Saturday, March 10, 2007

Ennio Morricone Festival, pt. 2

Four Flies on Grey Velvet
dir. Dario Argento

Two fists on brown velvet


February 8, 2007 - 35mm/Film Forum

The appeal of Dario Argento over the likes of, for example, Lucio Fulci will never cease to amaze me. Argento is very effective at molding neon-technicolor color schemes into something that means “horror,” coupled with three or four wham-bang scenes or ideas for scenes. In the case of Four Flies on Grey Velvet part of the wham-bang comes from something as sophisticated and clever as scary masks.

A young, hip rock n’ roller in some way unbeknownst to him and us becomes the victim of a very, very convoluted series of events that frame him in a murder plot. The person wearing the scary mask is the one behind it! Our protagonist being a dopey drummer in a rock band reeks of something as tired as a sleep-away camp horror story with the sex-starved little kiddies being haunted by a Scooby-Doo monster.

At its heart Four Flies on Grey Velvet is a mystery with a result so stupidly unlikely, and plot devices as gooftastic and amateurish as our protagonist having an affair with his wife’s obnoxiously hot cousin, and thus living out some sort of teenage fantasy. Like with most of the Argento movies I have seen there are moments, and I mean moments, that are very strong, funny and creative. These moments would be enough in a movie of greater ambition, not one feigning ambition with a nonsense plot, cheap thrills and slack performances by pretty faces.

Decidedly awesome trailer for decidedly fair movie.

Elio Petri directing a roped and diapered Franco Nero

February 8, 2007 - 35mm/Film Forum

Franco Nero
plays our hero, Leonardo, who leaves the pressures of being a city-bound artist to find some inspiration in a rural, isolated existence. Leonardo finds himself drawn to a particularly beaten-down country home. As it turns out, this place is haunted and Leonardo’s previous mania (both urban and sexual) molds itself into an obsession with the young woman who met her demise on the premises during WWII. Soon enough the girl’s sordid history unravels and the house starts acting unruly. The old townsmen reveal their many lusts and conquests with the girl and Leonardo’s obsession with the girl grows and develops into something sexual, much to the confusion and chagrin of his manager/lover, played by an adventurous Vanessa Redgrave.

A Quiet Place in the Country director Elio Petri demonstrates admirable restraint in presenting the horror elements of this story with little to no bloodshed. It can be seen as a clear precursor to Stanley Kubrick’s comparably plotted and restrained masterpiece, The Shining. They are both haunted house movies revolving around an artist’s need for peace and quiet, and the resulting rebellion and betrayal against the loved ones who pressure them to create. Kubrick and Petri also infuse the haunted house genre with a sense of poetry and artistry, by considering their subjects with the utmost sincerity. A Quiet Place in the Country respects its characters, though at the same time, acts as a critique of the bourgeois fascination with rustic living and the idealization of finding some sort of earthy sanctuary, ala Straw Dogs.

Ennio Morricone provides the cacophonous score, full of what sounds like clanging pots and pans melded with various orchestral string plucks, emphasizing that yes, this is a horror movie. While a horror movie, Petri molds an accomplished post-war nightmare, like Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion. This layer and his awareness of the intellectual implications of including a ghostly victim of not only her sexuality, but of The War are almost a bit heavy-handed. This contextual intellectualization of the post-war horror pulls out some of the visceral fear that could have been gut-wrenching stuff, if Petri weren’t so intent on elevating himself above the junk-art of other 60’s and 70’s Italian filmmakers.

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