Archive for Argento

The Chills #2: Insect Politics

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 2, 2008 by dcairns

undone by the fly 

This clip is from a horror movie, but that’s not actually the kind of chills I’m talking about. What this is, is a collection of those film scenes that rend the veil of mundanity and make you feel hooked into the Great Beyonderness of Things, that bring a poetic, indefinable insight to bear and open up possibilities undreamed-of, and make you feel awe and panicky joy and the exact physical sensations you felt that time Hervé Villachaise caressed your spine with an icicle.

[Spoilsports at Fox don’t want me promoting their film so they’ve removed the clip.]

Here’s Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis and John Getz in Cronenberg’s THE FLY. I would have to say this sequence, which GETS ME every damn time, is a compendium of many different emotions produced by many different things.

Howard Shore’s music is a huge part of it — if you watch a string of early Cronenbergs you get to hear Shore go from barely adequate to really, really good, quite rapidly. THE BROOD is kinda bland. SCANNERS is a rather weak PSYCHO riff, then VIDEODROME starts to get better and then THE FLY arrives and kicks ass.

And the performances are lovely, especially Goldblum, who’s perfectly cast and has perfect counterpart in Davis. John Getz properly comes into his own in THE FLY II, which is a pretty bad film but his single scene is TERRIFIC.

It’s really the dialogue that’s the core of it for me. The script is by Charles Edward Pogue and David Cronenberg, one of the few times Cronenberg adapted another writer’s script. Pogue has been very complimentary about the results, which is rare with screenwriters — we’re so used to having people trample our work with hobnailed boots while jabbering inanely like a Barbary macaque. It’s humbling when somebody comes along and actually IMPROVES what we’ve written, and is SENSITIVE to what we were trying to do with the thing in the first place.

Back in 1986 it probably couldn’t be predicted that Cronenberg would soon be concentrating more on adaptations than on originals, subtly Cronenbergerizing them while remaining very true to the values of the source material. He’d already made THE DEAD ZONE, one of the very few decent Stephen King adaptations (the key would seem to be excavating the valuable stuff that touches chords and makes King’s work so popular, and finding a new shape for it once you’ve removed the buckets of MATTER that fill out King’s doorstop volumes — perhaps exploiting the lacunae created by swinging cuts to create mystery, the way Kubrick did in THE SHINING) and was about to bring us NAKED LUNCH and M. BUTTERFLY and CRASH…

this bed was made for Walken

Dialogue often gets short shrift in discussion of cinema. I take the view that great cinema is that which uses its tools to create a unified effect that is either powerful or complex or both, and dialogue can as well be a part of that as anything else. It can’t totally dominate, but then to get a unified effect from cinema, which is kind of a fusion of many art forms, no one part can completely dominate. If it’s JUST cool photography or great editing, that doesn’t make great cinema either. I heard Richard Stanley say the other day that cinema “doesn’t LIKE dialogue,” which struck me as, well, WRONG, and certainly out of keeping with my experience of cinema. Stanley, like his idol Argento, doesn’t write good dialogue, or film it particularly well, or get very good performances, so maybe it’s a matter of being attuned to the virtues of screen talk. It’s true that cinema started off without the ability to talk, but it started without precisely synchronised music and sound effects too, and I know of few purists who think those are a burden on film art (though there are certainly people who choose not to use them, which is just fine).

Beam me up

So, the dialogue, the score, also the lighting, the rather lovely creature make-up, the way Goldblum’s eyes move (and when he looks UP and his eyes roll, he’s strangely reminiscent of Michael Anderson, the Man from Another Place in TWIN PEAKS — something about the cheekbones, I think) and when Goldblum is on the roof, he’s suddenly Lon Chaney in our memories of both THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME and the film we’re watching suddenly seems not only thematically super-rich (disease, aging, love, death, rebirth) but hooked into a whole rich history of monster movies.

What we’ve got here is SCREEN POETRY my friends. And what I’ve got is the chills.

(More chills soon. And I would LOVE for you to nominate your own examples.)


Gialli on a Plate

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , on December 22, 2007 by dcairns

Malice in Wonderland -- Suspiria 

A few minutes into AUTOPSY (MACCHIE SOLARI), Armando Crispino’s splatteristic 1975 thriller about an outbreak of suicide/murder in the deadly heat of the Roman summer (a time when, Orson Welles observes in F FOR FAKE, an invading nation could conquer the city with a telephone call), my partner Fiona said she felt stoned.

All Mimsy were the borogroves.

 She had said the same thing during Dario Argento’s SUSPIRIA (title courtesy of DeQuincey), and it wasn’t during the scenes of demented Technicolor mayhem or weirdly over-prolonged, non-specific “suspense”. It was during the dialogue scenes. The plotty stuff where the director sits back, kicks off his shoes and takes a siesta while the actors endeavour to wade through “exposition” of the nonsensical “non-Cartesian” storyline, or indulge in “characterisation” based around semi-suppressed Freudian childhood traumas, or just wonder, flatly, what the hell is going on.

