Baba Yaga

Baba Yaga (Corrado Farina, 1973)

Walking home from a party, Valentina Rosselli (Isabelle de Funes, niece of Louis de Funes and former wife of French actor Michel Duchaussoy), a young Milanese photographer, saves a dog from being run over by a Rolls Royce driven by the mysterious Baba Yaga (Carroll Baker in a role meant for Anne Heywood). Baba Yaga tells Valentina that their meeting was preordained and that the will meet again soon. That night Valentina is assailed by a nightmare featuring women in Nazi uniforms and a bottomless pit. Following a photo shoot in her apartment, Valentina is visited by Baba Yaga who casts a spell on the taking lens of her Rolleiflex camera (“That’s the eye… the eye that reasons reality.”) and her camera subsequently jams filmmaker boyfriend Arno’s (George Eastman, ANTHROPOPHAGUS) motion picture camera during a film shoot. A hippie protestor also drops dead when Valentina takes a photograph of him. Baba Yaga invites Valentina to her old mansion and allows her to take photographs of her rooms and antiques. While taking photos, Valentina discovers not only a bottomless hole in the floor but also a Victorian doll dressed in leather gear. Baba Yaga makes a present of the doll to Valentina. During another photo shoot, Valentina’s model friend Toni (Angela Covello, TORSO) falls mysteriously ill when Valentina takes a picture of her with her hexed camera. Valentina also hallucinates that the doll has come to life (in the form of the voluptuous Ely Galleani, LIZARD IN A WOMAN’S SKIN) and confides in Arno when Toni mysteriously dies.

Performances are all rather bland here. De Funes projects little authority as a photographer and does not look that much like Louise Brooks while Eastman who does not really convince as a filmmaker (though in real life Eastman would direct in the eighties for Filmirage). Although made to look more frail, Baker doesn’t really resemble Baba Yaga as seen in Crepax’s drawings under the opening and closing credits, but she manages to come across as a little mysterious thanks to her fetishistic stroking of cameras and dolls or nibbling on a garter clip (and a slight echo in her dubbed voice). Although Baker dubs herself, the Italian voice actor’s deeper voice seems more suited to the character. Piero Umiliani’s score features some source music from his album TO-DAY’S SOUND – including the recurrent main title theme – but his solo piano theme for Baba Yaga is simple yet romantic and nostalgic. Aiace Parolin (KEOMA, SIMONA) provides some attractive cinematography but it does not really suit that film’s comic book origins (the love scene between Valentina and Arno looks more like it is composed of art film abstract close-ups than being imitative of comic book montage despite some striking use of still photographs). Cameraman Angelo Lannuti worked with Parolin again on Patrick Longchamps’ SIMONA the following year. Editor/assistant director/co-writer Guilio Berruti also co-wrote Farina’s HANNO CAMBIATO FACCIA and would go on to direct KILLER NUN with Anita Ekberg. Berutti’s editing is striking throughout with memory and fantasy represented with both flash cuts and sequential high contrast black and white stills. Set and costume design are not particularly striking though one does wonder if Farina had taken his inspiration for this film from Tinto Brass’ COL CUORE IN GOLA which was storyboarded by Crepax (Brass appears in an Easter Egg interview on the BU disc of BABA YAGA). Set and costume designer Giulia Mafai also performed the same services on Brass’ pop-art western YANKEE (1968).

