The Haunted Film of Mario Bava: Kill, Baby, Kill

Released in 1966 by Mario Bava, Kill, Baby, Kill, is a fantastic horror set in a Carpathian village.  Despite its ridiculous American title (the original being, Operazione paura) which conjures images of a c-grade slasher, the film is a surprising mix of an old-fashioned ghost story with dashes of surrealism.

The film begins as a woman leaps to her death onto a spiked fence.  Then a child’s mocking laughter is heard as the opening credits roll.

 An outsider, Dr. Paul Eswai, is summoned to perform the autopsy.  He quickly befriends a young nurse, Monica Shuftan, who only recently arrived at the village, herself.   She reveals having been born there, but sent away when orphaned at two years.  “I came to visit my parents’ graves,” she tells him.

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The two quickly learn that the villagers fear a ghost child named Melissa.   Legend goes that anyone who sees the malevolent spirit will kill themselves

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 The scientifically-minded doctor scoffs at the notion of a curse, while the more emotional, but sensible Monica realizes that science can’t explain the odd deaths which have plagued the village for twenty years.

Along with the pile of bodies all found with coins in their hearts, is the mysterious presence of the black-robed Ruth.   

     When a teen-aged girl claims to have seen the ghost, her petrified mother cries for her husband to seek help from the witch.  But when he opens the door to do so, she is already standing at the threshold.   “We know when someone is in harm’s way.”

 When Paul arrives, he is aghast to witness what he considers Ruth’s arcane healing methods.  And further, he ignores her warnings to leave the village.   Instead, he continues to search for rational answers and save the ailing Nadienne.

 Meanwhile, Monica is plagued by a doll-filled nightmare that suggests there’s more to her past in connection with the village than even she is aware..   

 As the plot deepens, Monica, Paul, and Ruth find their way to the home of the Baroness Graps, the reclusive mother of the ghost child.  Two are seeking the truth.  One, is looking for retribution.

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Not as well known as Bava’s sublime, Black Sunday, this film is every bit as worth a view.   Interesting camera angles and dazzling colors create a highly atmospheric mood.   An intelligent script converts some of the genre’s even by then tired clichés.   Giacomo Rossi-Stuart displays solid acting as Paul, though he lacks the charisma necessary to elevate the role from merely the “good guy”. 

     It is the women of this film that the camera loves.  Erika Blanc is effective as Monica, and even drab clothes can’t hide her charms.  The haunting Fabienne Dali (Ruth) steals every scene she’s in.  And of course, there’s always Melissa and her devoted mother…

Henrik Ibsen and the Real Lady of the Dollhouse

from A Doll’s House (original title: Et dukkehjem) by Henrik Ibsen:

“Nora [shaking her head]. You have never loved me. You have only thought it pleasant to be in love with me.

Helmer. Nora, what do I hear you saying?

Nora. It is perfectly true, Torvald. When I was at home with papa, he told me his opinion about everything, and so I had the same opinions; and if I differed from him I concealed the fact, because he would not have liked it. He called me his doll-child, and he played with me just as I used to play with my dolls. And when I came to live with you–

Helmer. What sort of an expression is that to use about our marriage?

Nora [undisturbed]. I mean that I was simply transferred from papa’s hands into yours. You arranged everything according to your own taste, and so I got the same tastes as your else I pretended to, I am really not quite sure which–I think sometimes the one and sometimes the other. When I look back on it, it seems to me as if I had been living here like a poor woman–just from hand to mouth. I have existed merely to perform tricks for you, Torvald. But you would have it so. You and papa have committed a great sin against me. It is your fault that I have made nothing of my life.

Helmer. How unreasonable and how ungrateful you are, Nora! Have you not been happy here?

Nora. No, I have never been happy. I thought I was, but it has never really been so.

Helmer. Not–not happy!

Nora. No, only merry. And you have always been so kind to me. But our home has been nothing but a playroom. I have been your doll-wife, just as at home I was papa’s doll-child; and here the children have been my dolls. I thought it great fun when you played with me, just as they thought it great fun when I played with them. That is what our marriage has been, Torvald.

