Saturday, 7 November 2009

Today's Deep Red notes #1

These images also suggest transference from Helga to Marcus: She has seen the face of the killer, just as he will do. In typical Argento fashion, however, Marcus does not realise what he has seen, though he is immediately aware that there is something missing or different about Helga’s apartment as he revisits it with the police.

Another element which adds credence to this interpretation is the introduction of reporter Gianna Brezzi (Dario Nicolodi) as the scene progresses. Identifying Marcus as the eye-witness, the one who saw everything, she photographs him. This image, besides showing a reversal of the gaze, is also the thing which, when reproduced in the newspaper, allows Carlo’s mother to know who now threatens her secrets, that Marcus is now confirmed as Helga’s double. (Given the film’s excesses, however, it is also possible that she may know via her son, especially if he was indeed a lookout.)

Deep Red can also be considered a poetic film in the manner proposed by Edgar Allan Poe, a strong influence upon Argento and his co-screenwriter Bernardino Zapponi, who had earlier worked with Fellini on his free adapation of Poe in Spirits of the Dead (196?). The key text here is Poe’s essay The Philosophy of Composition (1846), in which he analyses his earlier poem The Raven (1845). In this essay Poe argues that texts should have what he terms “unity of effect”. The emotional response or affect that the author desires to produce in his reader ought to dictate his aesthetic decisions. In Deep Red, as we have seen, everything is orchestrated to produce feelings of unease and dread in characters and audience alike.

The theme of doubling is most obviously seen in the characters of Marcus and Carlo. When we first see them together, they are dressed in similar but contrasting outfits: Carlo wears a dark suit and a light shirt, Marcus a light suit and a dark shirt. As Carlo and Marcus discuss Helga’s murder, they are then positioned identically to the extreme right and left of the frame, which is dominated by the statue in its centre, as if mirror images. Another image sees Marcus holding up his hand, while Carlo has his back to the camera, with the composition such that they again look like near reflections of one another. Later, the two men perform a duet on the piano. Yet there are also crucial differences between the two men: Marcus may have a sensitive, “artistic temperament” and suffer from claustrophobia, but he is not the drunken, self-destructive mess that Carlo is. Marcus is straight, Carlo gay. And, in relation to the film’s politics, Marcus is pointedly described by his friend as “the bourgeois of the piano” who plays for art, whereas he self-identifies as the “proletarian,” playing for survival. The extent to which this is true is questionable, with Carlo’s mother seemingly wealthy and respectable enough, but it again contributes to the fact that the film is more than a regular giallo.

Another important other aspect of Deep Red’s doubling relates to this. This is its double or hybrid nature as a giallo and as a fantasy-horror film. As we saw, the Animal Trilogy basically presented a rational, non-supernatural worldview. Though the films were critical of the way science was used, none really presented any radically different alternatives. In Deep Red, by contrast, certain images hint at the co-existence of natural and supernatural worlds. This is seen at the parapsychology conference, where a number of images suggest something beyond Helga’s assertion her powers have nothing to do with the occult or magic. There are the false point-of-view shots from high up in the auditorium, which are never resolved to be incorporated into the set, by showing someone there. Then there is the shot from behind Helga, Bardi and Giordani, which cannot be from any human character’s position, as they would be obvious from the reverse angle. Then we have the assaultive camera movement which sweeps over Helga as she senses a murderous presence amongst her audience, who will kill again. Finally, as they leave the theatre and Helga announces that she knows the killer’s identity and senses something, the point-of-view camera is positioned where Carlo’s mother would be visible to the others.
Another of Deep Red’s major differences from its predecessors is the way Argento uses music. Goblin’s progressive rock styled score is considerably more intense than those provided by Morricone. As it plays in murders of Helga, Giordani and Amanda Righetti, it is also decidedly anamepathetic towards them. Indeed, if this cue empathises with anyone it seems more Carlo’s mother than her victims, with percussive stabs corresponding to some of the blows she inflicts upon them in manner perhaps derived ultimately from the stabbing strings of Psycho’s shower scene cue. Tellingly the cue usually preceding these murder set pieces is the children’s song first heard in the fragment that interrupts the credits and Goblin’s theme music, which has become part of the scene that Carlo’s mother must replicate to perform the murders. As such, it seems that one diegetic cue is replaced by another, non-diegetic one. There is not one “leitmotif of the crime,” as Bardi remarks, but two.

Given the complexity of its central images, Deep Red presents a different kind of situation to the Bird with the Crystal Plumage: There the triggering image, of the struggle in the gallery, was sufficiently clear for Sam Dalmas to make an immediate sensory-motor response. It was only when he became trapped that we began to become aware of the action-image breaking down into component opsigns and sonsigns. While the initial image of Helga crashing through the window performs a similar triggering function for Marcus, nothing stops him from reaching Helga, even although he is unable to prevent her death. But in blindly passing by the composite image of the framed and mirrored Carlo’s mother, he is confronted with something that he cannot respond to. There is too much to this image in its formalist, realist and psychoanalytic facets, each in turn contained in the Deleuzean frame as opsigns. Here it is important to also remember that Marcus has not yet seen the full extent of the damage inflicted upon Helga. As such, it seems that he is shocked by an image that is excessive, but not simply in conventionally violent erms:

“A purely optical and sound situation does not extend into action, any more than it is induced by an action. It makes us grasp, it is supposed to make us grasp, something untolerable and unbearable. Not a brutality as nervous aggression, an exaggerated violence that can always be extracted from the sensory-motor relations of the action-image. Nor is it a matter of scenes of terror, although there are sometimes corpses and blood. It is a matter of something too powerful, or too unjust, but sometimes also too beautiful.” (2005b: 17)

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