Wednesday, 19 September 2012

A Complex of Carnage: Dario Argento Beneath the Surface

This is one of a number of recently released books from Glitter Books in their Cult Movie Files series, edited and introduced by Jack Hunter. It contains essays previously published by Creation Press, particularly in Andy Black's Necronomicon series of the mid-late 1990s, collected by their subject, psychoanalytic interpretations of Dario Argento's films.

There are four essays: Xavier Mendik's 'Detection and Transgression', and 'Monstrous Mother', Ray Guins' 'Tortured Looks', and Julian Hoxter's 'Anna with a Devil Inside'.

The first of Mendik's essays uses Freud, Lacan and Zizek to argue for the deviant characteristics of detection in The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and Tenebrae, in line with the former film's female aggressor and the latter's murderous protagonist.

Guins' essay examines Deep Red and Opera by way of Mulvey's seminal essays, but with an interesting twist by focusing on visual displeasure rather than pleasure.

Mendik's second essay examines figures of abjection and/or the monstrous feminine in Italian cinema via Kristeva's essay on the former and Creed's application of it to horror cinema in terms of the latter.

Finally, Hoxter's essay uses Klein's object relations theory to examine figures of the good and bad mother in The Stendhal Syndrome.

The key strength of the volume lies in the consistency of approach, insofar as all three authors draw from the same broad theoretical corpus. Indirectly it also provides a useful guide for further reading around such work.

Contrariwise, the obvious weakness of psychoanalytic film theory as a whole is its unverifiable (or, to use Popper's term, “falsifiable”) nature: you either believe in it or, as with cognitivists such as Bordwell and Carroll do not.

When applied to Argento's films, meanwhile, the notion of a gendered gaze is problematised by the frequent inability to identify the source of the gaze. The famous Louma crane shot in Tenebrae is, after all, not identified with a human. Likewise the New York apartment block in Inferno is identified as female and male simultaneously, being both the repository of the “filthy secrets” of Mater Tenebrarum and the “body” of its architect, Varelli.

In sum, worth picking up if you don't already have the original Necronomicon volumes in which the essays appeared.

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