Nora. I don’t believe that any longer. I believe that before all else I am a reasonable human being, just as you are–or, at all events, that I must try and become one. I know quite well, Torvald, that most people would think you right, and that views of that kind are to be found in books; but I can no longer content myself with what most people say, or with what is found in books. I must think over things for myself and get to understand them.” Nora.

When Nora walked out of her house at the conclusion of Henrik Ibsen’s play, A Doll’s House it caused an uproar at its premiere at the Royal Theatre in Denmark. Depression due to the inequalites in marriage had long been a subject in literature, but the problem (except in rare cases such as Anne Bronte’s Tenant of Wildfell Hall) had been “solved” by plunges off cliffs or glasses of arsonic.

One of the many things that stands out is that Ibsen has the guts to make Nora unsympathetic at times. This is most evident when she talks endlessly about herself to her friends, Mrs. Linde and Doctor Rank. (the former, a widow looking for employment at the bank. the latter, dying). It would have been all too easy to make Nora simply a poor, put-upon woman. Controversy remains to this day regarding the fact that she abandons her role as a mother. But as Nora makes clear, she is hardly suitable for that role, being nothing more than a child, or doll, herself.

It is this self-realization that sets Nora apart from the Madam Bovaries. She can acknowledge her flaws and she sees a way to solve them. Perhaps her solution is not ideal, but she is taking active measures. If she is given this chance to be by herself for the very first time in her life, then perhaps one day she can return home, “changed”. And if in the interim, her husband is able/willing to do the same, then perhaps, “the most wonderful thing of all could happen.”

Henrik Ibsen first saw his Nora coming to him in a blue woolen dress. He wrote on October 17, 1878 that, “A woman cannot be herself in modern society since it is an exclusively male society, with laws made by men and with prosecutors and judges who assess feminine conduct from a masculine standpoint.”

It should be noted here that later on Ibsen declined an award from the Norwegian Women’s Rights League, claiming he had not consciously written the play thinking about women’s rights, but about all humanity.

Yet, the question remained, who was this woman who came to him in a blue woolen dress?

Laura Kieler was a friend of Ibsen’s. Their relationship had begun in 1870 when she’d sent him a novel she’d written entitled, Brand’s Daughters. Stricken, Ibsen nicknamed her, “lark”, as Helmer would later affectionately call Nora in the play.

In 1876, after discovering that Laura had secretly taken out a loan, her husband demanded a separation and had her committed to an asylum. Shaken by his friend’s ordeal and feeling powerless to help- Ibsen poured his frustrastions onto paper. His woman could and would, choose life and freedom.

Laura was released after a month and returned to her husband. She resumed her writing career and tried (unsuccessfully) to distance herself from being associated as the model for Ibsen’s, “Doll”.

The fate of Nora resides in readers’ imaginations.

Published in: on August 29, 2011 at 9:37 pm  Comments (22)  
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Quotes on Acting… for Writers

 

Here are some quotes on acting from various theater actors and teachers which can also be applied toward creative writing

1.”Each action of the actor on the stage should be the visible concomitant of his thoughts. ” Sarah Bernhardt

2.  “He who is incapable of feeling strong passions, of being shaken by anger, of living in every sense of the word, will never be a good actor.”- Sarah Bernhardt

3.   “Permanent success cannot be achieved except by incessant intellectual labour, always inspired by the ideal. ” – Sarah Bernhardt

4. “There is all the difference in the world between departure from recognised rules by one who has learned to obey them, and neglect of them through want of training or want of skill or want of understanding. Before you can be eccentric you must know where the circle is.”- Ellen Terry

5.  “Imagination!  Imagination!  I put it first years ago, when I was asked what qualities I thought necessary for success on the stage.”- Ellen Terry

6.  “Vary the pace.  It is the foundation of all good acting.”- Ellen Terry

7.   “Imagination, industry, and intelligence — the three I s — are all indispensable to the actress, but of these three the greatest is, without doubt, imagination.”- Ellen Terry

8. ” “He never adheres to the first image that appears to him, because he knows that this is not necessarily the richest and more correct. He sacrifices one image for another more intense and expressive, and he does this repeatedly until new and unknown visions strike him with their revealing spell.” — Michael Chekhov

