A collection of reviews of films from off the beaten path; a travel guide for those who love the cinematic world and want more than the mainstream releases.
Friday, August 24, 2018
A 12-Film Retrospective of Dario Argento, Supreme Horror Stylist, Begins September 21 (with Argento In-Person!) at the Metrograph
Opens September 21
12 Film Retrospective of the Supreme Horror Stylist
Argento To Appear In-Person!
When it comes to Dario Argento, the stylist supreme of horror cinema, one might first think of an insidious mood, of piercingly intense colors, of a scrap of haunting music or a set piece in which the camera sets off on its own inexplicable course or an act of violence at once shocking, sensuous, and beautiful. Argento, who came to the director’s chair by way of work as a critic and screenwriter, understands cinema as, among other things, a decorative art, and the movies that he would make, either giallo or supernatural horror, are above all encompassing, voluptuary environments—viewers tend not to want to leave them, even as their persecuted characters struggle to find a way out of the lapidary labyrinths they’ve been trapped in. With his debut, hit thriller The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970), Argento began one of the most offbeat, inspired runs of moviemaking in horror history, and almost fifty years later he carries on as a visionary force in genre cinema, an elder statesman of unparalleled influence who combines Hitchcock’s grand architectural ambitions, more than a dash of surrealism, and a hedonistic taste for beauty. Watching Argento movies en masse makes for a feast of rich, decadent filmmaking, that leaves one hungry for more.
Presented in collaboration with the Italian Cultural Institute in New York.
Once Upon a Time in the West (Sergio Leone/1968/164 mins/DCP) Along with dream team collaborators Leone and Bernardo Bertolucci, Argento is credited with the story for this epic oater, a sort of link between the established spaghetti western and the rising giallo, both genres defined by their elaborate and sometimes insanely involved set pieces. Honest Henry Fonda goes bad—very bad—as a railroad baron’s hired gun, facing off against Bronson’s lethal loner Harmonica, in the soaring, musically-composed movie that really earns the label of “horse opera.”
The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970/98 mins/DCP) - New Restoration Argento’s directorial debut, a thriller unlike anything that had come before it, stars Tony Musante as an American writer in Rome who witnesses a knife attack and, the first in a long line of amateur sleuths in Argento’s cinema, begins his own investigation into the identity of the black-gloved attacker. Shot in awesome widescreen Technicolor by the maestro Vittorio Storaro, with a sharp, singular, dramatically dissonant score by Ennio Morricone. New restoration by Arrow Video.
The Cat O' Nine Tails (1971/115 mins/DCP) - New Restoration Karl Malden’s blind ex-journalist, now working as a crossword puzzle maker, catches a whiff of a mystery from an overheard conversation outside a lab for genetic experimentation, and after learning of a subsequent, possibly connected murder, teams with newspaperman James Franciscus to get to the bottom of things, risking life and limb to together chase nine separate leads that reveal a conspiracy involving government investment in a chemical cure for juvenile delinquency. Elegant, hugely eccentric, and a double-shot of pure 180-proof Argento. New restoration by Arrow Video.
Four Flies on Gray Velvet (1971/104 mins/16mm) The capper of Argento’s “Animal Trilogy” begins with rock drummer Michael Brandon being photographed accidentally killing a stalker in a scuffle, then follows his search to unmask his blackmailer as a body count piles up around him, aided by a private investigator hired by his wife and hindered by the appearance of a troubling toy puppet. One of Argento’s most bizarre and beautiful works, featuring the most sumptuous, sensual car crash ever caught on film.
Deep Red (1975/126 mins/DCP) - New Restoration Blow Up star David Hemmings yet again plays a marked witness, drawn into a deepening mystery after he sees a renowned psychic cut down by a hatchet killer, seeking out the shocking truth behind the murder with the help of Daria Nicolodi’s indefatigable investigative reporter. Featuring striking art direction heavily influenced by the melancholic canvases of Edward Hopper as well as a smorgasbord of gristly violence, this may very well be the creative pinnacle of the giallo. New restoration by Arrow Video.
Suspiria (1977/98 mins/35mm) A fairy tale construction at once grim and florid, Argento’s best-known film finds Jessica Harper’s American ballet dancer arriving at an exclusive academy in Germany where she discovers a dark past and occult forces at work in the present. With some of Argento’s most perversely ingenious set pieces, a plum part for former Fritz Lang muse Joan Bennett, and a spine-tingling theme by Goblin that will haunt you to the grave. Suspiriascreens in a recently discovered uncut Italian 35mm print.
Inferno (1980/107 mins/35mm) The second entry in Argento’s “Three Mothers” trilogy, begun with Suspiria, brings the maestro to New York—and you’ll never look at Central Park the same way again. Music student Leigh McCloskey travels from Rome to NYC to investigate sister Irene Miracle’s fears of a paranormal plot and finds himself lured into a labyrinth of impossible underground architecture and nightmare visions. Moved along by a pulsing score courtesy Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, for years it was Argento’s proverbial underrated masterpiece, now finally getting its due.
Tenebre (1982/101 mins/35mm) Argento’s return to his giallo roots after veering off into gonzo horror/fantasy, Tenebre features Anthony Franciosa as an American author of potboiler thrillers who, promoting a new book in Rome, finds that a murderer is re-enacting his most ghoulish flights of literary fancy. Argento uses the occasion to scale new, dizzying heights of his own, employing bravura crane shots, brazenly baroque lighting, and the iconic moment of a razor slashing through white cotton. Print courtesy of the Phil Blankenship Collection at the Academy Film Archive.
Phenomena (1985/82 mins/35mm) At a girls’ school in Switzerland, boarder Jennifer Connelly discovers that she possesses the ability to telepathically communicate with insects, a skill that comes in handy when she joins forces with entomologist Donald Pleasance and his pet chimpanzee to unmask a murderer running amok. Boasting the most outlandish premise that Argento ever dared, as well as startling soundtrack cues from Iron Maiden and Motörhead. Metrograph will be screening a 35mm print of the American cut, released under the title Creepers.
Opera (1987/107 mins/DCP) The staging of an opera of the famously cursed Macbeth becomes a springboard for some of Argento’s most big, brazen, aria-like set pieces, filmed with an unchained camera which at one point is seen to soar through a cavernous theater on the wings of a raven. With the interference of a lunatic on a backstage killing spree, understudy Cristina Marsillach’s immersion in the role of Lady Macbeth turns still more intense, in this ultra-rich, rococo nail-biter.
Trauma (1993/106 mins/35mm) Argento’s first production made entirely in the U.S.—and somewhat under the influence of De Palma—teams him with daughter Asia, playing an anorexic girl who falls for a young man (Christopher Rydell) while briefy escaped from a psychiatric clinic. Her return coincides with the initiation of a bloody rampage by a killer nicknamed the Head Hunter who practices his art with a homemade garrote, and who the young lovers hope to track down before he can collect more gory trophies.
The Stendhal Syndrome (1996/113 mins/DCP) Dad and daughter team together again in a deliciously warped psychological thriller that gets sleazy at the Uffizi, with Asia Argento as a police detective whose tracking of a serial murderer and rapist is complicated when she finds herself struck by a psychological affliction that renders her helpless in the presence of great art—a real Achilles’ heel when you’re on the job in Florence.