I was watching “Blood and Black Lace” the other nigh and I was struck by the realization that Mario Bava, although he was a visual genius, never was considered A Great Director by the “Tradition of Quality” film critics. Apparently they found his plots to be thin to nonexistent. I’ll grant them that for the sake of argument, but then I’ll raise the stakes by pointing out that film is essentially a visual medium. One way of looking of film is “an animated painting.” So how much “plot” is there is a Degas painting of jockeys before a race? If Bava’s thing was visual splendor, why shouldn’t he be judged according to how visually splendid his works are?
Now this goes beyond just Mario Bava. It concerns any director whose sense of the visual trumped his concern for coherent story-telling. I think that Josef von Sternberg could be put in the same category. If ever there was a film that was an animated painting, it’s “The Scarlet Empress.” The argument can even be extended to directors whose principal concern is the efficient choreography of action sequences. Was Walter Hill at his best less of an artist than a Sidney Lumet or an Otto Preminger because he favored car chases or shoot-outs over rigorous examination of a social issue?
I’d like to think that Film is the biggest Big Tent ever seen. Let’s fess up and say if Hawks was a genius, if Ford was a genius, then Bava was a genius as well.