Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Four Flies on Grey Velvet: WARNING! Cat Trauma.

After a somewhat long hiatus of Dario Argento watching, I have resumed play with Four Flies on Grey Velvet and I couldn't be happier about my comeback. Initially my worry began when I tried to imagine how something named after an ugly old fly could carry the same beautiful mystique that so many Argento films possess. Call me shallow if you want, but I hate flies and I just didn't see what place they had in Argento's animals trilogy. Bird with the Crystal Plumage? Sounds magnificently exotic and luxurious. Cat O Nine Tails? Aside from the fact that that is a torture weapon, I love cats which means...gloriousness. But flies? Four flies? Yuck. As it turns out there is a bit of juxtaposition having to do with the film's title and what it actually means. If you have seen this film than you know, that what the four flies on grey velvet turns out to be, is actually quite oddly beautiful after all and that I think is one of the best ways to describe a Dario Argento film.

After accidentally killing a man whom he believes was following him, Roberto, a foxy musician begins being blackmailed by someone who witnessed the crime take place. Through a series of threatening photographs and nighttime visits, Roberto realizes what he is dealing with may be very dangerous indeed.

I immediately noticed something that greatly interested me when dealing with Argento. While his later films and typically beginning with Suspiria and what comes after--mostly deal with an extravagance in the death department, Argento's early Giallo seem to concern itself with a more simplistic look that still manages to speak volumes in effectiveness. Sure, there may be the occasional inklings of future extravagant death scenes

but for the most part, a lot of what we see has a very striking minimalist attitude about it.

Shots with one abnormally long shadow that take over the frame for example, or characters immersed in black backgrounds instead of being slathered in deep reds and blues--are key elements that set Argento's early films apart from his later ones. The most intriguing aspect about this shift is that I can't say either mode is any less affective. The man knows how to make a beautiful movie and that is that. I found myself deeply in love with so much of what was going on, and nothing felt lengthy and boring because it was all so astounding to look at. It's very possible that Four Flies has entered itself into my top 5 Argento films list---possibly even taking the number 3 spot away from Phenomena and I'm tempted to even push it ahead of Deep Red. Blasphemous I know, but I can't keep my feelings in.

I should warn all cat and animal aficionados that there is a very terrible scene involving a cat, and said cat being killed and stuffed into a plastic bag. TMI? Sorry, I just feel that it's better to give it to you up front when matters such as these are involved. Now that I've told you, you can wipe it clear from your brain.

Now, one of my favorite things about Argento is that you can look at a scene like this

and instantly realize that nothing was by accident. From the intricate detail on the curtains to the way that the scene is bursting with green--we know that everything about this scene was crafted with a very particular eye. I love this. I love that a horror movie can affect me in such a way that it causes me to to forget about the absence of blood and gore and allows me to become hypnotized by the environment that we are put into. It's almost like this magical sigh of relief that makes it okay to show the world how I feel about the genre we all love. Horror is beautiful and this is how I can prove it.

I was also very surprised and shocked to find another film that employs a similar scare tactic to that of the Exorcist. I did not expect for instance to see this terrifying face flash suddenly on the screen without warning. Isn't it strange how different it looks in the dark and in the light? Gloriously strange, and its not an accident either.

Honestly what is that? That's the scariest looking mask that I've ever seen a killer wear. Perhaps one of my only huge complaints is that this mask is never really utilized again to the effect that it is in this scene. This is a pity, as it truly is an astounding mask. While we are on the subject of minor complaints I do wish that the mystery of the four flies was introduced a bit earlier into the plot. It would keep a certain mystique flowing nicely throughout because the image really is so perplexing. Before it gets introduced, we seem to be hunting blindly for any old person. Literally everyone and anything is suspect until the simple image of the four flies makes its entrance causing us to stay alert for a very major clue.

Like I said before, I couldn't be happier to find out what the four flies represented and how it speaks volumes about Argento's work as a whole. I guess I can SPOIL this because I like talking about it. I'm guessing most of you have seen this anyways but in case you haven't look away now!

FACT: Flies are ugly. What also is a fact is that death is commonly ugly and a terrible thing. What the Four Flies does however is take the ugly, nasty fly and turn it into a beautiful piece of jewelry. Argento does this similarly with death in his movies by turning each death scene into a work of art rather than what it really is in actuality.

Isn't that genius? I can really think of no better metaphor for Argento than a fly encased in stone and worn as a necklace.

Not only is Four Flies insanely beautiful in almost every way possible, but it also utilizes things that I find absent from much of Argento's later work. The presence of comedy is perhaps the biggest. I find that it actually adds a much appreciated dose of pep and dark humor--something that sends me back fondly to my days of worshipping Alfred Hitchcock in the 2nd grade. The coffin showcase for instance seemed so closely aligned to a Hitchcock film, with that same air of appreciated funniness no matter what your age, that I found it difficult not to search for the existence of a blatant rip off.

It makes sense, since Argento was often called the Italian Hitchcock back in his early days and moments like that coffin scene and almost all of the murder scenes--prove this fact quite admirably.

I could probably blab on and on about this film for hours, but I'll save you from the agony. Hands down this will probably become my 2nd favorite Argento film in one or two more viewings. The colors are supreme and each and every shot had me reeling with the kind of excitement that I have really only felt before with Bava. And I should mention rightfully so as much of this film is certainly influence by Bava--as evidence by this silly bathtub scene when put against my very favorite Bava screen shot of all time.

I will leave you with this stunning shot of a shattering car windshield.

Photographed so subtely and calmly that it almost looks like glistening water, a gentle wave whispering over the surface of a quiet lake. Ah, pure and exquisite beauty.


Chris H said...

Great write up, Andre.
I've actually not seen this one yet, but I look forward to it.

We should have an Argento fest soon!

Billy Vidrine said...

A great review of a great film! One of the things I love about reading your blog is that even when I have already seen the film under review I gain plenty to think about from your fresh perspective. It's a great way to start my day! Thanks!