9.  “The inner life of the [imagination], and not the personal and tiny experiential resources of the actor, should be elaborated on the stage and shown to the audience. This life is rich and revealing for the audience as well as for the actor himself.” – Michael Chekhov

10.  “You have to get beyond your own precious inner experiences. The actor cannot afford to look only to his own life for all his material nor pull strictly from his own experience to find his acting choices and feelings. The ideas of the great playwrights are almost always larger than the experiences of even the best actors.” – Stella Adler

11.  “Whatever you decide is your motivation in the scene, the opposite of that is also true and should be in the scene.” – Michael Shurtleff

12.  “One way we can enliven the imagination is to push it toward the illogical. We’re not scientists. We don’t always have to make the logical, reasonable leap.” – Stella Adler

13.  “We don’t live for realities, but for the fantasies, the dreams of what might be. If we lived for reality, we’d be dead, every last one of us. Only dreams keep us going…When you are acting, don’t settle for anything less than the biggest dream for your character’s future.” – Michael Shurtleff

14.  “Work for the actor lies essentially in two areas: the ability to consistently create reality and the ability to express that reality.” – Lee Strasberg

15.  “Talent is an amalgam of high sensitivity; easy vulnerability; high sensory equipment (seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, tasting intensely); a vivid imagination as well as a grip on reality; the desire to communicate one’s own experience and sensations, to make one’s self heard and seen.” – Uta Hagen

16.  “When an acting teacher tells a student ‘that wasn’t honest work’ or ‘that didn’t seem real,’ what does this mean? In life, we are rarely ‘truthful’ or ‘honest’ or ‘real’. And characters in plays are almost never ‘truthful’ or ‘honest’ or ‘real’. What exactly do teachers even mean by these words? A more useful question is: What is the story the actor was telling in their work? An actor is always telling a story. We all are telling stories, all the time. Story: that is what it is all about.”- Stella Adler

17.  “When an actor is completely absorbed by some profoundly moving objective so that he throws his whole being passionately into its execution, he reaches a state we call inspiration.”
– Stanislavski

18-  “Put life into the imagined circumstances and actions until you have completely satisfied your sense of truth and until you have awakened a sense of faith in the reality of your own sensations.”- Stanislavski

19.  “Acting is the ability to live truthfully under imaginary circumstances.”- Sanford Meisner

20.  “Less is more!”- Sanford Meisner

21.  “Your talent is in your choice. “- Stella Adler

The Innocents: A Masterwork of Psychological Horror

  The Innocents   (1961)

The Innocents is a near-faithful adaption of Henry James’s classic Victorian ghost story, The Turn of the Screw.    Intelligently directed by Jack Clayton, the film boasts  exquisite black&white cinematography, a haunting musical score, subtle chills, and sensitive acting.  

 Deborah Kerr stars as the repressed spinster Miss Giddons, who is hired by The Uncle (Michael Redgrave) to care for his young nephew and niece at an isolated country mansion while he remains in London.  Martin Stephens and Pamela Franklin portray the eerily charming children, Miles and Flora, who may, or may not be, possessed by the malevolent spirits of Miss Jessel and Quint.

Darkly lit and filled with fleeting images- memorable scenes include: Flora waltzing in the gazebo as Miss Jessel watches from the middle of the lake where she floats upon lily pads.   The ghost of Quint terrorizing Miss Giddons during a game of hide and seek.  And never was a child more chilling than Miles with  his simple words,  “It was only the wind, my dear.”

Sarah Bernhardt: Phedre audio

Published in: on September 6, 2008 at 8:51 am  Leave a Comment  
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Madame Sarah: A Career Portrait of Sarah Bernhardt

 

Beginnings

The woman many claim to be the greatest stage actress in history, was born  on October 23, 1844. From humble origins- the illegitimate daugher of Judith Van Hard (a Jewish milliner-turned Parisian courtesan)- Sarah Bernhardt would become known as,  “The Eighth Wonder of the World.”

Horribly neglected, Sarah nearly died of tuberculosis at the age of four.   Her mother had run off with her latest fling.  Sarah was left  with a nurse who lived with her new husband in an unheated, damp single-room with no ventillation.   After three months of existing in such deplorable circumstances, her aunt Rosine discovered the near-death girl sitting on a street curb playing with a dead leaf.

