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October 02, 2005

Deep Red

Profondo Rosso
Dario Argento - 1975
Anchor Bay DVD

I always associate October with Holloween, and Holloween with horror movies. This month I will be writing more about horror movies. Some are favorites that I am now writing about, while others will be DVDs that I have seen for the first time. To start off, I am writing about one of my favorite giallo, Deep Red.

I saw Deep Red in New York City in its theatrical debut. I didn't realize that the film was cut by almost half an hour. What I do remember is feeling that sitting in the back of the theater wasn't far enough from the screen. Between the creepy music by the appropriately named group Goblin, and the unsettling imagery, I had seen a film that was more harrowing than Polanski's Repulsion, Russell's The Devils, or Cronenberg's Shivers.

I re-see Deep Red primarily because of the artistry of the imagery by cinematographer Luigi Kuveiller. What critics who can't see past the genre have failed to recognize is that Argento consistently worked with top talent. In this case, prior to shooting two films with Argento, Kuveiller worked with Elio Petri, Marco Bellochio and Billy Wilder. In Deep Red many of the shots are composed so perfectly, taking advantage of the wide screen, playing with both what is seen and unseen. There is an almost vertigo inducing simultaneous zoom and track shot near the beginning. The use of extreme close ups of objects against a black background, and close ups of eyes, hands and a sweat covered brow contribute to the fetishistic atmosphere.

The screenplay was co-written with Bernardino Zapponi, most famous for his collaborations with Fellini. The first screenplay Zapponi worked on with Fellini was the "Toby Dammit" sequence of Spirits of the Dead. Here's where things get a bit twisted: Terence Stamp was scheduled to star in Blow Up until Antonioni decided that David Hemmings was younger and hipper. As a response to the rivalry between Italy's two most acclaimed directors, Fellini cast Stamp in "Toby Dammit". Zapponi and Argento still had Blow Up in mind when they wrote Deep Red. It may also be of no coincidence that Hemmings last name in Deep Red, is Daly, the name of his former business partner, John Daly.

Argento also touches upon elements that he would explore in future films. Macha Meril's character discusses telepathy among insects, a key part of Phenomena. Another scene involving birds, both looks back as a literalization of Agento's debut, Bird with Crystal Plumage, and anticipates the crows flying in the production of Macbeth, in Opera. (Argento was originally to have had the other Blow Up star, Vanessa Redgrave, star in Opera.) The flooded basement would figure more prominently in Inferno, while the house on fire would prefigure the end of Suspiria.

One element that I have not seen discussed in writings on Deep Red is on the significance of identifying Macha Meril's character as Jewish. In the scene in here apartment, the Star of David is seen both in shadow and as the design on a glass table. There is also a Jewish funeral with the traditional Hewbrew prayers and men wearing the skull caps, yarmulkus. Virtually every horror film that I can recall has either Catholic or generic Christian funerals. I would hope a deeper investigation into Argento's work will discuss this anomaly. Googling provided no additional clues.

Among Argento's nicknames is "the Visconti of violence" is reenforced by his working with actresses most famous for working with Visconti. In Deep Red, Argento brought Clara Calamai out of retirement to play a key role. Best known as for starring in Ossessione, Argento pays tribute to Calamai by having the camera pan across a wall with stills from her films. In a French interview, Argento comments that he cast Calamai as tribute to the white telephone films of Italy. For Argento, the Italian cinema he grew up with went from light and white, to deep and red.

Posted by peter at October 2, 2005 04:32 PM