Baba Yaga (1973) - full transcript

Strange things have been happening to Valentina, a young and beautiful professional photographer, ever since she made the acquaintance of Baba Yaga, a mysterious older woman who gave her a lift home late one night. For one thing, Valentina has been having weird, kinky nightmares. For another, one of Valentina's cameras seems to have acquired a deadly curse. And then there was that visit to Baba Yaga's house, where Valentina discovered bizarre relics, including a dominatrix doll, and a bottomless pit in the living room. Valentina comes to realize that Baba Yaga is a witch who is out to possess her - body and soul.

Welcome to the text commentary for
Shameless' release of Baba Yaga

Fact track ported from the original DVD
release may contain some anachronisms :)

Director Corrado Farina sure knows how
to grab the attention of an audience

a graveyard at night, a creeping camera
and most importantly -

an attractive woman in skimpy leather
showing a bit of tit.

Farina uses unconventional camera angles
(not unlike the Batman TV series)

To give the audience a sense
of cinematic disorientation

as the unfortunate character
you are seeing right now.

That sort of thing doesn't go down
too well in America these days

Ah, it wouldn't feel like a
REAL European exploitation movie

without those particular
gunshot sound effects, now would it?

There were moments during this
opening sequence where the audience

suspected that what they were watching
was not an authentic attempt

at historical re-enactment.
The guy driving the car probably tipped you off!

So here we are into the opening
credits of Baba Yaga

starring Baby Doll herself, Carroll Baker

and the Anthropophagus
beast, George Eastman

The opening titles' graphics
reflect the fumetti origins of the material

more on this later...

Good grief!

We could be flippant
and say that it looks like that guy

is still wearing a black
crash-helmet, but we won't.

Here we have a verbal
introduction to the main character

responsible for many stuck together pages
across Europe: Valentina Rossetti

Needing no introduction is George Eastman
(Luigi Montefiori to his mum)

Ol' George discussing the merits of Goddard?
"Intoxically" surreal stuff!

Isabelle De Funes was cast purely
to keep the French investors happy

via a native actress in the lead
ensuring box-office returns back home.

Although Farina was initially unhappy
with this, his expectations

were confounded when she turned out
much better than anticipated.

Isn't that the cartoon kid
with the funny shaped head?

Animals are often used
as a symbol of or prelude to evil

but Baba Yaga avoids cat cliches
by a dog heralding the witch herself.

Putting a cat (or The Devil's Fingertips)
in peril leaves many cold

but placing a dog in jeopardy
rivets an audience more effectively.

Like so!

Farina perfectly introduces his title character

making the audience worship
Baba Yaga from her boots up.

And who wouldn't?

"Little" dog?
That thing would have your bloody arm off

without even pausing to say
"sausages", given half a chance!

Although different to
the original Fumetti book

Carroll Baker makes for a
convincingly seductive Baba Yaga.

Baker's no stranger to movies showing
various facets of evil in the world.

While Baba Yaga is more of
a spectral manifestation

those shown in Andy Warhol's
Bad embodied human evil

as anyone who has witnessed the chucking
of babies out of windows

and hideously splattering
on the ground will attest!

The asking for a personal item
by a witch is bad news

as it can be used to cast
a spell over someone.

Witches often bury their own menstrual blood
(very personal to them)

In order to cast a Wicca
protection spell.

In a Franco-like cameo is director Farina
playing a Nazi official.

Coming up is a prime example of footage excised
from the original release

being a small snippet of
full-frontal nudity from De Funes.

Boy, society is crashing down around us
because of exposure to such filth!

Newbies might be wondering exactly what
the Hell the Fumetti genre is

so allow us to throw
some light on the subject.

When comics were a resounding success
in America at the turn of the century

the same strips were snapped
up by the Italian market

who took a dislike to speech-bubbles
containing character\u82177?s dialogue,

and removed them in favour
of text at the foot of the page.

The bubbles were described as fumetti
little puffs of smoke

and thought to be
"uneducational" but the name stuck

and became an affectionate
term for all comics in Italy.

The imposed embargo on speech-bubbles
came to a natural end

and eventually, in the 30s ltaly's own "fumetti"
market began to emerge

shunning American favourites
for its own work.

