[Four Flies on Grey Velvet]
The film's excessive approach, meanwhile, is first signalled by the elaborate proto-music video credits sequence, which cross-cuts between the band's rehearsal and Roberto's being followed around. The sequence functions as a kind of overture to some of the film's themes. For example, the fly that torments Roberto as he plays and eventually manages to squash within the halves of his hi-hat serves to indicate that Roberto is not someone who “wouldn't hurt a fly,” to paraphrase Psycho. Likewise, the overhead and slow-motion shots of drum playing, along with those from inside a guitar and from atop its neck are not just there for their own sake. In part they showcase Argento's increasing self-confidence, that he too can engage in virtuoso displays of technique if he wants to. But they also foreground the circle and the straight line, along with the theme of time itself. A drummer, Roberto is someone whose job it that of a timekeeper; he beats time. Roberto's response when asked by bandmate Mirko (Fabrizio Moroni) if his performance was bad is telling here: “You're missing your cues. You've got to follow me, that's all.”
Another important figure here is that of the cross, seen in slow-motion as Roberto crosses his drumsticks. In Argento and Cozzi's original script cruciform shapes were used as the visual fragments rather than the four flies, with Nina wearing a cross rather than a pendant containing a fly trapped in plastic. Remnants of this idea recur throughout the film, as Roberto is framed within or around cross shapes, although Nina's pendant has the thematic advantages of being circular and of conveying entrapment.
Unlike Mirko, Roberto does not miss his cues: As Mirko departs, Roberto catches sight of his stalker. The man (Calisto Calisti) is a cliché, the by 1971 familiar figure of the giallo heavy or killer. Indeed, although the man's face is visible rather than in shadow, albeit with his eyes hidden behind obscuring sunglasses, Argento has identified him as being modelled upon the killer in Blood and Black Lace. Confronted with this “sensory-motor image of the thing,” Roberto goes immediately from perception, that this is the man who has been following him for the past week, into action, in turning the tables on his stalker; a reveller's throwing confetti onto Roberto cements the two men's association, with the man having blown confetti off his sunglasses in the credits sequence.
Excess, the theatrical and the bringing together of different image sets are then conveyed as Roberto follows the man into an empty theatre, itself strewn with streamers. To enter the auditorium, Roberto passes through no less than four curtains, three a brilliant red and the fourth a rich blue. While his passage through the first two is presented from his point of view, the angle unexpectedly reverses for the third curtain, as if to signal that he has now entered onto another's scene. This other, of course, is Nina. High up in a box, she illuminates Roberto as he unwitting assumes his designated role, responding to each pre-planned situation, S, with the appropriate action, A.
The man pulls a knife and there is a scuffle. What happens is not entirely clear, other than that the man is now lying in the orchestra pit with a bloody wound to his chest and that Roberto has the knife in his hand, with the incident having been captured by the masked photographer, Nina. The point, of course, is that the photographing of the scene and Roberto's decision to take flight without checking the man, establish the truth Nina desired: Roberto, for all practical purposes, has killed a man. Nina's virtual scenario has become actualised by Roberto, determining his future actions. There are perhaps similar situations in Hitchcock, most obviously Kim Novak's virtual Judy becoming her actual Madeline in Vertigo through Scottie's (James Stewarts's) interventions. However, underlying this there is a single truth: Judy and Madeline are the same woman. As such, the closer point of comparison here is Lang. In Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956), one of a number of Lang films mentioned by Deleuze (2005a: 134). In the film a writer, Tom Garrett (Dana Andrews), sets himself up as the prime suspect for a murder in order to show the problems of circumstantial evidence. Unfortunately for Garrett his friend, who was withholding the evidence that was to prove his innocence, dies in an accident, leaving Garrett sentenced to death. In Lang's film the virtual thus becomes the actual. If this perhaps does not push the time-image to its furthest, in that there at a point the circuit of the two poles chasing after one another breaks down, it is still notably developed for a Hollywood genre film of the time. Whereas Deleuze identified Hitchock's films as being about interpretation, he suggests Lang's are more perspectivist, featuring “A Protagoras-style relativism where judgement expresses the ‘best’ point of view, that is, the relation under which appearances have the best chance of being turned around to the benefit of an individual or of a humanity of higher value” (2005b: 134) Lang is thus a more Nietzschean film-maker than Hitchcock, just as the Langian Four Flies on Grey Velvet is thereby a more Nietzschean and time-image film than the more Hitchcockian and movement-image The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. This is not, however, to say that neither Hitchcock nor the movement-image are absent from Argento's third film. Rather, like its predecessors it is still a hybrid. Nina's pursuit of revenge and use of the powers of the false are juxtaposed with her reliance upon Roberto's predictable reactions and the implicit exchange of culpability and crime between him and Nina's father.
As the story develops, Nina begins her scheme to drive Roberto to the brink as a prelude to his murder. He receives the man's identity card in the mail, then finds photos apparently incriminating him planted amongst his records as they entertain guests, and is then visited for the first time by the masked figure.
The delivery of the identity card is notable for two reasons. First, because of a subtle cut. In the immediately preceding shot, Nina is outside, talking with a neighbour in the foreground as the postman (whom Roberto will later attack as his paranoia mounts) makes a delivery in the background. But when Argento cuts to the apparent reverse angle, as Roberto takes the letter, Nina is back in the house. The connection between the two shots is irrational rather than rational. Time is indeed “out of joint” in a time-image manner. Second, because of where the Tobias's live: 23 via F. Lang. Though at one level an in-joke and another example of the film's excesses, this offers further evidence of Argento's prime influence within the film. (In a similar manner, the grave marked 'Peckinpah' in Leone and Tonino Valerii's My Name in Nobody may not be just a casual reference to another filmmaker, particularly when Jack Beauregard's destruction of “the Wild Bunch” is taken into consideration. Leone, it seems, was determined to 'bury' his rival and his most famous film creation.)