Sarah stayed with her aunt for a short time until her mother finally returned.  Judith had no maternal instincts and took little interest in her daughter.   At the age of eight, Sarah still could not read or write.

Doctors  predicted the extremely frail girl would not live into adulthood.   Sarah begged her mother for a pretty coffin to prepare herself for the final resting place.   Judith relented and bought a rosewood coffin lined with white satin.   As an adult (long after outliving the dire prediction) Sarah continued sleeping in the coffin, even taking it with her during travels.

Sarah posed in her coffin

Believing her earthly time short,  Sarah was determined to live life to the fullest.

Artist W. Graham Robertson wrote, “The two most vital people I have ever known were Whistler and Sarah Bernhadt.  Life was to them an art and a cult.  They lived each moment consciously and passionately…”

Although Sarah’s physical constitution was quite frail she possessed a fierce vitality.  She often said, ” Life engenders life.  Energy creates energy.  It is by spending oneself that one becomes rich.”

Decisive Words

Her mother, wishing to get the girl out of her way, sent little Sarah to Madame Fressard’s pension for young ladies, in Auteuil.    Two years later, Sarah entered the convent of Grandchamps at Versailles.   The other schoolgirls teased her mercilessly over her exotic appearance.  She responded by flying into rages so terrible that she’d fall to the ground in convulsions.   However, the nuns were kind and the Catholic rituals appealed to the highly dramatic girl.  After receiving First Communion in 1856, she became a religious fanatic.  She later claimed,  “The Son of God became my cult and the Mother of the Seven Sorrows my ideal.”  Yet, she never forgot her Jewish origins.  When asked by a reporter if she was Christian, she replied: “No, I’m a Roman Catholic, and a member of the great Jewish race.”  She never allowed any anti-Semitic talk within her company and was openly pro-Dreyfus during that case’s hysteria.

Some years later, Sarah’s mother summoned the girl  to her salon to discuss the future.  When Sarah declared she was to be a nun, everyone in the room broke into laughter.   The always temperamental girl put on the fiercest tantrum yet in her life.  After attacking the notary, banging at his chest, scratching his face, and pulling out large chumps of his hair- the Duc de Mornay who’d watched this outbreak, calmly announced, “The girl’s a born actress.  She ought to be sent for training at the Conservatoire.”

Sarah was horrified at the idea.   The only actress she’d ever seen was Rachel.  Rachel had been France’s greatest tragedienne, but was dying of tuberculosis when nuns had pointed her out to Sarah.  The nuns told Sarah that the hollow-eyed hag-like creature had brought on her illness by her sinful profession.

Sarah fled from the room, screaming she would never be an actress.

However, that same evening she was taken to the Comedie Francaise with her mother, the Duc de Morny, Alexandre Dumas, and Regis Lavolie.   Included in the grand audience were such notables as the Empress Eugenie, Princess Mathilde,  and George Sand.

Sarah sat spellbound as the red curtain rose.  She wrote in her memoir, “It was the curtain of my life which was rising.”  The play was Racine’s Britannicus. Sarah fell into a rapture, feeling every character’s emotions as though her own.  Dumas put his arm around her while she sobbed.  He later told the Duc de Morny that he’d been correct.  The girl was destined for the stage.

Training

The duc de Morny succeeded in getting Sarah an audition for the “National Conservatory of Music and Declamation.”  The jury would consist of leading members of the famed Comedie Francaise.   Sarah now determined to be an actress, attacked the audition with, “that vivid exaggeration which I embrace any new enterprice.”  She spent a month perfecting her voice under the guide of Monsieur Meydieu.

The audition was held a month later.  Sarah waited in paralyzing fear for her turn.  When she was finally called up, she announced her plans to recite Phedre, act 2, scene 2. Unfortunately, Sarah hadn’t brought someone to read her cues or even a copy of the play.  About to be kicked off the stage, Sarah quickly declared she’d enact the fable, The Two Pigeons. The jury couldn’t hide their snortling.  Sarah began reciting in a quivering voice.  This was the first instance of the horrible stage fright that would often haunt her.  But then,  an inner strength came forth.   Sarah began again and recited the story with such emotion that she was admitted into the school.

