Friday, February 27, 2009
Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971): Cinebolically Dario
The long-awaited decent DVD release of 4 Flies on Gray Velvet is a late-inning coup for anyone trying to lose their moral compass, and you should be trying, because it's harder than you think. Luckily, Argento's films--even at their worst--are never "safe" and always rich in moral ambiguity: Good guys are hipster artists driven to risk their friends' lives in finding the killer, more out of perverse fascination than genuine empathy for the victims; the killers have their reasons--usually mental illness caused by brutal child abuse, and police hardly matter, except as deadpan mashers waiting around on the sidelines with their pages of red herring exposition.
In FOUR FLIES, for example, there's some "experimental procedure" where lasers project the retinal image at the moment of death; but it's just another oddity on the tour, along with a surreal trip to a coffin-makers convention with a bohemian named "God". There's great wallpaper, chic 70s menswear and fantasias of being a successful artist jet-setting around Rome. There's also hot chicks and gruesome stabbing but even us paranoid feminists can get into the kinky murders of Argento. He's always feeling the pain and everything's a double-edged sword of entendre and labyrinthine cinebolism.
If you're a big lover of Bird with Crystal Plumage you might long for one of Morricone's children's music box leitmotifs to run through but Ennio doesn't get much to do this time, outside the garage psych jams of the group our hero drums for (prefiguring Goblin). Argento's into the long suspenseful silence thing for FLIES, with hiding in closets and hearing faint footsteps getting louder up the stairs all the time louder. Silence and then... faint scraping sounds. This may have been tiresome on a cropped blurry dupe, but with the widescreen DVD we can luxuriate in every darkened corner and realize that this movie resembles Lynch's Lost Highway in its poetic use of hipster musicians standing around in the darkness of their retro chic decadent apartments, waiting... thinking... standing...
There's a lot left undone that would have made this movie hum with the brilliance of Plumage, but there's no doubt it's Argento at the helm--in full control--so even if it doesn't add up to much, it's always "in the moment." And for the psychotronic scholar it's fun to connect this 1971 film to all that came before (The Leopard Man, Peeping Tom, Psycho) and all that came after (Death Proof, Bladerunner, Eyes of Laura Mars). Who knows why it's so important for people like Fulci and Argento that someone's slow decapitation or eye gouging should be accompanied by languid orchestral pop balladry?! Maybe it's some anti-Catholic thing, but goddamn it, those are the moments one lives for in le bad cinema.
Another such moment is the climactic "lost footage" restoration which adds sickly minutes to an already tense situation, the suddenly reverting into Italian is a great example of Argento's unheimliche-conjuring power. In the Argentoverse, scenes collapse and disappear, whether by your mental suppression scissors, or someone's real ones, only to return, decades later, in Italian with English subtitles.
Argento's flms are always worth buying instead of renting as they can be rewatched repeatedly without ever seeming like the same movie; each time we find a new skin-crawling terror and another one we feared from before seems to have vanished. His movies are as endlessly fascinating as an one's own inner romantic torment or open wound, our mind obliterating all traces of the pain as it happens, creating a jewel-like shimmer. What was it Caligula said? "Oh, If all of Rome had just one neck..." he said that because he was itchy for something that only a genius like Argento could provide, and he kept breaking necks to find it; Dario breaks the necks so we don't have to. Dario, the cinebolist Caligula of post-modern Rome!
Read my less worshipful piece on Dario's Mother of Tears here, and my most worshipful piece on daughter Asia's Scarlet Diva here