(Jessica Harper in Dario Argento’s SUSPIRIA)

It’s to do with the script, the acting, the often-poor synchronisation, and the dubbing itself. I wonder if this is just how Italians think films are supposed to be, since subtitling is virtually unknown in Italy and all foreign films are re-voiced. But I’ve always understood that the Italians are better at dubbing, so when they watch our films they shouldn’t have this weird, disconnected quality. The voices are always up-close and lacking in atmospheric qualities like reverberation, unless these have been artificially provided in a highly unreal manner. The vocal performances aren’t always terrible, but they’re seldom emotionally in synch with the visuals, sounding either more strained or more relaxed than the facial expressions they accompany. Usually more strained, especially when the voice artist is TRYING TO SOUND LIKE the person onscreen.

I’m not sure I can say this is effective, but it definitely has an effect. A stoned effect. It makes spaghetti westerns more funny, sometimes a good thing, and horror films more unconvincing and dreamlike, also often good. I wonder, looking at Argento’s more recent films, if he’s been trying to make actors seem badly dubbed even when they’re not.

Anyway, Fiona soon ducked out of AUTOPSY and went about her business, shooting the odd remark at the screen whenever she passed through the room. “I’m glad I’m not watching this anymore,” that kind of thing. And on the whole she was right. The film starts great, with Morricone’s distressed orgasm women freaking out on the soundtrack, as sunspots erupt in astro-vision, while on the Earth various parties are offing themselves in colourful fashions (I mean the methods of self-immolation, not the 70s dress style, though that’s colourful too). One man puts a plastic bag over his head and jumps in the Tiber. “Why does he need the bag if he’s drowning anyway?” asked Fiona.

“He doesn’t want water in his nose.”

And Fiona, who swims with her head RIGHT UP, had to accept this.

There was then some good creepy stuff as Mimsy Farmer, with bad Lady Di hair, gets overworked in the mortuary where she’s working on her Masters Degree in Murder-Disguised-As-Suicide, starts to have visions of corpses grinning at her. Then the corpses indulge in interracial sex (is it supposed to be more shocking because one corpse is black? I mean, they’re DEAD) which is just funny, and a sleazy morgue cosmetologist tries to pick up Mimsy (that NAME!) with a stroke-victim smirk and the line, “Brains leave me cold, bit if you’re interested in a little warm meat, doc, I’d be glad to oblige. Modestly speaking I’m well-endowed,” spoken as he seductively deposits a handful of brain matter on a table.

Mr. Sexy

“That is the best chat-up line ever!” applauded Fiona.

That’s another thing about a lot of gialli (and especially this one), people say horrible things to each other all the time, and very often get away with it. These films come from another dimension (70s Italy) where sleaze and misogyny pass for polite conversation, and nobody bats an eyelid, or stabs an eyeball, at remarks that ought to cause rapid deployment of mace or electric stun baton.

I like a spot of giallo, but the combined effect of feeling simultaneously soiled and stoned is a bit like doing ‘shrooms in a flooded sewer…

“You Have Been Watching…”

Those lips, those eyes, that septum!

Posted in FILM, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 9, 2007 by dcairns

After blogging recently about how cinematographer Seamus McGarvey inherited Nicole Kidman’s nose from THE HOURS (he had so much trouble lighting it she felt it was the least she could do), I started thinking which celebrity facial features *I* would like to own.

This is the way my mind works, get used to it.


First off, I thought it would be great to get my hands on Stefania Sandrelli’s chin. But I wouldn’t leave it to gather dust on my mantelpiece, no no. I would attach it to my face with an elastic band and wear it on outings. My fashion sense is strictly slacker-Columbo, but with Sandrelli’s delicately cleft chin adorning my pasty visage I would be chic at all times. A man could really be a man in a chin like that.

The chin for me, definitely.

What else? I toyed with Vic Morrow’s ears, but ultimately cast them aside. Too serious. The shadow of John Astin’s Gomez Addams moustache passed across my mind, but I brushed it away. I couldn’t afford the upkeep. For a reckless moment I seized upon Gene Tierney’s teeth (wonky but adorable, unlike my own mouthful of smashed crockery), but the E.A. Poe scenario involved in actually acquiring them was off-putting so I reluctantly let them drop.

No, what I really want for Christmas, the thing that would make my life complete, is the ENTIRE FACE of Laird Cregar.

(The multi-layered Laird is a 40s character star who obsesses me to a near-sexual degree, so expect more on him soon.)

With a face like that I could — dare I say it? — rule the world!

Or at least frighten the cat. And since, like horror maestro Dario Argento (below), I am regularly attacked by my own housepet, that would be useful enough.

Dario Argento's face: I don't want any part of it.