Paroxysm

“Freda’s THE TERROR OF DR HICHCOCK has an extraordinary funeral sequence. Black-clad mourners in black umbrellas walk under a silvery glitter of sunlit rain; they pass bright flowers; the grain of the coffin is warmly visible in the sun. The living wood… As the procession passes a row of silhouetted, green-tinged cypresses, a shaft of sunlight pours down on them and for a split second is broken up by the camera lens into all the colours of the rainbow. ‘Artificial’ as it is — the human eye wouldn’t see it — the effect ‘fits’, because it lifts to the level of paroxysm the tragic irony of sunlight at a young woman’s funeral.”

~ Raymond Durgnat.

Ashamed of how long it’s taken me to appreciate just how splendid his writing is. I corresponded with the Great Man late in his life, but I was mainly concerned with buying some rare movies from him (Michael Powell’s BLUEBEARD’S CASTLE), and I thought his prices a bit steep. Then he misattributed some garbled nonsense to me in his PSYCHO book, a work which I think betrays slightly his ill-health at the time of writing.

Now that I’m seriously reading The Crazy Mirror and Jean Renoir, I’m overcome with admiration for Durgant’s zestful and gripping way with both ideas and language, and also the bracing manner in which he shifts from high to low cinema without giving a hoot about class distinctions.

Riccardo Freda, on the other hand, is someone I already appreciated somewhat, having picked up a VHS of LA DOPPIA FACCIA in Berlin. David Wingrove encouraged me to see more, and TRAGIC CEREMONY was a mindblower. Freda isn’t as consistently gorgeous visually as Bava, but hits memorable highs and maybe takes a more intellectual approach. Although this manifests itself very oddly. HICHCOCK never even tries to make sense, and despite borrowings from both SUSPICION (nasty milk) and PSYCHO (doubled identities and schizoid delusions) it markedly refuses to wrap itself up with a cosy epilogue, despite a hero who’s studied under Freud and seems custom-written to perform such a function.

(Since the next draft of the script Fiona and I have been working on has to incorporate changes that don’t seem to make rational sense, which is worrying to my pedantic side, I should probably immerse myself in Italian horror, which follows what Dario Argento calls a “non-Cartesian” dramatic logic, and appeals to what Keats called negative capability — one’s ability to appreciate something without wholly understanding it; in fact, one’s ability to appreciate an object for its mystery.)

Freda’s career stretches from big Mussolini-era costume flicks, to the fantastical works he’s best known for, to his sidekick act opposite Bertrand Tavernier (an odd couple indeed). Tavernier managed to put together D’ARTAGNAN’S DAUGHTER for Freda to helm, aged 83, but Sophie Marceau seems to have had him fired, forcing Tavernier to complete the film. Boo! I read an interview with Marceau where she said she was dissatisfied with the resulting film because it should have been more about her. Marceau probably ought to make like her more talented namesake and keep her damn mouth shut.

Enjoying HICHCOCK so much has put me in the mood to re-see it’s quasi/pseudo/non-sequel, THE GHOST, which transports Dr. H (who conclusively died in the previous film) to sunny Scotland…

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18 Responses to “Paroxysm”

  1. Riccardo Freda was an unqualified genius and an implacable enemy of the Neo-Realists, whose work he found “wholly without interest”. So I give him points for taste as well as talent.

  2. Have only seen LIZ AND HELEN and THE IGUANA WITH THE TONGUE OF FIRE from Freda. Both great fun but neither great, I’d say. I recall having witnessed some fascinating publicity pics from CALTIKI years ago though.

    Oh and YES PLEASE to Italian-horror-Shadowplay!

  3. Liz and Helen, AKA A Doppia Faccia, is pretty interesting, not least to see Kinski being restrained when the subject matter would seem to welcome Herzogian hamming. Murder Obsession/The Wailing looks to be one of the best, but is very hard to see in a decent copy. I’d recommend Tragic Ceremony for anyone in doubt.

  4. Kinski’s performance in LIZ AND HELEN is above and beyond anything he did for Herzog. Frankly, I think he and Herzog brought out the worst in each other. Herzog encouraged Kinski to ham – and made his own style even more bombastic and grandiloquent to go along with that.

    Kinski’s other great performance is in Andrzej Zulawski’s THE IMPORTANT THING IS TO LOVE, where he plays a temperamental, tormented bisexual actor. Possibly his finest screen moment…and also Romy Schneider’s.

  5. Worth a read also is the new-ish edition of Peter Bondanella’s A History of Italian Cinema, which features a new chapter on what he terms the “Spaghetti Nightmare” (Freda, Bava, Soavi and others) as well as a consideration of a huge number of famous and not-so-famous giallo directors, and perhaps most interestingly the cross-over between the two sub-genres (Argento being the most obvious one to straddle them).

  6. Zulawski, of course, favours a rather intense performance style…

    I’d say it depends what you want from a Herzog film… I do think Aguirre and Woyzeck are among their best.

    Bondanella’s book sounds interesting. Rarely do we see the different genres of Italian cult and mainstream film considered in relation to one another.

  7. Here’s a great interview with Ray. It makes mention of an incredible piece he wrote for “Motion” called “Standing Up For Jesus” which I reprinted on a site called “Light Sleep” several years back.

    I can’t seem to find that site anymore on the net. Maybe I’m looking in the wrong place.

    Ray’s last book was the posthumously published “A Long Hard Look at Psycho.”

  8. Lovely shot of Barbara with the cnadelabra.

  9. Another lovely shot!

    Followed the LightSleeper link from Wiki, and wound up nowheresville — the domain seems to have changed hands.

    That Ray interview is magnificent.

  10. Thanks for the photo of Jackie and Babs – it brightened a rainy morning!

    Nothing like a touch of old-style glamour. Those ladies show up the Sexy Housewives and Desperate City gals for the amateurs they are.

  11. I hope Zulawski had nothing to do with Marceau chucking Freda off D’ARTAGNAN’S DAUGHTER though.

    I’m pretty sure those CALTIKI pics I mentioned are from William K. Everson’s “Classics of the Horror Film” (1974), as a treasured childhood tome as the Gifford.

  12. I’m not sure Zulawski had much influence over Sophie – apart from teaching her to act. And even that only worked in his own films!

  13. Caltiki owes much of its visual style to DoP Mario Bava, who also directed much of it, after Freda quarreled with the producers. Bava also had a hand in I Vampiri, but that one is more Freda, I think.

  14. THE IGUANA WITH THE TONGUE OF FIRE, being a giallo set in 1970′s Dublin, is a pretty remarkable specimen without actually being much good. The opening sequences, high-angle shots of O’Connell St, thrilled me not so much for their brilliance as for being a filmed record of my childhood, filmed by Riccardo FUCKING Freda! But I don’t expect anybody else to find that intrinsically interesting….

  15. I’m quite tickled by The Ghost being set in Scotland, even if it was filmed considerably to the south…

    Naturally, Iguana being one of, I’m guessing, comparatively few Irish gialli, it stars… Anton Diffring! I’ve heard it’s not terribly great but I’m up for giving it a chance.

  16. It really isn’t great but has some fine moments and an outrageous performance by Irish comedian/actor Niall Toibín, though that will only be of interest to those who grew up watching him on Irish TV (he was like our Dave Allen, I suppose).

  17. Dave Allen, with his missing finger and sudden bursts of anger, would have made a great giallo star!

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