Sunday, 7 January 2018
Fulci In Motion
Splintered Visions -
Lucio Fulci and His Films
by Troy Howarth
Midnight Marquee Press
Lucio Fulci is one of those directors who I’m never sure whether I’m on board with. I loved his films like Lizard In A Woman’s Skin (reviewed briefly here), Seven Notes In Black (aka The Psychic), Don’t Torture A Duckling, The New York Ripper (reviewed here), City of the Living Dead (reviewed here) and The Beyond (reviewed here) whereas others such as Four Of The Apocalypse and The House By The Cemetery (reviewed here) leave me completely cold. And then others such as Manhattan Baby (reviewed here) and his much celebrated Zombi (aka Zombie Flesh Eaters aka Zombie 2, reviewed here) are quite fun but with some clear problems which I’m only just about able to overlook. So whenever anyone asks me how I feel about Lucio Fulci as a director... I’m never too sure how to reply.
So I decided to read a book about him and see what I was missing.
Troy Howarth’s Splintered Visions - Lucio Fulci And His Films is actually a pretty good tome if you want to know a little bit more about the subject although, I would add the caveat that, as excellent as the book is (and it really is), it tends to focus on the ‘and his films’ part of the title more than it does the man himself. Although, in terms of his collaborators... well I feel I know a little more about them.
The book starts off with an intro by Brett Halsey which, in terms of the typographic design of the book goes, seems to inexplicably blend into the author’s own preface and makes a nonsense of the words until you realise that a software design accident must have happened and gone unnoticed before going to print. After this though, we get a fantastic study of the films that Fulci worked on in one capacity or another, highlighting his work when he started out and not only as a director but as a writing contributor too. So the early sections about his career in his celluloid endeavours was really interesting to me because I knew nothing about it.
As the volume progresses, the same format is utilised all the way through but Howarth, who really does know how to write about this stuff in the way that a lot of academics aren’t able to master, throws in loads of peripheral information about the various actors, actresses, writers, special effects guys and composers of note who worked on various films with Fulci. And it all seems very thorough and very interesting. Not as thorough as Tim Lucas’ book on Mario Bava, of course but, certainly I learned a lot I didn’t know while reading through here. For example, I found out a little about composer Piero Piccioni being accused and linked with a murder charge on an infamous, unsolved case involving the death of a woman on a beach and I also found out that famous singer Mina was, apparently, publically shunned for her pregnancy by a married actor she was having an affair with. Stuff like this hardly ever comes up on album liner notes so it was interesting to be reading this kind of information here.
Another thing Howarth does, aside from reveal little gems about the conditions Fulci had to put up with on set... such as panning around a shot with the furniture being immediately removed by repo men as said items left the camera’s field of vision because the producer owed so much money, is the regular insertion of interviews with various key people and collaborators from Fulci’s long career. Some of these are lifelong friends and others are people who only worked with him once but many of the insights are, if not always invaluable, at least entertaining. And it's especially nice to hear from one of his more frequent musical collaborators, composer Fabio Frizzi, about his working relationship with him.
It’s interesting in that Fulci’s notoriety at treating his actors and actresses like cattle (and worse) is acknowledged by almost everyone who is interviewed for this book but, as far as I can see, only one person in the book has said he was actually like that to them. One wonders if the legend of his behaviour is more of a storm in a tea cup or, perhaps more likely, the majority of people who could have been interviewed had no interest in talking to people involved with a book extolling Fulci’s virtues.
The reason this is only a fairly short review is because the only complaint I really have about this book is that, although I felt I knew a fair few of Fulci’s films better... which I’m grateful to the author for because I now know which ones to seek out and which ones to ignore... I didn’t feel I knew Fulci ‘the man’ in any way better than I had before going in and, since I knew practically nothing about him before I started reading, I guess in terms of the personality behind the films, I felt a little short changed in that respect.
That being said, the writer had me on his side straight away by rejecting the claim, early on in the book, that the non-Fulci film Perfume Of The Lady In Black (reviewed here) is, in any way, a giallo film. Sure, it uses the cinematic language of the gialli being made at the time but, if it was going to have to be pigeon-holed into a particular genre of Italian exploitation cinema... giallo is not the one I would label put it in (and to label it would give away the ending of the movie to anyone who’s not seen it so I’m not commenting further on that here). Howarth is a writer I now trust to write competently and informatively about various aspects of cinema and I shall be seeking out further books from this gentleman in future, I think. If you are a relative Fulci novice, like me, then you will find a lot of information in this book and it’s written in an accessible and entertaining way. If you are more of an expert, well I think the ‘devil’s honey’ is in the detail and I believe you will still find this one informative for all the many nuggets of information about various other figures involved with Italian cinema at the time. Whichever camp you are in, Splintered Visions - Lucio Fulci And His Films is a strong recommendation from me as I think this is an indispensable book for people interested in this man’s work... if not necessarily the man himself.