While this had a lot to do with the far-right
politics of Italy at the time

and only lasted
until the end of the war

it gave the Italian market
confidence to compete in a field

dominated by US publications.

The Fumetti truly came of age
when the legendary Diabolik...

first hit the newsstands in the 60s, bringing
both a more mature edge

and a new layout which
became the industry standard.

Printed on 128 pages utilising bisected panels
and small enough to

fit in the pocket, comic books were now portable

and became all the rage with kids
in much the same way...

...that Star Wars action figures
outsold all their rivals

because all others were too big to be
comfortably transported around

by those who wanted fun on-the-go

As with any advances in media, the porno
market seized this handy format

and hardcore Fumetti publications
later became rife.

After a huge backlash against the more violent
darker crime publications (or Fumetti Neri)

A campaign one similar to
the McCarthy era crusade...

...against EC Comics and their contemporaries
an effort was made to bring

respectability back to the medium
with many literary luminaries...

...coming out in support, and the quality
of fumetto raised to a higher level

for a more adult audience.
Sure enough, it worked!

Whose celebrated creation
is the reason you are watching this Blu-ray.

From this new lease of respectability
came an artist named Guido Crepax

Obviously this isn't the entire
story of the Fumetti

with too much info out there
than we can print here!

Ask at your local library for books on the subject...

...and get promptly told to "sod off"
when your enquiry

exceeds the usual requests
of the new Patricia Cornwell.

Note the book De Funes is reading here:
The Crimes of Love by De Sade.

Many toss his books aside, too,
dismissing his work... the product of
an imaginative pervert

The use of De Sade here can be seen as
a prelude to the famed S&I'm...

...imagery which appears later on in the film.

Man, that is one funky phone!
It beats the humble trim-phone... the coolest retro communication
stakes, for our money!

Here is a perfect showcase for
the superb efforts of composer Piero Umiliani

contrasting against the more
frenetic music earlier.

Umiliani was something of a workhorse for
the European exploitation genre

notching up a list of credits
only Morricone could top.

He has contributed to every genre in the industry
lending his tones

to cult favorites like "Five Dolls for an August Moon"
and "Roy Colt & Winchester Jack"

Along with a host of Django rip-offs
to down-right odd movies -

such as the Blaxploitation/Giallo
fusion "Tropic of Cancer”.

Well, this is what happens
when you choose Arriflex...

...over Panavision cameras.

Want to bet he's using Eastman
colour film? Geddit?

He's called George Eastman
and there's a film stock...

Oh, forget it. Where's Bernard Manning
when you need him?

Ah, that's right.
We remember now. Oh well...

Farina squeezes a lot
of political commentary in Baba Yaga

that was a natural reflection of the
turbulent times it was made in.

The right-wing grip
was waning before left-wing intellectuals

leading to personal,
intellectual & sexual freedom previously denied.

Looks like George is just as
surprised as we are...

...that Valentina's going
to put out for him!

It's to Farina's credit that he maintains
Baba Yaga's omnipresence

without showing her
physical body, as he does here.

While Crepax's Baba Yaga might well have been
the first comic-book

to feature the legendary witch,
but certainly not the last.

Mike Mingola featured her in issue 3a
of his Hellboy books

a story entitled "Wake The Devil"
being an introduction to the character.

The following story
"The Baba Yaga", saw the witch confronting

the hornless spawn of Satan
and losing an eye for her trouble.

Mingola reveals that Baba Yaga hid
half of Rasputin's soul in the roots...

...of Yggdrasil AKA the World Tree
granting him eternal life.

This important detail was missed out
in the first Hellboy movie

and might have cleared up
a couple of incongruities.

Younger viewers might need to know that
at the time Baba Yaga was made

chicks really dug guys with beards
but since the 80s, it has become...

almost impossible for guys with full facial furniture
to get laid. But back then...

..."Cor! What a hunk" the ladies would cry.
Not any more, though.

Rather depressing, really.

Hope this clarifies just how come
ol' George is getting his end away.

Introducing the next damned soul
courtesy of Valentina's camera.

