Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Surviving Suspiria: Dario Argento's cult creation

jotta listened as Italy’s horror legend Dario Argento (director of Deep Red, Suspiria, Tenebrae, Opera and Sleepless), and his long-time composer Claudio Simonetti of rock-supergroup ‘Goblin’, spoke to an audience of cult fanatics and horror freaks.

Argento and Simonetti helmed a panel discussion before both were bestowed with a Lifetime Achievement award by cult film festival, Cine-Excess for their work on the ground-breaking super-nartral thriller Suspiria. The award coincides with the July re-release of Argento’s 1977 horror masterpiece.

Widely regarded as Argento’s best work, the film is highlighted by the chilling atmosphere set by the Goblin soundtrack. Suspiria is set in a German dance academy where horrific acts of evil witchcraft terrorize the students, and the audience, from the very beginning. It is the first of the trilogy ‘The Three Mothers’, in which the beings of an evil underworld attempt to wreak havoc among the living.

Simonetti composed scores for Argento’s films since 1975, working almost exclusively together, they are the Hitchcock and Herrmann of the cult crowd. Together they make a formidable duo - not just for their wild-eyed and macabre appearance, (a look that’s mirrored by the audience’s dress code). Argento’s films are hailed as outstanding contributions to art house horror, inspiring experimentation in all aspects of cinema, from surreal cinematography to theatrical set design. Europe’s leading horror director, he was extremely influential during the 70’s, known for shock tactics that pushed the boundaries of conventional cinematic style.

Many of the questions thrown to Argento during the discussion expose the audiences desire to categorise and theorise his work. They demand to know why he makes certain choices in his films: What is the underlying meaning? What is he trying to say about the role of women? Why such a fascination with disfigurement? Answering in Italian, his translator relays his elusive replies, ‘Again, Argento says he doesn’t know why he decided to make the films this way, it just came into his head and he did it.’ At this point our presenter, who did his MA on the films of Dario Argento, looks lost. 

Argento explains his surprise at the immense positive feedback his films have received. It seems that, somewhere in the dark recesses of his imagination, he had stored a goldmine of excessive and outlandish violence and supernatural gore. It was a slap in the face to existing rules of filmmaking and something people were dying to see (pardon the pun). His huge fan following, the vast amount of literature and homage paid by countless directors, are all testament to the relentless success of the genre of which Argento is a pioneer.

When probed about the remake of Suspiria by David Gordon Green later this year, Argento seems excited, happy that a new generation will be able to appreciate the film. Simonetti is more blunt. He has but two cynical words for the new director, encapsulating what is at the very heart of Argento’s imagination, the originality, the impossibility to explain or to repeat it. “Good Luck”.

Argento returns to the cinema this year with a new scholtastic horror starring Adrien Brody and Emmanuelle Segnier, Vincent Gallo and his daughter, Asia Argento. The title, Giallo is a reference to the genre that he himself has mastered, there is no release date set for the film as yet.

by Esther Bradley

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