Archive for Dario Argento

Mother of Gels

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 28, 2018 by dcairns

Inspired by our enjoyable viewing of SUSPIRIA in Bologna, we looked at Dario Argento’s follow-up, INFERNO (1980), which I hadn’t seen since around 1989, and which Fiona had never seen. I mainly remembered the bad bits, in particular the terrible cats-and-rats sequence in which the creepy bloke from MARIENBAD perishes in a heavily rodent-infested Central Park, crying, “The rats are eating me!” And the shifty butler overacting. And the crap skeleton saying “You mean you still don’t understand?” which it turns out doesn’t quite happen.

What DID happen was remarkable — by sheer coincidence we put the film on during a lunar eclipse AND a thunderstorm, and both a lunar eclipse and a thunderstorm are featured in the movie. And then our Tonkinese cat, Momo, who never watches television usually, started acting very strange during the cats-and-rats scene, prowling around the room and looking behind the TV in search of the source of all the mammalian vocals.

(I don’t now why Argento always has these animal atrocities in his films, they’re rarely convincing. The glove puppet seeing-eye dog in SUSPIRIA, and here, the cats being thrown at Daria Nicolodi (then Mrs. Argento), with the animal handlers’ hands actually visible onscreen, and then the rats that mainly just look confused. And none of it has anything to do with the “plot”. Maybe this helps: composer Simon Boswell remarked, “Dario is the only person I know who is regularly attacked by his own cats.” )

“I hope the house doesn’t burn down,” I said, after all these other coincidences. After the film ended, we became conscious of very loud engine noise coming from outside. We had the windows wide open due to the heat wave. I looked outside and saw three fire engines.

Building on the mythos invented for SUSPIRIA, Argento introduces the architect Varelli, responsible for constructing three witch houses –one of these burned down in the previous movie but the other two, an art deco palaces in New York and a creepy library in Rome, are encountered here. We seem to be following in the footsteps of ROSEMARY’S BABY and THE SEVENTH VICTIM, while anticipating GHOSTBUSTERS.

It’s Take Your Cat to Class Day, didn’t you know?

One thing that’s missing amid the supersaturated colours and moderne design is an interesting central character. Jessica Harper had worked wonders giving humanity to Argento’s sanguinary excercises du style, and poor Leigh McCloskey and his Action Man mustache aren’t up to the job, but then he never gets much to do and the movie keeps abandoning him so it can show some minor character getting stabbed up or defenestrated in flames. It’s not really McCloskey’s fault.

I did come around to Argento’s demented dialogue, though. A lot of what seems like sheer silliness or ineptitude may be entirely deliberate. My friend Alex had spoken enthusiastically of the bit in SUSPIRIA where Udo Kier says something like, “Of course there’s no such thing as witches. My friend will explain all that to you,” and then his friend appears as if by magic and says, “Yes, there are witches. It’s a house full of witches,” and Udo just smiles and nods as if this is what he’d expected to hear.

Why is that good? First, consider this quote from the Maestro ~

“I’m searching for panic, which is at another level to terror, it penetrates even further. If one wishes to compare panic to fear, we can say that fear is a 38-39 degree fever, while panic is 41 degrees. Therefore, it’s delirium”.

Now apply your memories of fever to this dialogue from INFERNO’s awkward elevator conversation ~

Nurse: “His name is Professor Arnold, he’s been quite ill for many years. And you, what do you do?”

McCloskey: “Oh, I’m a student. Musicology.”

“Oh, wonderful! A professor of toxicology. We know two other young men who -“

“No, no, it’s not toxicology. Musicology. It’s got nothing to do with medicine.”

“What is it then?”

[rather brilliant confused pause by McCloskey] “The study of music.”

“Oh yes, your sister’s involved in rather strange work too.”

“Strange? No, she writes poetry.”

“Oh. Yes, a pastime especially suited for women. Goodbye!”

Let’s just agree that this is, in fact, brilliant. McCloskey being prey to various unexplained ailments in the course of the “story” allows us to see this as a fever-dream dialogue whose demented improbabilities open portals to altered states of conversation. It makes us feel out of it. The words are wrong, the attitudes are wrong, and the voices don’t seem to emanate from the characters’ mouths. We’re sweating through a heat wave right now, so that only added to the feeling of roiling confusion.

