Monday, October 25, 2004

Suspiria (1977)

an avid (rabid) movie-goer since I was a kid I don't recall ever seeing this film in a theater or drive-in the year it was released. and I remember the year vividly because I was a 10-year-old boy and Star Wars took me by the seat of my pants for one wild ride that summer. the space opera was a terrific blast of adrenaline back then, and I don't know how many times I saw it that year.

but I don't remember director Dario Argento's masterpiece at all. that is, until I found a disc a couple of years ago. I've known of the film for some time but had not seen it. so when I brought the disc home I placed it in the tray to see what's to see.

and it didn't disappoint at all. Argento is foremost a visual stylist, perhaps like a painter, but without the psychology of the kind you would find in Hitchcock's films. Argento specializes in the most stylized brutality ever conceived on celluloid. but it isn't really a sickening brutality, not at least for me because certain scenes are so overtly theatrical one simply marvels at their executions. one stares at the screen amazed by it all.

the story is about a young foreign exchange student Suzy Banyon (played by Jessica Harper) who uncovers a coven of witches at her German dance school. not much in the way of plot. yet, Argento's mastery is not linear storytelling. the director creates episodes to clash in sound and color. yes, the movie feels pieced together, but I would argue that that is a strength and not a weakness. by presenting episodes rather than seamless narrative Argento opens us to previously unknown sights. we are astonished and revolted by what we are seeing. by foregoing linearity the artist can create unique time, a time that fits more exactly the created world rather than the world we daily occupy. the imagination is better suited, at least for some things, to episodic structures than narrative constructions. who thinks and imagines in narrative anyway?

this is the second film, the first is Deep Red (1975), that combined the talents of the Italian prog rock band Goblin and the visions of Argento. the score suits the material, and I mean the synthesizers, vocalized screeches and drums harmonizes the violence. the movie is best played real, real loud.

anyway, the first murder is a shock and is perhaps one of the most beautifully choreographed ever framed on film. Argento is a master of editing and lighting. or he is a master at finding artisans who are masters at editing and lighting. either way the film is saturated in reds and blues perhaps to signify the heat of violence and the psychological ennui of the coven of witches. for they are brought easily down by Banyon. who knows?

at any rate, Banyon breaks thru her own malaise and attempts to discover the school's mystery which is deep-set but very fragile. because no one really fucks with the witches they have got a bit smug and lazy. but as I noted earlier the film is not big on psychological depths. one views it as a rollercoaster ride. there are a few set-pieces that are downright silly, such as the scene where the dormitories are drenched by falling maggots. and yet, there is something compelling in Banyon's travails. a hint of strength that is finally fully tested by the lead witch.

it is nearly Halloween. the perfect season for Suspiria. Argento has made, and continues to make, good to very fucking good films. Argento ain't everyone's cup of tea but if you like the strong stuff then surely this film will whet your whistle.


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