Sunday, 1 November 2009

More notes to self

Deep Red/Profondo Rosso

Argento's first three films were distributed internationally in versions identical to the Italian one but for the dubbing track, with only a short period between the domestic and foreign releases. In contrast Profondo Rosso was not distributed internationally at the time of its Italian release and was eventually issued in a shorter version. This international edit, as Deep Red, was approximately 30 minutes shorter than the Italian version, which ran just over two hours, omitting some scenes (mostly those dealing with the relationship between the male and female investigators) and rearranging others. The original version, which I will here identify as Profondo rosso, has since been released. As it is more representative of Argento's vision, making clearer his excessive, poetic and crossover popular/vernacular and arthouse apects, or the prima visone as well as the terza visione aspects, is the one I will address here.

I have addressed a number of other commentators on Argento's cinema in relation to the Animal Trilogy, including Gary Needham, Mikel Koven and Maitland McDonagh. Until now, however, I have not mentioned the work of Colette Balmain, who is perhaps the most important figure for my purposes. This is because, unlike Needham and McDonagh, who emphasise psychoanalytic approaches, Balmain takes a Deleuzean approach. As such, it is obviously necessary to distinguish my Deleuzean reading of Argento from hers. The first difference is without our respective bodies of Argento texts. Whereas Balmain takes a filone based approach, by focusing on Argento's gialli over the quarter century or so from 1970's The Bird with the Crystal Plumage through to 1996's The Stendhal Syndrome. In contrast, I examine a shorter time period and look at Argento's gialli and fantasy-horror films. I would argue that this shift is justified on two grounds. First, because the period from 1970 to 1982 is widely accepted to be Argento's most productive and original one. Second, because I feel it is impossible to really distinguish between his gialli and his fantasy horror films in the way Balmain does. Balmain distinguishes between Argento's gialli through to Tenebre and from Phenomena onwards. While Phenomena contains supernatural aspects that she arguably does not fully address, this general division is one I would agree with. I would also agree with her as to the substance of this division. The films through to Tenebre are more concerned with making a critique of masculine ways of being, while those from Phenomena on explore alternative feminine becomings. What Balmain fails to really look at, however, is the way in which Suspiria and Inferno were vital to this shift in perspective through their emphasis upon young adult protagonists reduced to desexualised, child-like positions. The second difference is in our use of Deleuzean concepts. For Balmain Argento's films are examples of a time-image cinema, as is the giallo as a whole. I consider this to be both too easy an approach to take and inherently contradictory. It is too easy in that it basically entails following Deleuze but not challenging him: It is one thing to make the case for a post-war filmmaker's greatness as a time-image figure, using the concepts that Deleuze provides, another to argue for them as a movement-image figure or something else. Deleuze certainly tells us that he is addressing “masterpieces” of the movement-image and of the time-image, such that no hierarchy can apply. But he also identifies Bergson's discovery of the time-image as “more profound” than that of the movement-image, suggesting a hierarchy. Within Cinema 2 he is also notably reticent about the achievements of Scorsese, Altman, Coppola and other figure of the American cinema of the 1970s, the implication apparently being that they are not time-image or modernist enough. It is contradictory in that by reading the giallo as a time-image cinema in general Balmain denies the specificity of Argento's films and his qualities as an auteur. Being time-image becomes a condition of the genre or the filone rather than of the director. This said, Balmain's sample of non-Argento gialli is extremely limited, comprising three titles: Visconti's Ossessione and Bava's The Girl Who Saw Too Much and Blood and Black Lace. It is questionable if Visconti's film can really be read as a giallo. Most commentators would probably regard it as prototypical neo-realist work in the first instance, whilst it also lacks the whodunit element found in Bava's films and those of Argento. The whodunit form raises another contradiction. While concentrating upon Argento's thrillers Balmain actually views them largely in relation to the horror film, even as she downplays those texts which are more obviously of this type, Suspiria and Inferno.

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