Thursday, 24 April 2008

Lucio Fulci Remembered Volume 1

This disc presents interviews with nearly 90 of Lucio Fulci’s cast, crew and contemporaries. Each was asked one simple question: what was their favourite memory of Fulci and allowed to expound as much or as little as they wanted, without further prompting or interjections from the interviewer.

The aim, according to the project mastermind Mike Baronas, was to try to find out what Fulci was really like, presenting a complement to the films and to the kind of detailed analyses of them provided by Stephen Thrower in Beyond Terror.

Baronas makes it clear in his liner notes that he appreciates what Thrower did, but that Thrower’s textual focus – and, one suspects, more distanced and theoretical approach – didn’t tell him what, as a fan, he really wanted to know about Fulci himself. (It’s worth noting also here that Thrower’s more recent Nightmare USA is less reliant on theory and functions more as an oral history of the US horror independents of the 70s and early 80s.)

The responses, totalling over three hours of material, vary in length from around half a minute (Claudio Ailiotti) to over eight minutes (Beatrice Ring), depending on what someone has to say. Ailiotti, for instance, simply thanks Fulci for giving him a job whereas Ring, who worked under extremely trying circumstances on Zombi 3, finds it difficult to produce any fond memories of Fulci but graciously forgives and strives to understand what made him the way he was.

Some memories are sad, like the tales of Fulci’s long battle with illness, or the will-sapping delays that were to prevent him from realising his comeback with Wax Mask. Others are funny, such as the stories of bets on how often he would change his socks during a production; his nickname of Lucio Pulci (i.e. fleas). Others, like Dakar’s playing on his guitar and singing in lieu of offering his actual memories, are simply touching.

Crucially, there are also moments of insight, such as Catriona MacColl’s reading of that famous picture of Fulci sitting, arms folded, in the middle of the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway: a man between two worlds, isolated and defiant. (The image is on the back cover of the DVD.)

Overall, the picture that emerges is of someone who had a difficult life and was at times certainly a difficult person to get on with. Everyone also agrees that Fulci was an intelligent and cultured man, knowledgeable about the cinema and a solid professional.

Beyond this the picture gets more complicated.

Many actors indicate that Fulci could be a bully, with a tendency to pick out victims. Others, however, also indicate that he was surprisingly patient with them, apparently understanding of their lack of experience. Trying to square these conflicting accounts, the impression is that of a professional who expected the same professionalism from his actors and didn’t suffer fools gladly; Sasha Maria Darwin talks about a 'Jekyll and Hyde' aspect to Fulci – Jekyll being Fulci the man and Hyde Fulci the director.

Another area where opinions differ is whether Fulci’s talents deserved better than the B- movies that constitute his filmography, or if his willingness to take on just about any paying job that came his way rather than waiting for the right moment and taking the time to make the A- film that could have boosted his reputation as a serious filmmaker was itself partly to blame for his failure to attain mainstream recognition.

Of the interviewees, one I would really like to heard more from is Jean Sorel, who was unique in working with Fulci before and after his wife’s suicide, on the films Perversion Story (1969) and Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (1971), and is perhaps thus best placed to shed some light on the impact of this event on the director.

One thing that shines out from the disc is just how important a service Baronas and others like him are doing in putting the pieces in place for an oral history of the filone cinema and its personalities; of those interviewed, at least five – Bruno Mattei, Fernando Di Leo, Renato Polselli, Dakar and Jenny Tamburi – have died in the years between their interviews and the release of the disc.

The disc is labelled as volume one. Here’s hoping that interest is sufficient for not only volume two, hopefully featuring contributions from some of those who slipped through the net this time round – Edwige Fenech, Lando Buzzanca and Dario Argento would be three obvious candidates I can think of, the first two also perhaps helping shed some light on whether Fulci was different when working as a comedy director – but also for Baronas to resume his Fulci book project as well.

Mention must also be made of Dave Neabore's music, which captures the sound of Fabio Frizzi, Walter Rizzati and company so well you could almost believe you were hearing previously unreleased tracks from City of the Living Dead or The House by the Cemetery.

Paura Productions' website

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