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October 12, 2007

The Close-Up Blog-a-thon: Opera

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Dario Argento - 1987
Anchor Bay Region 0 DVD

For more close-ups of close-ups, visit The House Next Door.

Opera begins literally with a bird's eye view of an opera in rehearsal. In several shots the audience sees the rehearsal reflected on the eye of a crow, one of several used in the avant-gard staging of "the Scottish play". Dario Argento's film can be seen as being a dramatic account of the curse of "the Scottish play". In a roundabout way, Opera is about the act of watching horror films.

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The acting of watching a horror movie is always a kind of dare. The toughest among us can look at the what happens on the screen with a sense of detachment, or better yet, amusement. The more sensitive will close their eyes, cover them with their hands or in some way hide from the on-screen mayhem. There is also the discovery that often what one actually does see on the screen is far less horrible than what one may imagine.

What has become the iconic image of Cristina Marsillach's eyes, taped with the needles to stay open, stands as the image of the audience being forced to look, with the option of not looking taken away. In the case of the character, Betty, her choice is to view the violent deaths of people close to her, or cause herself tremendous physical pain and damage. Opera is full of close-ups of eyes, as well as close-ups in general, revealing bits of information to the audience in the form of details - black leather gloves, a stray bracelet, a feather, a pair of binoculars. In addition to the taping of Betty's eyes, the narrative is about the act of seeing in identifying the killer.

The camera, of course, acts as the eyes of the audience. In this way, Argento plays with the audience by reminding them of how vulnerable the eyes are physically, as well as playing with the idea of horror as both what one sees, does not see, or imagines that is seen. Implicating the audience is not unique in itself except that Opera is both partially autobiographical, refering to Argento's own attempts to stage opera, and critical of the kind of classism that divides performing arts into highbrow (opera) and lowbrow (horror movies). In addition to the operas inspired by the plays of Shakespeare, there is the violence and spectacle in such operas as Turandot and Salome. For Dario Argento, madness is both the motivation and the result of being an artist.

As it turns out, there is another Argento involved in opera. I don't know how much either is aware of the other, but it is interesting to note that both Argentos share an interest in Edgar Allen Poe, whose own writings were about madness, art and doppelgangers. Of further coincidence is that Dario Argento's film Trauma was shot on location at Dominick Argento's home turf of Minneapolis. And in discussing Poe, Dario Argento made a statement that could well refer back to Opera - "Is it right to be obsessed with looking at terrible things and sharing them with other people, especially when many people are perturbed by them?"

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at October 12, 2007 12:45 AM


I think the eyes have it on this particular blog-a-thon. Nice work. (As usual.)

Posted by: Arbogast at October 12, 2007 01:44 PM

Eye, eye captain. Eye agree. We're all clearly obsessed with eyes for this close-up blogathon. Maybe Matt should change the name to the Eye-a-thon before it's too late.

Posted by: Jonathan Lapper at October 13, 2007 10:21 AM

These puns are cornea.

Posted by: Matt at October 13, 2007 11:09 PM

Oeil vey!

Posted by: Peter Nellhaus at October 14, 2007 10:57 AM