Wednesday, 27 December 2006

The glamour of the giallo

One of the recurring environments of the giallo film is the fashion house or model agency. First seen in the seminal Blood and Black Lace, it also occurs in the likes of A Hatchet for the Honeymoon, The Case of the Bloody Iris, The Crimes of the Black Cat, The Red Queen Kills Seven Times, Strip Nude for Your Killer and Delirium: Photos of Gioia.

To this we could also add the model protagonists of Death Walks at Midnight – where the name of Susan Scott's character, Valentina, intertextually conjures up images of Crepax's fashion photographer heroine; Scott herself playing a character with this occupation in Death Carries a CaneDeath Steps in the Dark and – admittedly considerably more marginally – The Bird with the Crystal Plumage.

While there are obvious reasons for this apparent genre fixation, in the form of showcasing beautiful women and clothes – the latter of course now also contributing massively to the retro and camp appeal for many fans – there is, I think, something more than it.

Specifically, this fascination is to do with the way in which the giallo characteristically exhibits a more general concern with the what lies behind these attractive surfaces of the world, with what happens when they are penetrated by the assassin's blade or the investigator's (equally penetrating) gaze.

I am thinking of the dirty secrets of The House of Cristian's habitues that are gradually exposed as the bodycount rises; the “red sign of madness” that only the viewer is party to beneath John Harrington's charming fa├žade; the horribly scarred body that motivates The Crimes of the Black Cat's killer against beauty; or the backstreet abortions arranged by the some of the Strip Nude model agency's inhabitants that compel its Killer to seek revenge.

In each case, that is, the double meaning of glamour as something magical or illusory comes into play, allowing the better film-makers to offer commentary on a society of the spectacle or signifiers without referents, and the spectator to gain a certain sadistic glee from the knowledge that a “red telephone” is as sure to succeed a “white” one as a hangover is to follow too much J&B...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent thoughts. I would add that the recurrent use of models/photographers/agencies in Italian thrillers may have to do with the act of starring/spying/watching, in itself an essential element of the genre. In the cheapest/typically Italian scenario, these topoi are useful shortcuts to display beautiful women and naked scenes. But, in case of the best titles, let's not underestimate the relevance of stage sets/clothes/hairstyle/interior design in contributing to the charm of the viewing experience. The best Italian thrillers are also and - quite possibly - foremost, excercises in style.