Friday, November 25, 2011

The Films of Dario Argento

One hell of a headache... Suspiria

In terms of thematic consistency it's said that all great directors remake the same film over and over. And then there's Dario Argento, who seems to quite literally make the same film over and over again.

The Italian horror maestro started his career as a film critic whilst still at school, then became a screenwriter, most noticeably on Leone's Once Upon in the West (1968). Soon after he directed his first feature, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970), which perhaps owes a debt to Leone for some of its compositions and close ups; also, perhaps, for its music as Leone regular Ennio Morricone supplies the soundtrack, as he would for the next two Argento features, Cat O'Nine Tails and Four Flies on Grey Velvet. Nevertheless, Argento, aided by ace cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (who would go on to work closely with Bertolucci and Coppola), makes the film all his own and it includes what would soon become his trademarks: spectacular, stylised set pieces, misogynist ultra violence, lavish camerawork, bold use of colour and great music, courtesy either of Morricone or the Goblins (who had composed music for George Romero). These elements would reach their peak in such films as Deep Red (1975) and Suspiria (1977), where he dared to go where Hitchcock only dreamt about going.

But, still, it's hard to know exactly where one stands with Argento. On the one hand, I picked up so-called classic DVDs of his in Poundland for – yup – £1 each, where they look like budget exploitation flicks, and indeed I usually think of Argento as a misogynist sleaze merchant. But on the other hand, his work is seriously debated on the blogosphere as high art, and recently many of his films have appeared on Blu-Ray with Suspiria being praised as a semi-surreal masterpiece (though his more recent films aren't received as well).

But I've always felt, with their preposterous plots (where I guess who the murderer is within minutes – it's usually the most unlikely candidate), hammy acting and dodgy dubbing, all we really need to see of Argento's films is the edited highlights – the glorious, gory set pieces – a sort of best of Dario Argento (which you can probably find on YouTube). After all, most bands and singers have a Greatest Hits, so why not filmmakers?

Psycho killer, qu'est-ce que c'est?

Argento himself is quite a weird and creepy-looking guy. There's a funny piece of footage on the extras section of the Poundland DVD of Cat O'Nine Tails. Argento and Tim Burton are being filmed at Argento's geeky horror/sci-fi memorabilia shop and museum in Rome. But whereas Burton is all smiles and autograph signing, Argento is retiring and awkward, looking like a serial killer. Bless. In fact, for such a strange looking man, it's amazing he's fathered such a foxy (in a creepy kind of way) daughter, Asia Argento.


Bobby Onion said...

...and he has a habit of personaly killing his daughter(Asia Argento)in any film she appears in. The man has parental issues.

Barnaby said...

Yes, for sure, though now I want to watch some of her films.