Suspiria: Dario Argento V Luca Guadagnino.

Dario Argen­to’s Sus­piria (’77)

Dario Argen­to’s sixth film, Sus­piria, was released in 1977 but it’s as star­tling­ly arrest­ing to look at, and to lis­ten to, today as it was then. And that despite the fact that much of what was so orig­i­nal about the film at the time has now become commonplace.

Writ­ten with his wife, the actress Daria Nicolo­di, and inspired by a Thomas De Quincey essay, the film fol­lows the arrival of a teenage dancer at a pres­ti­gious bal­let school in Ger­many. What ele­vates it and so imme­di­ate­ly dis­tin­guish­es it, is the way that it bril­liant­ly melds the con­ven­tions of hor­ror with the aes­thet­ics of clas­sic, art house cinema.

Lines and colours to die for.

The result is a film that delves deep beneath the sur­face to explore the depths of the sub­con­scious, to pro­duce an expres­sion­is­tic phan­tas­mago­ria decked out in the pris­tine lines and pri­ma­ry colours of a par­tic­u­lar­ly lurid art deco.

Argen­to and cin­e­matog­ra­ph­er Luciano Tovoli based their colour palette on Disney’s use of blocks of pri­ma­ry colours in Snow White and the Sev­en Dwarfs (1937). And they shot the film using the last three strip Tech­ni­col­or cam­eras in Europe, to cre­ate the same kind of inten­si­ty that the process had giv­en to the likes of the Wiz­ard of Oz and Gone With the Wind.

Argen­to teamed up again with the Ital­ian prog rock band Gob­lin, with whom he’d worked on Deep Red (’75), to pro­duce the sort of eerie and unset­tling­ly child-like score that would lat­er become such a cliché in the decades to come.

Jes­si­ca Harp­er in Sus­piria (’77).

It’s impec­ca­bly craft­ed, daz­zling­ly orig­i­nal and, if any­thing, is even more visu­al­ly and son­i­cal­ly strik­ing today than it was when first it was released.

Luca Guadagni­no seemed ini­tial­ly to offer so much poten­tial. After the promise of his third fea­ture, I am Love in 2010, he made the visu­al­ly impres­sive A Big­ger Splash in 2015, reviewed ear­li­er here. But he fol­lowed that up with the anaemic Call Me By Your Name in 2017, reviewed ear­li­er here. And now there’s this, his “homage” to Suspiria.

Ah, Tech­ni­col­or…

Gone are the pri­ma­ry colours and any sense of visu­al flair, gone too is any attempt to con­nect what’s going on up on screen with pri­mal fears buried in the sub­con­scious. The witch­es are still present and cor­rect, as is the set­ting of Ger­many in the late 1970s. What we are offered instead is the whol­ly irrel­e­vant back­drop of the polit­i­cal chaos fos­tered by the Baad­er Mein­hof group, a tedious Me Too sub­text and an extra­or­di­nar­i­ly ill-judged Nazi coda.

The ques­tion that nags through­out, apart from how in God’s name did they man­age to drag this out for over 2 ½ hours, is, why on earth did they both­er? What, lit­er­al­ly, were they think­ing? As Argen­to him­self com­ment­ed to Eric Kohn in his IndieWire inter­view here:

Either you do it exact­ly the same way—in which case, it’s not a remake, it’s a copy, which is pointless—or, you change things and make anoth­er movie. In that case, why call it Sus­piria?”

Ralf Fiennes injects much need­ed life into A Big­ger Splash.

In ret­ro­spect, and iron­i­cal­ly, giv­en his choice of sub­ject mat­ter, what’s miss­ing from Guadagnino’s films is plain to see. With the excep­tion of A Big­ger Splash, they are each so blood­less, flac­cid and com­plete­ly devoid of pas­sion. There’s an all too reveal­ing pro­file by Nathan Heller in the New York­er, here, where Guadagni­no com­ments air­i­ly that he has recent­ly been spend­ing as much time shoot­ing ads, and on his lat­est pet pas­time, inte­ri­or design, as he has on film mak­ing. Imag­ine what Ing­mar Bergman or Jean-Luc Godard would have made of that.

In the mean­time, if you’re more inter­est­ed in full blood­ed cin­e­ma than you are in Wall­pa­per, treat your­self to Argento’s time­less gem. You can see the trail­er to Sus­piria (77) here.

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