The political incorrectness of Arno’s soap commercial in which a black villain is vanquished by a white man (dressed all in white) seems to go against the grain of Farina’s leftism but I think the casual racism is indicative of the shallowness of the characters. The same can be said of Valentina who is called an idealist in one scene and then in another gives direction to her black model/revolutionary university student – during a “sex and civil rights photo shoot” – that she wants him “to forget that you have an education and live in a civilized world […] and let me see some nice primitive drive like your ancestors. You know the ones in the jungle that ate up the missionaries.” Although the Wilson brothers on their text commentary suggest that the previously cut opening sequence with its raping of Native Americans, castrating of pilgrims, and burning of the flag would not go over well in America these days, it is obvious that Farina intends this performance to be a pretentious “happening.” Farina paints a shallow picture of creative intellectuals who say things like “Even Snoopy in his own way is anti-establishment,” “We’re all whores in some way or another” and the oft-heard “Godard is Godard” at parties – perhaps in contrast to the street protestor that Valentina accidentally kills with her cursed camera – and he may have been poking fun at himself with the Arno character since he started out as a prolific director of commercials. The problem is that Farina’s leftist attitude does not extend to the exploitable aspects of the genre. Lesbianism is a sign of old world decadence as represented by Baba Yaga and the Victorian doll in leather gear so it is also synonymous with witchcraft. Despite Baba Yaga hexing her camera, it’s really only Valentina’s body Baba Yaga is after thus her rescuing requires brawn rather than the creative acumen of either Valentina herself as a photographer or Arno as a filmmaker.

The ENCYCLOPEDIA OF HORROR MOVIES cites Farina as stating that the producers cut 20 minutes of political content from the film but the deleted scenes on the BU disc amount to about 10 minutes and integrated into the feature would run 93 minutes in NTSC (assuming the deleted scenes had been properly converted). Either not all of the ten minutes worth of deleted scenes were restored or some other footage was removed from the body of the film since the Shameless release with deleted scenes integrated would run just under 90 minutes in NTSC. Although Shameless’ DVD of BABA YAGA represents the film’s director’s cut as newly prepared by director Corrado Farina, the deleted footage had previously appeared in the supplements of Blue Underground’s US DVD release. The transfer of the body of the film appears to have been derived from the same master while the restored footage looks to be in about the same quality as it did on the US DVD extras; this is especially noticeable in the scene where Baba Yaga visits Valentina’s apartment in which the first few seconds of a shot have been restored causing a mid-shot cut from pale, blooming, scratchy, soft to relatively sharp, colourful, and blemish-free. While prior versions of the film which began with Valentina arriving at the opening party did not seem to be missing anything, the lengthy cemetery sequence now placed before the opening credits seems less like a vignette and gives the film a much livelier opening. Frontal nudity from Carroll Baker and Isabelle de Funes in a later sequence has also been restored (in lesser quality). The restoration isn’t perfect – there is a pause between the opening notes of Umiliani’s opening track as it starts at the end of the pre-credits sequence and the fade in to the first credit and the music tempo switches – but only so much could be done with the materials as they were. As with the Blue Underground DVD, Shameless’s DVD is dual-layer but the disc must accommodate more extras than the domestic release. Although Shameless includes both the English and Italian audio with English subtitles (and English subtitles for the Italian-only scenes on the English track), Blue Underground’s rendering of the English mono track is cleaner and full bodied; on par with the main feature’s transfer.

The two major extras on the disc are the Farina-directed documentary on Crepax “Freud and Fumetti” which was also featured on the Blue Underground disc under the title “Freud in Color” and a second Farina documentary called “Fumettophobia” which is more focused on the fummetti in general. The 20 minute interview with Farina is different from the one featured on the Blue Underground disc. Shameless provides their third fan commentary subtitle track on BABA YAGA – following OASIS OF FEAR and THE DESIGNATED VICTIM – in which we learn among other things that Farina started out as a prolific commercial filmmaker – not unlike the superfluous-seeming Arno – and that birds were crazy for bearded guys in the seventies. Other extras include a poster gallery, a trailer for the film along with trailers for WATCH ME WHEN I KILL, OASIS OF FEAR, STRIP NUDE FOR YOUR KILLER, THE FRIGHTENED WOMAN, VENUS IN FURS, and a newly created one for the upcoming FOOTPRINTS.

The Shameless disc is a great presentation of the film as it was meant to be seen despite the quality of the restored sequences along with the English and Italian tracks and subtitles and some great extras but fans may also want to hold onto the BU disc for its exclusive extras: the other Farina interview, the Brass Easter Egg interview, the DVD-ROM comic to film comparison, and a superior still and poster.

(Eric Cotenas)