In that outfit, she's certainly
a hit with the chaps...

Jesus, if puns are a
symptom of depression, pass the Fluoxetine

Much has been written about the censorship
problems Farina encountered... bringing Baba Yaga to the screen
with fanboy scribblings going so far

as to mention an unseen version
which bordered on hardcore pornography

but the real answer is both
more rational and interesting.

During the unstable political climate in Italy
Farina completed his final cut

of the movie, which was signed
& sealed. Farina thought this was

the end of the editing process,
but unbeknownst to him, the producer

had been hacking away at the film,
aiming to make it less controversial

and easier to sell in other markets.

As mentioned earlier, Farina squeezes in political
commentary into his movie,

there was much more in his cut.

Of the 20 minutes butchered from his vision

most of it was socio-political in nature
viewed by some as an act of government...

...censorship by proxy. Naturally Farina
was furious, and the Italian papers

carried his outrage... to his benefit.
He was given control of the negative

and was able to undo
some of the permanent damage to the materials

with a compromise being struck
- some of the political material could

be restored, with the nonessential
sequences, mostly lifted from Crepax, discarded.

Whilst this was a minor
victory, the shots of full-frontal

nudity fell afoul of the Italian censor board,
and were not reinstated.

The movie had been recut completely
as the negative had been finalised

but Farina got the movie closer to
his vision than he would have if he had

remained silent... an example to
PG-13 obsessed producers everywhere.

Shameless has worked closely with
Farina to bring you the most complete

version of Baba Yaga ever.

Furry front bits included!

Whatever you can say about
the way Baker's career has gone

convention has never been
used in a description of her.

This is the actress who shocked
audiences in the notorious "Baby Doll",

branching into epics like
"How The West Was Won", "The Big Country"

and "The Greatest Story Ever Told"

then going into exploitation
classics like "Orgasmo" & "Paranoia”

before ending up in the Margi Clarke
boxing vehicle "Blonde Fist"!

Jeez, it sounds like somebody's
using the pest-control device...

...from The Living Dead
at Manchester Morgue!

Oscilloscope included!

Now we come to an extended
sequence which contains

...some of the most iconic
imagery from the movie.

Even those who
have only heard of Baba Yaga

associate with bondage
imagery and lesbianism.

Obviously not forgetting
everybody's favourite:

The doll in bondage! Yay!

Valentina's seduction
by the caress of a leather glove...

...Is a common catalyst for many
who embrace the fetish scene.

Farina presents a literal translation
of Fumetti to the screen

with the incredible use of photographs
allowing him to depict

explicit content which would
have caused many problems

if they had been filmed live-action.

Old genre proverb: Beware Russian
witches bearing gifts!

OK, who thinks she's
been shopping at QVC?

...So always keep the
certificate of authenticity!

De Funes was primarily a TV actress, with only
a few credits to her name

but little baggage meant
she could become Valentina completely.

As captivating as she is
Baba Yaga did little for De Funes' career

with only two major screen
credits to her name after release.

The board literally translates as:
"God died and now you know it!"

Farina sharply depicts the
turbulent times Italy was living in

at the time the movie was made.
Not only were times changing

but Italy was at war with itself,
as its' youth and disquiet organisations

like the Brigate Rosse / Red Brigades were
"assisting" the winds of change in their own ways.

Here we get to see the first real
example of Baba Yaga's power

as she steers Valentina's path
toward her by dropping dead bodies

at her feet, simultaneously
spiting the Catholics as she goes.

Police/Nazis... Nazis/Police.
We've all thought it before...

The following sequence gets
our vote for the most brilliantly surreal...

segment of the movie.

The majority of it clearly existed
from the original prints...

...but is presented for your delectation here.

You didn't get Burgess Meredith
touching up Sylvester Stallone, did you?

Looks like she's out for the count...
we said count!

The "V" on the back of
the robe is a nice detail.

Valentina comes out swinging...

but then what else is new?

Here we have the most explicitly lesbian
scene left in the "standard" cut.

Unspoken seduction seems more
acceptable than the stroking of thighs...

...although creative cutting prevents
any actual physical contact.

