Saturday, 7 November 2009

Today's Deep Red Notes #2

The interrelated themes of doubling and foreshadowing in the film have been independently identified and discussed by Tim Lucas (200?) and Aaron Smuts (2002). Insofar as Smuts's is the more extended and academic commentary it is the one I will focus upon here. To Smuts, Deep Red employs what he terms “principles of association” and “association provocation” between images, with these being concepts he draws from David Hume. There are two main ways in which Deep Red does this: By “encouraging viewers to pair disparate elements” and by “using pairings established within the film and in normal everyday experience to provoke and heighten the viewers' response.”.

These associations begin with the enigmatic vignette which interrupts the credits. In this one shadowy figure stabs another, then a knife is dropped at the feet of a child. This image, which has no direct bearing upon Marcus's investigation, exists solely in the past and minds of Carlo – the child – and his mother. However, the nursery rhyme which plays over is reprised prior to Helga's murder and elsewhere, establishes associations for the viewer, as does the image of the scene drawn by Carlo as a child when Marcus finds it on the wall of the House of the Screaming Child. (After the house burns down Marcus discovers that Olga has copied this image – or, rather, the other original that is in the Leonardo Da Vinci School archives. (Again, issues around the original and the copy are not significant in meaning or auratic effect here, to once more suggest Argento's postmodernism.)

Other associations are more subtle. For instance, the close-up of water spilling from Helga's mouth as she senses a malevolent presence in the theatre is reprised in the spittle and foam coming from Carlo's mother's mouth as she is decapitated in the climax. Likewise, the attention paid to the image of a road maintenance truck makes no obvious sense until we can relate it to the similar truck which accidentally catches Carlo and drags him to his death. As viewers we might also notice the discrepancy between the image of the House of the Screaming Child Marcus takes from Amanda's book and the House, that there is a bricked up window, before Marcus does. If so, then we might also retrospective realise an association with the image of Carlo's mother in the hallway of Helga's apartment.

Elsewhere it is the dialogue that creates associations. For example, Marcus tells Gianna that his analyst might suggest his choice of occupation is psychoanalytically (over-)determined: When playing the piano he is “really bashing [his] father's teeth in”. Later, Giordani has his teeth bashed in.

In each of these cases, it might be argued that we have the completion of a circuit between two images. The difference from Deleuze would perhaps be that both images are actual, rather than one initially appearing as virtual and the other actual, before they then become indiscernible.

Giordani's fate exemplified the other aspect of Deep Red's associational strategies, that of basing the most of the violence inflicted upon its characters on the intensification of routine rather than exceptional experiences. As Argento notes in an interview featured on the Anchor Bay DVD of the film, few of us know what it feels like to be shot. However, we all know what it is like to be cut with a piece of broken glass, be scalded by too hot water or bump our teeth on a glass. When we see Helga's throat sliced to ribbons by the plate glass window; Amanda Righetti having her head forced into a bath full of boiling water, or Giordani's teeth being bashed in, we thus have a more visceral response. Rather than being just a conceptual shock, that it cannot feel good to be shot, it is an experiential grounded one as well, something that is felt in our bodies. The “cinema of the mind” and the “cinema of the body” are brought closer together, their differences downplayed by situations that are a combination of “everyday banality” (a little cut, a too hot bath) and “extremes” (crashing through a window, being immersed in boiling water).

Another way in which Deep Red is a more complex film than its predecessors is in its narrative structure. As McDonagh (1992) has noted, the film's opening scenes present us with a disorienting series of disconnected fragments: the vignette that interrupts the credits, jazz musicians at a conservatory and a parapsychology conference. What is lacking is the clear introduction of protagonist and narrative, with these only emerging once Helga has been murdered and Marcus has been identified as the eye-witness to the crime. Such an approach was likely to frustrate the terza visione viewer, especially as he might well still be settling into his seat or not even in the auditorium for the vignette and thus be miss out on it.

If this fragmentation is more indicative of the international art cinema, or the modernist time-image, this is again countered by more popular, vernacular or movement-image elements elsewhere. One of the most notable of these, in its excesses, is the screwball comedy and commedia dell'arte styled exchanges between Marcus and Gianna. Equally, however, the more substantive content of these scenes, with their positive commentary on the emergence of Italian feminism in the late 1960s and early 1970s, was probably somewhat alien to the typically traditionally-minded terza visione male.

Comparisons with other filmmakers gialli and the Decamerotic filone are useful here. Marcus and Gianna's relationship lacks any displays of physical intimacy or nudity from Nicolodi. As Nicolodi had been naked through much of Carmelo Bene's experimental adaptation of Salome (1972) and in some of her stage roles, it seems safe to say that this was not down to prudishness on her part. Rather, in combination with the sex scene in The Cat o' Nine Tails between Giordani and Anna Terzi, and the bath scene in Four Flies on Grey Velvet between Roberto and Daria, it appears that Argento was basically uncomfortable with displays of nudity and intimacy and sublimated them, with conscious awkwardness, into violent set pieces: The only bare breasts we see in Deep Red are those of Helga, after her clothes have been ripped falling through the window.

Though this approach, Argento was refusing to give terza visione viewers what they would have found in many of his imitators' gialli. The obvious examples here would be just about any film starring either Edwige Fenech, such as Andrea Bianchi's self-explanatory Strip Nude for Your Killer (1975). If the giallo is essentially a kind of exploitation cinema, as Koven contends, not all gialli are equally exploitative, or exploitative in the same ways. (Some gialli, like Massimo Dallamano's What Have You Done to Solange (1972), present a curious combination of female nudity for the male gaze but incorporate this same gaze into their diegesis in a somewhat self-critical manner.)

The Decamerotic, meanwhile, often presented women getting the better of men in the battle of the sexes, but rarely before they had shed their clothes for the delectation of the male viewer. Moreover their medieval settings meant that were engaged with gender politics at a historical remove, while their straightforwardly comedic nature made them inherently less challenging. The Fenech vehicle Ubalda, All Naked and Warm (Dir: Mariano Laurenti, 1972) is an obvious case in point.

Smuts, Aaron. 'The principles of association' vol2 no. 11. 2002.

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