Sarah proclaimed she was going to be the greatest actress who ever lived.  This was not mere arrogance.   She studied acting with feverish devotion; practicing diction and memorizing countless roles.  This fierce dedication continued throughout her entire life.

For the commencement competition during graduating class- her teacher selected a scene from the comedy, l’Ecole des Vieillards, and an excerpt from the tragedy, La Fille du Cid. Once again, Sarah was struck with horrifying stage fright.  She trembled so violently throughout La Fille du Cid that she could barely utter the words.  The panel was clearly bored.  Then,  once again, reaching inwards for that indomitable spirit, she launched into the comedic piece.  She won second prize.  Her teacher, Monsieur Samson, declared, “that young person is going to be either sublime or execrable!”

Career

Sarah’s professional debut was Iphigenie by Racine.  Again, seized by almost paralyzing stage fright- she gave a cold, stilted performance.   Audience members amused themselves by uttering catcalls regarding her extreme thinness.  Afterwards, former teacher Provost said,  “I can forgive you.  And you’ll eventually forgive yourself.  But Racine in his grave never will.”

Sarah performed in more plays and garnered mixed reviews.  After a few off-stage melodramas, she was released from the company.

Sarah quickly landed a position at the Odeon.  Located on the Left Bank near the Luxembourg, it was considered the Second Comedie Francaise.   Her big break came with the 1868 revival of Dumas’, Kean. Cast in the leading female role of Anna Damby, Sarah performed in an almost dreamlike state.  She received her first solo curtain call.

After a series of critically acclaimed performances, Sarah was invited back to the Comedie Francaise.  Upn her return, poet-critic, Theodore Banville wrote, ” Make no mistake; the engagement of Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt at the Comedie Francaise is a serious and revolutionary fact.  Poetry has entered into the house of dramatic art; or in other words, the wolf is in the sheep-fold.”

Sarah missed the exuberance of the Odeon, finding the players at the Comedie rigid and solemn.  Unhappy, her first performance of Almanach de Gotha garnered unfavorable reviews.   She redeemed herself a few nights later as Junie in Racine’s Britannicus. Soon afterwards, Sarah returned to the ranks of stardom.

Sarah’s love for animals was well-known.   As a child, she collected spiders, lizards, and crickets.    When Sarah played Cleopatra, she insisted on using a real snake for the death scene.  Her home was a zoo of domestic and wild animals.   When Alexandre Dumas visited her house the first time, a puma ate his hat.  Only a few minutes later, a gray parrot flew in the room, landed on his shoulder and began biting off the buttons of his waistcoat.

This was the beginning of their great friendship.  Sarah would later go on to perform Dumas’, The Lady of the Camellias, over a thousand times.  Ellen Terry, said of her friend’s performance of Marguerite Gauthier, “She is always a miracle…It is this extraordinary decorative and symbolic quality of Sarah’s which makes her transcend all personal and individual feelings on the stage.  No one plays a love-scene better…”

Sarah in La Dame aux Camelias

Despite great success, Sarah tired of the Comedies’ rigid conformities and set her sights upon England.

Sarah, now a societaire of the Comedie Francaise, arrived in London in June 1879.  Her arrival was greatly anticipated.  Her extraordinary art was already near legendary.   However, London was unprepared for Sarah’s acting style.  Her fiery boldness was in sharp contrast to England’s darling Ellen Terry’s poetic sincerity.  The two actresses greatly admired each other and became lifelong friends.

In 1874, Sarah faced her greatest challenge to date.  For over two centuries, Racine’s Phedre had been considered the greatest challenge for any French actress.   Sarah was petrified.  Before making her first entrance, she whispered, “quand meme!”. It turned out to be a magical performance.  She acted with her entire body and soul.  Sir George Arthur said, “her grief and horror of herself were so poignant as to turn, for those of us who heard the agonized tones, horror for the sin into something like pity for the sinner.”.  The ovation was thunderous.  After the last curtain call, Sarah fainted.

Provost’s criticism proved wrong.  Racine could forgive Sarah.   His Phedre would become Sarah’s masterpiece.

