Tag Archives: Italian

Suspiria (1977)

For I want to say my birthday, my mother-in-law pulled from my wishlist the 4K Blu-ray of Suspiria, a movie which I have somehow never seen, despite having felt its allure since at least as far back as when I bought The Sinful Nuns of St. Valentine[1]. I cannot even say what puts them, for me, in the same category. Objectively, they are not, but it’s the kind of thing where I just saw it in that period twenty years ago where I was buying up weird ’70s movies, so they are all jumbled together in my mind.

Learning that Suspiria existed was also my introduction to Dario Argento. I’ve seen a number of his movies since, but I always felt like this was his masterpiece. I do not especially know why that was my belief, only that it was. After the fact, I’m not so sure anymore, but there’s a lot to like here. This girl shows up in a weirdly Greek German city on a dark and stormy night to go to ballerina college, but they won’t let her in, and also this other girl is running away in terror.

Later, the other girl is dead, and they do let her in but everything is creepy all the time, and also they are just minimally pretending that learning how to dance is important, amidst all the food storage problems and exponentially amplified footfalls down the corridors outside the dormitories and weirdly vampiric Romanian handymen. This is not a giallo, and I think that is the single biggest departure from expectations. Because although they sort of acted like there was, this is not a movie that had a mystery to solve.

Instead, it has a series of vignettes happening to or near the American ballerina fish-out-of-water person, and they are all designed to be unsettling. The dog attack was not scary because it was gory, but because of the peculiar and shocking circumstances. The razorwire was not scary because it was razorwire, but because it was completely inexplicable, and because of how long the scene went on. And so forth. The entire movie was one long stretch after another of “this spooky and/or shocking scene is just going to keep going and going and going, long past the point of tolerability.”

My only real complaint is that it shared the Rosemary’s Baby problem of people in the 20th century never having heard of witches before. I just cannot wrap my head around who in the script room thought this kind of thing needed to be explained. What audience were they worried about leaving behind?

Before I go, I would be remiss to not mention the spectacular restoration this movie has undergone. The color palette is maybe the second most important character. The dance academy building is not red; it is drenched in red. The nighttime lighting is so far from today’s hyper-realistic “oh, is it dark in the story? then it’s by god dark on your screen” methodology as to basically be an inverse comparison to when people in 1939 discovered that color film existed while making The Wizard of Oz. No dim but serviceable lighting here; no, if it’s dark, it’s electric blue, or green, or whatever they felt like / had on hand in the moment. The important thing is, with every scene, you feel like Argento is throwing a bucket of paint at you, except beautifully instead of messily. …unless the scene calls for that, of course.

Last thing: that Goblin score? Maybe one step below being as iconic as your John Carpenters or your [guy who did Friday the 13th]s. Chef’s kiss.

[1] A movie which I may or may not have seen but definitely have not reviewed. Hmmm.

Lo Squartatore di New York

It might be time for me to watch a non-horror movie. Not apropos of The New York Ripper, or indeed especially of anything, just a random thought I had while gearing up to write this down.

Lucio Fulci is, with 93% certainty, not the only other director of Italian gialli films after Dario Argento. But I think it’s fair to say that if a random non-specialist in the field is making a list of giallo directors, they’d come up with Argento, and then probably, oh yeah, the other guy. Argento is certainly better, and generally more stylish. Fulci, on the other hand, is down and dirty.

Take this movie, which is nominally about a new entrant in the serial killer craze of the late 20th century, whose special power while murdering young (and young-adjacent) women is to talk in a Donald Duck voice, and eventually to taunt the police with said voice. But that’s not the actual point of the movie. The point of it is to cram in as many sex and masturbation and naked torture scenes as possible, justified by its allowance of the cop and the shrink to claim that the killer only goes after women with active sex lives.

Which, if you know how everything ends up, is incredibly fucked up in retrospect, although by then the script seems to have forgotten why this would be troublesome. In its nominal oeuvre, it’s mediocre at best. If you want to see some attractive, nude Italian women pretending to live in New York City and can ignore (or compartmentalize) high doses of misogyny, then have I got a deal for you!

[1] Not for nothing, but there are some seriously NSFW poster options for this movie. I showed… restraint.

Miracolo a Milano

The theme for week three of the letterboxd dot com challenge was Italian Neorealism. For the uninitiated (which includes me, for example), that is a specific period in post-war Italian cinema that focuses on reality and daily life stories with no heroes. So from the list available, we picked Miracle in Milan, which is pretty much the opposite of those things? I may have done a bad job.

It is also worth noting that, wait, why is it so far past your week two review? The answer is, haha, we’ve been sick and got behind. Hoping to catch up over a few days? We’ll see!

So anyway, this movie is weird[1]. Like really weird. There’s this kid, Totò, who after experiencing a bizarre childhood punctuated by a cabbage patch adoption and multiplication tables, comes out of the orphanage as a relentlessly cheerful and giving adult who immediately finds himself in a homeless encampment[2], and proceeds to organize it into a pretty cozy and happy shantytown. (I haven’t yet gotten to where the movie is especially weird, to be clear, but saying more would go deep into spoiler towne, whose inhabitants are far less cheerful a bunch than these were.)

I guess the neorealism part is in the characters themselves rather than the plot, which shortly after I ended my synopsis above (about 15 minutes into a 90 minute movie) goes so far off the rails my metaphor is impossible to complete, but the words “wishing dove” and “timely to modern eyes class warfare” are involved, as are the words “ghostly top hat stampede”. But the characters, I was saying, the characters have a lot of daily life reality. There’s the rich family that has fallen on hard times but still has a nanny (also now homeless, natch), who spends most of their time in the shantytown trying to bilk lire from the populace. There’s the really grumpy outsider guy who keeps getting in fights with everyone else. There’s the black man and white women who arrived at the same time and are clearly mutually interested, but who keep staying away from each other because I guess Italy also had miscegenation laws?[3]

And there are more. What I guess I am impressed by, as an avowed watcher of movies that would not want to be called films, is how many of the characters in a cast of hundreds were, okay, not fully realized, but at least memorable. I’m not sure if that’s just difficult to accomplish in more plot-centric movies, or if we’ve lost something along the way, but I bet it’s some of both.

All the same, I’m glad my entry into this subgenre of film history was as plot-dense as it was, because I’m not sure how much I would have enjoyed something that was all aimless and bleak like the description of Italian neorealism reads to me. I know I said “entry”, and while I use the term advisedly, one of the other movies we contemplated, The Bicycle Thieves, is by the same writer and director, and I can’t help being a little curious. (I mean, it will not be capital-w weird, I already know that much. But still.)

[1] Also, I never saw Life is Beautiful, but I can tell you with high confidence that `the guy who made it has this movie as one of his major influences. Seriously, look it up later and prove me right.
[2] If you see the wry humor in that, trust me, so did the filmmakers.
[3] That plotline ends in a way that would be spectacularly cringey if I were to describe it, but in its own context was both progressive and earnedly hilarious.