Then there’s the strange superimposed titles, ostensibly giving us time and place as these things normally do ~

   

But, brilliantly, April (the cruellest month) has no story significance at all, and the film’s insistence that this is “the same night in April” is REALLY wacky, since the character above just got off the phone with her brother in Rome — obviously it’s the same night, since we’re in the middle of  continuous transatlantic conversation. Evidently, Argento’s mind doesn’t work along conventional narrative tracks, as if that wasn’t obvious from all the cobwebby stuffed crocodiles and gratuitous Verdi, and Keith Emerson’s score that seems to fold together Jerry Goldsmith’s OMEN theme with Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. But maybe, just maybe, Argento understands normal human thought well enough to send it crashing off the rails with deliberately skewed narrative devices and exchanges.

It’s a theory, anyway.

        

(Poor old McCloskey, come to New York to investigate his sister’s disappearance, just like Kim Hunter in THE SEVENTH VICTIM, never does find out what became of her. Would having her corpse pop out at him sometime be too much to ask?)

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A Continental Op

Posted in FILM, Science with tags , , , , , , on June 29, 2018 by dcairns

While Fiona slumbered, I headed to the showing of 1898 movies with a scientific bent. Fiona was rather put off by the advertised HYSTERECTOMIE ABDOMINALE; ABLATION DE LA TUMOUR. A friend pooh-poohed the prospects of graphic and upsetting images: “Well, they couldn’t show much in those days.” But the film turned out to be made for training purposes: almost before you’ve decided that you’re looking at a woman’s inverted abdomen, the surgeon has it sliced open and pulls from the interior a round, shiny object about the size of Cate Blanchett’s head, which he proceeds to clamp off and sever, flashing an ingratiating smile at the camera from time to time. And he looks a lot like James Robertson Justice from the DOCTOR films, too. “What’s the bleeding time?”

Later he successfully sued one of his cameramen for selling the film to carnies.

The same program, which was nothing less than varied, gave us a range of subjects from Meliés, including the expected trick films — I like L’HOMME DES TETES OU LES QUATRES TETES EMBARRASSENT because the title is so explicit.

The 1898 shorts are grouped (by curator Marianne Lewinsky) according to Meliés’ own system — he claimed the four genres are Scientific Scenes, Open Air Scenes, Dramatic Scenes and Fantastical Scenes. That does seem to cover most of the possibilities…

There was more graphic blood-letting in the evening with SUSPIRIA, looking more amazing than ever in its new restoration. It did bring up one of the few complaints you hear about Il Cinema Ritrovato: the duration of introductions. Here we had the cinematographer and the director of the forthcoming remake banging on for forty minutes, each lengthy observation requiring laborious translation. It would have made a fine seminar earlier in the day, but was too much for this venue. The thing that really upsets me is when they show something child-friendly in the Piazza Maggiore and you see kids falling asleep before the movie even starts, coshed by the somnolence-inducing pre-match analysis.

But all was forgiven once Argento (before he became a surprise hero of the #MeToo movement) started slashing up his cast. Incidentally, why is the first victim named “Pat Hingle”? If that’s a hommage, it’s a very strange one.

The Mellow Wallpaper

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , on November 11, 2014 by dcairns

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Who lives in a house like this? If, as Michael Redgrave opines in SECRET BEYOND THE DOOR, certain rooms are felicitous, inspiring particular events to unfold within their walls, for good or ill, then can we doubt that the owner of this apartment will end up with a dagger in his spleen by the final reel? Since the film is a giallo, RED QUEEN KILLS SEVEN TIMES (but who’s counting?), I guess he will.

Apart from their eccentric taste in decor, giallo characters seem united by their unpleasantness — it’s an actual requirement of the genre, or at least a frequent tendency. Since most of the cast are scheduled for horrible bloody murder, I suppose it made sense to view them as disposable, as corpses-in-waiting rather than human beings we might relate to. In some slashers, a modicum of warmth is generated and you may find yourself rooting for the victims against the killer, but generally in the giallo there is the intellectual pursuit of the truth — which will usually turn out to be too ridiculous to ever be guessed — and there is the emotion of shock relating to each savage slaying, but little in the way of sentiment intrudes. I guess the audience would be in permanent mourning if the people were at all appealing.

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Still, a requirement that characters be horrible  strikes me as even more limiting than the more usual requirement that they be sympathetic. Both are unnecessary constraints, and in every case a character should be appealing or otherwise depending on their nature and the intention of the filmmaker. It’s notable that the more successful Dario Argento movies are the ones with more personable leads, because in the context of his kind of movie, that’s a more surprising choice.

Anyhow, apart from its snazzy title and decor, RQK7X has an insistent, jaunty Bruno Nicolai tune which may be my favourite giallo score (why is the music so cheerful? I guess because it’s good that unpleasant fashion designers and models are getting murdered!) and a cute little girl at the beginning who seems to be having the time of her life playing the embodiment of evil or something.

Remember ~

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