Francisque Sarcey noted, “This is nature itself served by a marvellous intelligence, by a soul of fire, by the most melodious voice that ever enchanted human ears.  This woman plays with her heart, with her entrails.”

Sarah as Racine’s, Phedre

After conquering England, Sarah set her sights on America.   She landed in New York on October 27, 1880.  Her American premiere was at Booth’s, “Temple of Dramatic Art” on November 8th.  She performed the starring role in Adrienne Lecouvreur. The house was packed with New York’s elite.  When Sarah made her first entrance in the second act, the audience fell spellbound at her incandescent light and grace.

Sarah became an overnight sensation.   Newspapers reported her every move.  Fashion pages published daily accounts of her dresses and jewels.  Merchants sold everything from Bernhardt perfume, candy, cigars to eyeglasses.

Sarah’s final performance in New York was a matinee of La Dame aux Camelias. This was one of her most popular roles.  Unlike past actresses who over-emoted- Sarah apporached the part of Marguerite Gauthier with graceful, heartbreaking frailty.  There were twenty-nine curtain calls after the finish.

Sarah’s next stop was Boston.  Surprisingly, this city known for its Puritanism, received the scandalous actress with open arms.  Every evening the Globe Theater was filled with patrons.   A critic wrote,  “Before such perfection, analysis is impossible.”

After Boston, Sarah continued to conquer cities around the world.  From Philadelphia to Montreal to Chicago.

When Sarah finally returned to France she was met with an indifferent, quiet hostility.  The French believed she’d insulted the names of Racine and Moliere by performing to vulgar Yankees and cowboys.  Undeterred, Sarah made a surprise appearance at the Opera House.  The curtain rose and the audience gasped at the sight of her.   Sarah burst into Aux armes, citoyens! At the end, the audience went mad.   Even President Grevy threw large bouquets of roses at her feet.

“La Divine” had made her triumphant comeback.

In 1887,  Victorien Sardou wrote Fedora especially for Sarah.  Although the “problem plays” of Ibsen and Chekhov were coming into vogue, Sardou aimed for good drama.  He wished, “to interest, amuse, move, excite and thrill the large public that went to his plays.” It premiered on December 12, 1882.  Maurice Baring declared Sarah performed, ” with such tigerish passion and feline seduction which, whether it be good or bad art, nobody has been able to match since.”

In 1887, Sarah portrayed Floria in Sardou’s, La Tosca. British critic Clement Scott wrote, “Sarah Bernhardt, knife in hand over the  dying Scarpia, is the nearest thing to great tragedy that has ever been seen in modern times.”

Sarah’s career lasted until 1922.  Her last performance was in Verneuil’s, Regine Arnaud.

That same autumn she began rehearsing Sascha Guitry’s play, Un Sujet de Roman. She collapsed the night of the dress rehearsal.  Although her first words upon awakening were, “When do I go on?”- Sarah Bernhardt never performed again.  She spent her last month in bed.

Devoted fans held vigil outside her house.

On March 26, 1923 her doctor stepped out onto the balcony and announced, “Messieurs, Madame Sarah Bernhardt is dead.”

A clubman was overheard to say to another, “Bernhardt is gone.  How dark it seems all of a sudden.”

Legacy

Sarah’s career spanned over sixty years.  She played diverse roles from  King Lear’s Cordelia,  Cleopatra, Othello’s Desdemona, Lady Macbeth, Jeanne d’Arc, Gismonda,  Lysiane, Medea, the title role in Hamlet, Roxane in Cyrano de Bergerac,  Anddromache’s Hermione, to Portia in Merchant of Venice.

Sarah as Hamlet

It has been noted that her publicity  was so vast, that if all the reviews and articles written about her were pasted end to end it would reach around the earth.  And a pile of her photos would be as tall as the Eiffel Tower.  This is even more impressive when considered she acted in a time before television or the internet.

The poet, Theodore de Banville stated, ” She is the Muse of Poetry herself.  Neither intelligence nor artistry have anything to do with it.  She is guided by a secret instinct.  She recites as the nightingale sings, as the wind sighs, as water murmurs, as Lamartine once wrote.”

Alphonse Mucha’s poster of Sarah in the biblical period piece, Gismonda

 

Mucha’s poster of Sarah in La Dame aux Camelias