was originally -- a reanimated zombie! Freda shot an opening sequence that showed Muller in prison, being led to the guillotine (this lost footage is excerpted in the I VAMPIRI trailer hidden in the Filmography pages of the German BLOOD AND BLACK LACE DVD), and his interroration at the police station was supposed to have originally ended with his head coming loose and rolling off. If you look closely, you can still see the makeup scar surrounding his neck.

James, who rented a copy of the Image I VAMPIRI disc that didn't include my liner notes (which covered all this), originally asked these questions on the Mobius Home Video Forum and I asked him to forward them here. I don't want to get into a habit of pre-empting my book by answering a lot of specific Bava questions here on this blog, but as long as I was going to respond, I felt I should do it here, where the information could help fuel this blog and draw attention to the book. My thanks to James for cooperating.


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