Sunday, 12 December 2010

Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971) - Dario Argento

Ask any film mentalist who the greatest Italian Directors are, and chances are you'll end up with a list chock full of the usual names;- Fellini, Pasolini, De Sica, Rossellini, et cetera, et cetera (as the king of Siam was wont to say). All very yawn yawn, but true. The one name that often gets overlooked is that of Dario Argento. Now Argento might look like one of the living dead, and have a haircut that looks like an offended wig, but he is one of cinemas greatest living visualists, and anyone that doesn't agree is wrong basically.

All right so I'm being a bit facetious, but I do mean what I say. His films aren't always the best in the story or acting department, (in fact his recent batch are supposedly so bad, that I've decided to just stay away from them altogether), but they always deliver on the visual side. And lets face it cinema is first and foremost a visual medium. In a way he's the Italian Hitchcock if you will. I'd even say if you don't love the film, you will still enjoy gorging yourself on the beauty he throws onto the screen.

You don't believe me do you? Well take the opening scene of the film I'm supposed to be writing about. A band rehearsal in a huge room. Dario fills the frame with all sorts of bizarre camera set ups. Everything from ultra high crane shots, to having the camera on the neck of a bass. Then there is a shot that is from within a guitar, which threw me for a while until a hand came down and started strumming along to the music. He also uses the camera in a very subjective way, often creeping around the strange houses that his films take place in, using the camera as the point of view of the murderer. Ah did I mention that he only really makes horror films?

This is the only one of his films that I hadn't seen up until his recent loss of talent. It's the third part of his so called animal trilogy (The Bird with the Crystal Plumage & The Cat o' Nine Tails being the other two). Like both of those two films it's not Argento at his best, being neither gory or strange enough as the string of classics he would produce after Four Flies on Grey Velvet.

Anyway, the film, write about the sodding film I hear you chorus across the valleys. Well it was good, if not a mite predictable. Anyone used to a typical giallo film will know what to expect. For those that don't know their giallo, it's a string of murders, normally quite elaborate in their execution, the viewer is as much in the dark as the main character, it's very much a whodunit in much the same way as that TV series Midsomer Murders. Normally the first person that died turns out to be the killer, or it's some character that we only saw once briefly zipping up his trousers. Mad stuff like that, it doesn't make any sense or bear close scrutiny after the film has finished, but as I said you don't watch Argento films for the story, and definitely not for the acting. You see the Italians up until the 80's didn't record any sound on a set, everything is post synced. Well I say synced but it all looks like a Bruce Lee film, the mouth is moving and words are being heard, but something looks weird. But that's the way it is, even in Fellini films. It's charming in a way, and plus it means that you can cast around the whole world and have actors speaking all different languages on set without any problems. Just dub it in afterwards.

Anyway, the film, the film. The whole thing plays out rather rapidly, the drummer in the band has murdered someone (or has he), someone saw him, and now they're blackmailing him except they don't want money. There is some uncomfortably unfunny comedy, a strange gay detective and some of the most wooden acting of any of Dario's films (and that's really saying something). On the plus side it does have a dream like quality too it, which crops up in some of his greater films. The whole execution dream being particularly noteworthy. The murders are a little dull, and there are the usual silly moments where you find yourself shouting at the soon to be victim, to not go up into the attic, when she hears the murderer moving through the dark house. But there you go. Great to look at, with a typically odd 70's Morricone score. I can see myself watching this every time I go through an Argento phase (every 5 years or so). Now if he could just make something decent for his next film.

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