So once again: tits = OK.
Furry bits below the waist = wrong.

Esther Rantzen's "That's Life"
formula comes through again!

Don't do it!! Didn't you see
"The Vault of Horror" with Tom Baker

earlier that year???

"Yes, Commissioner?"
Bugger... force of habit...

Let's see her try that old
trick with a digital network.

Once again, Baba Yaga's power pervades
without having to resort to

clichéd imagery of
cauldrons and pointed hats.

There are those who have speculated
that the way Valentina is manipulated

by her own curiosity into the witch's lair might
have inspired Dario Argento

in how Suzie Banyan finds her way
into the clutches of the Black Queen

and Mark Elliot into the
domain of Mater Tenebrarum.

OK, so we do have a witch with a cat,
but if cliché was being followed,

then it would have been a black one.

Which, with knowing irony,
segues us into a sequence which might have

been horribly offensive in the hands
of a director without Farina's touch.

It's up to the viewer as to whether
you interpret this shot as

either the character being bewitched
by Baba Yaga's image in the doll

or the more obvious approach...

Ah, the spirit of Leonard Rossiter's
Mr Rigsby lives on...

Valentina...s camera plays a bigger part
in the unfolding events than

she can possibly comprehend...

Here we have the
"checkerboard-chicks" sequence

outdoing Mandingo by a couple of years.

Farina skilfully contrasts
the two skin tones

neatly avoiding the "smut"
angle easily blundered into.

All this only a few scant years after
Star Trek had southern rednecks

up in arms about the same sort of thing!

Farina started out in film
like many of those after him,

by making 8mm films. Where some like Sam Raimi had the luxury of

having access to equipment at home.

Farina used the facilities at Torino...

film school, where he used it as an escape
from a law degree he didn't want.

Farina then found himself employed
by Studio Testa,

where he was something of a wunderkind

turning out over 500 commercials during his stay.

Even this wasn't satisfying him, as his
aspirations to get into film were too strong.

From an early age, Farina caught "cinephilia"
as he puts it... and was obsessed with film,

his urge initially slaked by
writing about film, but ultimately wanted

to direct his own projects.

Farina was not exactly prolific
when it came to his movie career

with Baba Yaga being the
culmination of his movie work.

Producers decided Farina's artistic
abilities didn't equal box-office.

He was unable to get financing for others,
instead being forced into

the world of documentary filmmaking
which granted him work

but not the artistic freedom he craved.

Farina still viewed it as a compromise,
calling himself a director first

and a documentarian second

OK, even with the irony intended
this bit still causes upset today...

Not wishing to be puerile, but here comes
a cracking exchange of innuendo:

It's as though Farina's using the concept
of infinite regression...

...or it might be that he's
stepped out of frame with the B-camera.

We're not saying that ol' George is cheap
but when you ask him

for a ritzy date, the Anthropophagus Beast
(or Grim Reaper, to you importers)

This is what you get:
an inexpensive bottle of vino rosso...

...a small pizza eaten with cutlery...

...and more fags than you can smoke!

Rothmans! Good ol' "lung-bleeders”
as they were affectionately known.

Baba Yaga came shortly after
dissolution of De Funes' short-lived marriage

to prolific French actor Michel Duchaussoy...

You might remember him
from such films as:

"Man with the Transplanted Brain"...

"The Return of the Tall Blonde",
"Man with one Red Shoe"...

...and "Poltergay".

Valentina has just inadvertently brought in
a classic Giallo element

to the movie, where the central
character wracks their brain

trying to remember a vital element they
have seen, a small detail which

can unravel the mystery
enveloping them.

Once again, Shameless
have scoured the vaults... bring you the most
complete version of Baba Yaga.

We know that if you are smart enough
to be watching this movie

then you aren't one of the arseholes
with redneck mentality of:

"I don't want to read the movie,
I want to watch it!"

Isn't that a picture of Herman Munster on the wall,
rather than Frankenstein?

Ah, "The Golem": a movie which
needs no introduction to genre fans.

Wanna bet that the print they are watching
isn't nearly as butchered

as the average copy found in
the DVD bargain bins!

