Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Stairway to Heaven? Or Powell, Bava, Argento

One of the many small pleasures I get from watching gialli are the abstract, almost avant-garde configurations that appear from time to time. Stairways are a good example of this:


From Giuliano Carnimeo's The Case of the Bloody Iris




From Dario Argento's The Bird with the Crystal Plumage; I love the reversal of perspectives here.


From Mario Bava's Kill Baby Kill

It's the lighting, with the contrast of colours or simply black and white; the spirals, rectangles and triangles; the sheer way in which the filmmaker and his cinematographer take something we are all familiar with but make us look at it afresh; that we could take a still like this, frame it and stick it in a gallery.

But it's also the meaning that these stairwells have beyond simply being locations in which action plays out, with ascension to paradise or descent into inferno equal possibilities. And it's another point of intersection with other key figures, if we think of Hitchcock's use of stairs in the likes of Notorious, Suspicion and Psycho, or Powell, with A Matter of Life and Death even going by the alternative title of Stairway to Heaven...

4 comments:

paulcito said...

And Bazzoni does it in La Donna Del Lago! ;)

Screenshot

K H Brown said...

That is one eerie screenshot. The figure makes it look like an Escher painting or something.

Cheers

Keith

cinebeats said...

I really love the way Luigi Bazzoni and Vittorio Storaro shot the staircase in The Fifth Cord. There's even a moment when a nun appears to descend from the staircase which gives the whole scene loads of meaning.

Fifth Cord Screenshot

I think it the stairway as metaphor has it's roots in Hitchcock, but also Robert Siodmak's wonderful film The Spiral Staircase (1945) had to have been a big influence on gialli filmmakers. If you haven't seen the film I highly recommend it. It revolves around a glove wearing serial killer who is targeting crippled or afflicted women and of course, the title hints at how important the "stairway" as metaphor is in the film.

K H Brown said...

I completely forgot about The Spiral Staircase. I'm sure Argento's referred to it in some interview or other, and Lenzi was certainly thinking of it when he made Knife of Ice, with its mute protagonist.