Sunday, 18 February 2007

Another question

I was revisiting The Case of the Bloody Iris earlier this week and noticed the All Move Guide quote on the DVD cover, that it is "One of the few gialli of the time which is as good at mystery as it is at sleaze."

It got me thinking about the various reasons we have for watching gialli and how important the mystery aspect is: does a giallo need a mystery to work or not, or does it all depend on what else is on offer by way of 'attractions' - the beautiful people; the style; the liberal doses of violence and titillation; the sounds.

I suppose at the wider level, I am wondering about the relationship of narrative and spectacle in Italian filone cinema again, and whether a film that goes too far in one or other direction will fail with some sections of the presumed audience - e.g. in Argento-land whether a Suspiria or Inferno is too overloaded with sensations and a Card Player or Do You Like Hitchcock? too restrained and (seemingly) pedestrian.

It is also one of the things that I wonder about in Koven's vernacular cinema hypothesis, where he suggests that the giallo audience in the terza visione cinema was more like the TV audience, using the less attentive glance rather than the focused gaze, such that the announcing of the spectacular set piece via musical cues or the switch to subjective killer's eye view etc., said when the viewer should pay attention.

I do not have any problems with this per se, more with wondering what comes next: if the narrative aspect is not (as) important to this audience then why not concentrate on the spectacular and, in the case of Argento particularly, what happens when your audience is also in the prima visione.

Is it a matter of few, if any, filmmakers being able to sustain the intensity of the set piece for 90-odd minutes (a common criticism of even Suspiria is that after the first double-murder it has nowhere left to really go - a case of cinematic premature ejaculation, as it were); the cost, in terms of both conventional and psychic economics (it costs more and is too draining on the spectator); or the reluctance of many / most spectators to genuinely submit to / subject themselves to the film and filmmakers' demands, and watch in a manner akin to Betty in Opera without averting their eyes.

So, when you watch an giallo or Italian horror film, what do you watch it for and how do you usually watch it?


Whiggles said...

I've always found myself drawn to the "substantial" gialli by the likes of Argento, Fulci, Lado, Dallamano and so on than to the sleazier, more lightweight ones, which is probably why I rank Martino's output lower than most people (and indeed why I think The Case of the Bloody Iris is almost entirely devoid of merit). Incidentally, I'm surprised by the "One of the few gialli of the time which is as good at mystery as it is at sleaze" quote pertaining to Bloody Iris: in my opinion the central mystery is pretty poor and more an afterthought than anything else.

cinebeats said...

My opinion about gialli has changed over the past 20 years that I've been watching them. At first a good story along with a great mystery was essential, but now aesthetics such as wardrobe, sets and soundtracks are just as important as a good mystery. As a matter of fact, I can sometimes forgive a weak story-line if the soundtrack is amazing or I love the set designs.

chris said...

I suppose I agree with whiggles - regarding the more sleazy gialli out there, or the tacky ones... there are many mystery-plotted gialli withe beautiful babes, sleazy narratives, sexist sixties and seveties shote mostly, some more entertaining than others: that's what they desperately aspire to being - 'entertainment'... NOW I am not maiing an 'art' argument - just that i want more than a few cheap thrills from my gialli - that can be fantastic spectacle, or complex narratives, arch plotting, meta and subtext vying for my attention, it can be the restrained output of argento recently to - what it is that i crave is the cinema of 'IDEAS'... if the film lacks those, I won't enjoy it.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Whiggles and cinebeats - to me the mystery has always been as important as the visual style and this has also been my main problem with Koven - even some of the lesser gialli (e.g. Martino's Torso) require quite a lot of attention to detail to be fully enjoyable (IMO) and I believe his description of the terza visione audience is not only overly simplistic, but also fairly insulting - Koven seems to imply that the typical giallo audience in Italy consisted mainly of members of the "unwashed masses", whose interest in the spectacle replaced (rather than supplemented) intellectual curiosity and I think it is in this regard that he veers dangerously close to some of the classic works written from an imperialistic point of view (I'm thinking mainly of 18th/19th century publicatons on Africa, Asia, or even Australia) that were hailed at the time as progressive (for depicting things from the POV of the natives and essentially arguing for something very similar to his vernacular approach), but which are nowadays seen as just as outdated and racist (if slightly less so and certainly in a more excusable form).

K H Brown said...

I think you're right about the need to pay attention in some gialli Chris - I find that one of the differences between a giallo I will revisit and one I won't is how well it holds up on the second or third viewing, when you get more of a sense for how the filmmakers have constructed it and it becomes evident where they've taken more care rather than just stringing a few set-pieces together.

I really wish Koven had seen Death Laid an Egg, as I would have been interested to know how its overt modernism fitted with his vernacular aspect.

Likewise, I've just been reading up on Antonioni and was pleased to discover Seymour Chatman, in his book The Surface of the World, noting the anti-giallo qualities of Story of a Love Affair, L'Avventura and Blow-Up. Indeed, he even cites an interview where Antonioni referred to L'Avventura as "a giallo in reverse"

The main problem I have with Koven's argument, and one which I'm trying to work through in relation to Argento specifically, is that I think his vernacular thesis is in some ways as reductive as the art-house centred approaches he critiques. In the case of Argento art definitely does have something to do with it.

Anyway, keep it up guys - I hope it's interesting for all of us.