Jesus! We've nearly hit the hour mark
and have only mentioned...

...Guido Crepax in passing!
The father of so much fantastic smut...

Milanese artist Crepax's career in
graphic design was lauded early on.

Not stopping at just designing posters
he also worked on album covers

for the likes of Louis Armstrong,
Fats Waller & Charlie "Bird" Parker.

After an award-winning
stint in the world of advertising

Crepax took his talents
into the world of comics

where he could give his vivid
imagination free reign

It was only after two years' toil that,
in 1965, Crepax created his muse:

Valentina, a character who obsessed
her creator & bewitched readers.

Originally appearing as a
minor character in his Neutron saga

Crepax expanded the character and gave her
an existence of her own... outside the confinements out of Linus
magazine where she first appeared.

Crepax managed to tear himself away from
his muse in 1967 just long enough...

to design the storyboards for
the Tinto Brass movie "Deadly Sweet"

...the pairing of Brass and Crepax
who designed Valentina to have...

...the most perfect arse
in creation was inspired!

Come 1968, Valentina was her own girl
appearing in over 30 solo books

whilst exploring various facets
of sexuality as she went.

It was in 1971 that Crepax put his
own slant on Baba Yaga

the Russian folk-tale of the
hideous, iron-toothed witch.

That we are all watching this Blu-ray

is proof of bewitching nature
of Crepax's celebrated work.

Crepax's career eventually took him
more in the direction of Jess Franco...

...rather than Tinto Brass, as he
ended up adapting such works as "Justine”,

"Venus in Furs" & even
a pictorial of "Histoire d'O".

In the 80s, Crepax resurrected his Neutron
character to great acclaim

with his new adventures - based on Homer's
"The Odyssey" giving Crepax

the chance to finally have his writing
match the quality of his images

a problem which dogged
his career from the start.

Valentina was finally put to bed... on her own... in 1995, when Crepax

wrote her final story.
Unlike most other comic-based characters

Valentina aged over the years of her publication
and both character & author

were feeling their age.

Although Crepax's output
decreased in the run-up to his death,

he was able to adapt one
more literary classic: Frankenstein.

The following year, 2003,
Crepax died at the age of 70.

Crepax and Baba Yaga's director
Farina were friends for years

and Shameless is proud to honor
both warped geniuses with this

director's own Final Cut
edition of the movie.

We can't guarantee that
no zebras were harmed in the making...

...of Valentina's wall decoration!

Note Farina's minor details like the
dust covering all in Baba Yaga's domain.

One of the lasting legacies of Guido Crepax is
that even though many will not

know of screen icon Louise Brooks
every time a new generation gazes adoringly

at Valentina, her spirit is evoked.

Brooks beguiled audiences during the 20s
with the film "Pandora's Box"

and the young Crepax couldn't
get her out of his mind

His obsession was channeled into print
giving Brooks the most perfect

arse he could muster
and Valentina was born.

At this point in the story, Valentina
realizes just what is going on around her

finally realising she is being used by Baba Yaga... and doesn't like it!

In almost a last-ditch effort
to bag her prey, Baba Yaga rolls out

the 'ahem' big guns...

So hold on to your moral fibre, kids,
cause here's more censored footage!

"Why Grandma, what a deep
voice you have..."

There are many who cite
similarities between Baba Yaga...

...and Bunuel's Belle De Jour. While there
are some superficial & tonal resemblances

it would be a disservice to
both Crepax and Farina to give credence to them.

Those intrigued by Farina's political
slant to his filmmaking are advised... seek out his only other feature-length
work, "Hanno Cambiato Faccia"

- or "They've Changed Faces"

A blistering satire of capitalism
and greedy corporations,

this Golden Leopard-winning movie
is ripe for re-release "hint, hint"

Oh, come on! It stars Adolfo Celi, for Christ sakes!

Shit! They didn't shoot coverage
for foreign-language audiences!

There are those who have cited this sequence as
a form of reference

to the sequence in "The Wizard of Oz",
where Dorothy watches as the hourglass

counts down to her demise, overcome
with fear by a fate she cannot change.

Let's hear it for interpretation!

