…and on the second day…

Started to feel I wasn’t getting the most out of the online Il Cinema Ritrovato. This may in part have been because I wasn’t watching any films. But you see, I have a DVD of THE GRAPES OF WRATH so watching it streaming didn’t make sense to me, even though it’s well overdue a watch. So I’ve been looking at shorts, documentaries, interviews, masterclasses…

By some odd quirk the festival is streaming an interview with Dario Argento and a session on the restoration of FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET, but not the film itself. For that you have to be in Bologna. The Argento interview was unsatisfactory from almost every point of view — a camera in Bologna filmed an auditorium with a screen on which you could see the Maestro and his interviewer, fuzzily projected, neither one of them being present, while a simultaneous translation talked over both of them. So we couldn’t really see Dario or hear him, and we got the gist of his words but he didn’t seem to have anything exciting to say.

His film, however, is very exciting, even in the unrestored version I have access to. I can’t think why I always assumed it was inferior to THE CAT O’ NINE TAILS and BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE, it’s a worthy companion. The plot is completely barmy, full of unexplained lunatic touches, as when a blackmailing housemaid, waiting in a park for her victim, flees into an ever-narrowing cobwebbing passage. I admit I’m not personally familiar with Turin’s parks and recreation areas, but I have a hunch the shaggy DA is stretching verisimilitude here, as on a medieval rack.

We liked the idea of the gay private detective (Jean-Pierre Marielle), but of course he’s played in a wildly stereotypical, swishy way — yet this was still progressive at the time, by the admittedly demented standards of the Italian genre cinema. He’s allowed to make a brief plea for tolerance, to solve the case, and to win pathos. And the killer has a traumatic backstory which imparts a little sympathy, perhaps more than the “hero” gets — the sullen-faced Michael Brandon is quite good, though, managing to maintain a core of credibility in the midst of some of Argento’s more head-scratching dialogue and characterisation.

The main thing, though, is that Argento has an extravagant visual idea to explore in nearly every scene, and they’re mostly cunning rather than just sucky. There’s something wonderfully eerie about the hero’s darkened apartment with the trees outside brightly floodlit and sussurating in a phantasmal fashion. This lad has promise.


An interview of the Taviani Bros under a tree did not elevate me, especially when long swathes of it were just the Bros staring blankly into camera as Gideon Bachman attempted to formulate a protrated thought.

My chum Craig McCall delivered a detailed exposition on dye-transfer Technicolor written by Robert Hoffman, which worked better than Dario’s appearance because Craig was actually in the room.

A session on the restoration of A BOUT DE SOUFFLE and THE ELEPHANT MAN offered little for non-pixel-pushers, but it was good to hear that David Lynch insisted on his HDR restoration being performed with a cinema screen as reference.

And then at last there was a PROPER film doc, Cyril Leuthy’s MELVILLE, LE DERNIER SAMOURAI, which weirdly discounts BOB LE FLAMBEUR and LES ENFANTS TERRIBLE entirely and claims LE DOULOS as Melville’s first thriller, but is otherwise rivetting. It gets by with only sparse clips from the films, but just enough, and with a terrific wealth of archive footage of the man himself, and good new interviews with family members, Volker Schloendorff and Taylor Hackford. The stars are curiously absent, but the whole thing has a nice jazzy, nocturnal feel very suited to JPM’s cinema, and among the memories are striking moments — JPM screaming at Lino Ventura, captured on 1/4inch audio tape, and Delon, interviewed shortly after (a) falling out with Melville and (b) Melville’s death, talking about how they need to have a break before working together again. With extraordinary facial expressions, cognitive dissonance pulling the muscles this way and that — he KNOWS the man is dead, but he’s still considering working with him again after a suitable interval…

“You can’t love cinema without being a child,” says one of the assorted Grumbachs. Dario would agree, I think.

FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET stars Dempsey; Margareta Nikolajevna; renowned curator Jacques Saunier; La regina di Napoli; Mme Quentin; Fanny Hill; and Bambino, the left hand of the Devil!

6 Responses to “…and on the second day…”

  1. chris schneider Says:

    Glad to read about the FOUR FLIES gay detective.

    Are giallos so devoid of LGBT material, or is it that people who talk about giallos tend not to acknowledge the LGBT? As so often, I feel alienated when people talk about films with naughty delights — a category in which I tend to include giallos — and the delights are almost always of a hetero nature. [sigh!]

    Although isn’t there some gay stuff, sorta kinda maybe, in Argento’s DEEP RED?

  2. Argento’s Tenebrae cast a trans woman in a key role. The nature of the genre seems to mitigate against any positive statement about any form of sexuality… so usually there’s discomfort alongside minority representation. Lesbianism — titillating and punishable by death — does feature, and there are occasional gay men, usually as victims. Drag turns up fairly often as a way of surprising us with the killer’s identity.

    The team of Cattet & Forzani tried to used giallo aesthetics in a non-misogynistic way in The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears.

    Argento did probably his best sexual-politics work supporting his daughter in the Me Too movement.

  3. David Ehrenstein Says:

    Cobwebs in “Four Flies” are exchanged for barbed wire in Argento’s masterpiece “Suspiria”

    It’s also worth noting that Melville’s “Un Flic” features a transgender police informer who’s clearly in love with Delon
    “Les Enfants Terrible” and “Bob le Flambeur” are both towering masterpieces. I really can’t take seriously anyone who dismisses them for any reason. Neither are “noirs” but both are redolent with “noir” elements.

  4. Bob LF sets up so many of Melville’s motifs, from major (the gangster hero checks himself out in a mirror) to decorative (checkerboard floors, nightclubs with xylophone music), it established far more of who he is than the later Le Doulos.

    Still, the doc is entertaining, informative, and has lots of impressive background info about JPM’s time in the resistance, etc.

  5. David Ehrenstein Says:

    J-P M’s resistance film “Army of Shadows” is his masterpiece

  6. I think so too — though admittedly I’ve still to see a couple, including his other resistance film, Leon Morin, Pretre.

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