Hmm. Valentina. The bird in the S&I'm outfit.
Lots of candles.

That sounds like the recipe for the best
Christmas ever, doesn't it?

With Baba Yaga, Farina finally
did justice to the humble Fumetti

after a number of efforts most wouldn't
even call "heroic failures".

One of the most financially successful
Fumetti adaptations to hit the big screen...

was Roger Vadim's "Barbarella”,
which sent Hanoi Jane into space.

Even with a reasonable amount of
naked flesh on display,

matched by a budget as brazen, there are many
who feel it was emasculated

during the transition from print to screen.

Are the rumours that Farina used Barbarella
as a "how not to" guide true?

It's one of those questions you
don't want answered

as it might spoil a
perfectly good anecdote!

Farina and Mario Bava reside
in a very exclusive club of directors

who have successfully understood
the aesthetics of the Fumetti

when translating it to film.

Might we recommend cannonballing this movie
with a screening of Diabolik

for the ultimate Fumetti cinema rush?

This sequence is particularly remarkable
in that even though it uses

hand-held photography
it still looks exactly like a Fumetti panel

with dynamism expressed through
the set-up rather than actual movement.

The multi-tasking talents of Giulio Berruti
cannot be ignored on Baba Yaga.

Aside from his inspired editing
which holds the movie together

he also penned a couple
of additional sequences

along with assistant director duties.

The new scenes were supposedly -
written via his capacity as an editor

to keep the movie cohesive upon
transition from page to screen

Many genre fans will know Giulio Berruti as the
director of "Killer Nun" (1978)

...also on SHAMELESS

which saw Anita Ekberg as an evil
Mother Superior going apeshit!

While Farina is almost dismissive
of his attempt to film Fumetti

he sites himself as "accidentally" being
responsible for marrying Bava with the genre

In the late 60s, Farina was adapting
scripts with the Giussani sisters

the legendary creators of Diabolik
and was asked who would be a good director

to bring their master-thief to the screen
to which he suggested Mario Bava.

So even if Farina wasn't entirely happy with his
own efforts, he at least

had a hand in the most beautiful
attempt at getting Fumetto in the can.

Those who have developed a taste
for filmic Valentina might like to seek out

the 1988 TV series entitled
ingeniously... "Valentina".

Starring former American
gymnast Demetra Hampton

Three of these were edited
together as a movie for US cable TV

and it's easier to track
down than the actual series.

It's here that Baker gets to shine in the film
where she goes beyond

more that just malevolence
and shows her emotions.

It is well documented that
Baker wasn't even on the short-list

for the title role, she was lagging behind two
very different performers

Ingrid Thulin, star of Bergman's legendary
"Cries & Whispers"

and singing supreme-turned
actress Ornella Vanoni (Fulci's Jukebox Boys)

Even then, Baker was not in the frame,
as they had settled on Brit actress Anne Haywood

[see her in Argent's superb
nunsploitation "The Nun & The Devil"]

Anne Heywood was cast as Baba Yaga but
she backed out of the movie at the last minute

...even paying a fine to do so...

Enter Carroll Baker, who proved to
be the professional Heywood wasn't.

With great chunks of the social commentary
removed from the film

it comes as a comfort that
the ending is left open, with no clear sense

of morality forced upon it
as there is certainly opportunity for it.

Sure, the police bust in at just the wrong time
but Valentina isn't arrested

for the suspected murder of poor old Baba Yaga.

They should thank God that it
wasn't made in China, where at the time

the state was ensuring that
Bruce Lee's acts of cinematic Vigilantism

ended with him being either
arrested or shot by the police.

As we come to the closing
shot of Corrado Farina's Baba Yaga

we are forced to wonder: is the witch dead?
Has good really triumphed?

Or is she a familiar
and trans-moggie-rifted into a cat?

In the grand Italian tradition:


The cinematic culmination
of director Corrado Farina,

and a superb showcase for the warped
imaginings of Guido Crepax -

a man who earned his title
of "World's Sexiest Cartoonist”.

Turn up the volume and listen to the
play-out from Piero Umiliani, guys!

Commentary by the Wilson Bros exclusively
written for Shameless copyright © 2008