Interview with Dario Argento
For me to pretend that I am not partial to the films of Dario Argento, or to claim objectivity in my opinions on the same, is not possible. More than any other film maker, Dario Argento caused me to love cinema. I still remember purchasing a big box VHS of Suspiria from the HMV in Middlesbrough and jumping on the train home to watch this video nasty safe in the comfort of my parent's home. The onslaught, auditory and visual, that hit me in that opening 12 minutes is an experience that I have never yet managed to duplicate, and those images of evil eyes and elaborate carnage have never left me. Even better was to come when I managed to get an old copy of the redemption video for Deep Red, and I have collected all the man's films since.
Without Argento, I would never have turned to Bergman, Antonioni, Leone, Bava or Fulci, and I think a lot of people who fall in love with his work start to see the visual joy of cinema in a whole new light because of him. If currently Quentin Tarantino has become the cool kids' gateway to many gems of film, for me Argento made me realise that plot and story were not the be-all and end-all of visual art. Few directors have littered their genre films with so many references to literature, art, psychoanalysis and identity - watch Deep Red for the re-creation of Hopper's Nighthawks Diner, the Three Mothers films for their references to De Quincey, and The Stendhal Syndrome for an analysis of gender and the relationship between artist and audience.
My opportunity to speak to Dario has come courtesy of his film Mother of Tears which is being released on DVD at the end of April. As the third instalment of his Three Mothers trilogy, Mother of Tears has generated much fan comment and wishful thinking since it was announced as being a greenlight project, and, in particular, the film represents a return to supernatural horror after twenty years of Argento thrillers. It is an intriguing change of tack and more evidence that Dario is looking overseas with new work. In recent years, Dario has worked for US TV on the Masters of Horror episodes Pelts and Jenifer, and Mother of Tears was originally scripted by American scribes, Jace Anderson and Adam Gierasch. To my mind, his work since 2005's Do You Like Hitchcock, has started to feel more generic and the ideas within the work have seemed less striking or artful. I feel that as Dario has given over more of the authorship of his films, they have become less and less accomplished or individual.
I am reminded of the quote attributed to Lucio Fulci that Argento is not a "great director of poor scripts" but a competent director of great scripts, and although I feel Lucio wrongly gives Dario little credit for his direction, I do think that he is right to praise his scripts for their ideas and levels of meaning. I hope Dario's recent American inspired choices in subject matter are temporary, and I hope he will not become a name to rest above the titles on poor projects to compensate for their bad quality with memories of former glories.
John White: "It's 25 years since you made Inferno, what made you want to complete the Three Mother's trilogy now?"
Dario Argento: "It's a long story. For Suspiria and Inferno, the first two chapters of this trilogy I spent more than five years to prepare and create them, it was very difficult, and then, at the end, I had in front of me two superb chapters and when the time came to do the third chapter I said no, no more, for the moment, no. I postponed this film for some time, while I concentrated on the giallo and the thrillers, and then I produced the young guys(Lamberto Bava/Michele Soavi) who do the horror films and I do that for many years. And then some years ago, I was taken by curiosity to go to the library, where I studied the themes for Suspiria, the name is the Biblioteca Angelica. I looked at many books on occultism, magic, and also many, many paintings. At the time I was very interested in these stories, and ...then I was in the United States to do an episode of the Masters of Horror and I met these two guys, Jace Anderson and Adam Gierasch, two young guys. I read the script they had and I said 'Ok , we try. If it's good, Ok, if it's not good, I'll try again with myself'. We did the script and it was good and we were happy and the film worked.
JW: "Was it as hard a work as the previous two parts were to make?"
DA: "This was like any other, its my job"
JW: "Watching Mother of Tears, I felt it was quite different from Suspiria and Inferno. There is quite a lot more Christian imagery, am I right to think that?" DA: "Every chapter was different, one from another is very different. Inferno is very different to Suspiria. And this time too, I wanted to do something unlike the others"
JW: "Because the first film was about witches, the second was about alchemy, and the third..."
DA: "The third is about the witch in the world of today, airplanes, taxis..."
JW: "There's a number of scenes in Mother of Tears which are quite similar to scenes you have shot before. The one that struck me most was the first murder of Giselle which is like the same actresses death, although less bloody, in Opera. Why do you think that you come back to scenes like that?"
DA: "Coralina Cataldi Tasson was in the United States, we kept in touch. I asked her to come back to Italy to do this and she comes back. Like with Udo Kier, who I'd met since Suspiria(he has a short cameo), and he said he would like to do another film with me and I say come back, I've got another film for you."
JW: "To me, this seems like the first supernatural film that you have made since Phenomena. Why do you feel you came back to this kind of film since making a lot of thrillers?"
DA: "Because sometimes you know your soul needs something, and I followed the push of my fantasies. At the moment I like the giallo, at another moment I make a horror, a fantasy film"
JW: "It's also the first film for a long time that you haven't written with Franco Ferrini. What was different about working with Jace Anderson and Adam Gierasch?"
DA: "I like sometimes to change, especially scriptwriters. Because new stories come, I like this to create new suggestions"
JW: "I believe the next film you are going to direct is called Giallo...."
DA: "That was postponed for a problem of casting. It was postponed for one month and a half"
JW: "It's been a problem for a lot of European directors, getting films off the ground in recent years..."
DA: "The production on Giallo is an American production, its a story from two American writers. I collaborate more on the last draft, I await the problems to get better and then we'll start"
JW: "A famous quote about you was said by Lucio Fulci where he praised your writing above your directing. Which do you enjoy doing more?"
DA: "I like much more the writing, because when writing you are alone, your fantasies form and in this moment your ideas are born. It's a great moment, they are born with you and in great and wonderful condition. When you shoot them, you are all around the crew, around the persons speaking and the actors, there is much more expression. I write my films and then I start to shoot my scripts because I remember when I wrote them for other directors and I would not be satisfied when they don't shoot them in the right way. There is a lot of danger that things won't go right, sometimes I was really depressed by this and really sad and watching the film I was going "Oh my God. This is the reason why I became a director to protect my screenplays"
JW: "You mentioned Masters of Horror and you directed two episodes in that series which were largely other people's scripts? What's it like working almost completely from someone else's work?"
DA: "Not completely their work, I changed a lot of things, I changed dialogue and the stories became mine. The aim is to adjust it for America, but in reality in both episodes,Jennifer and Pelts, I wrote a lot of things myself"
JW: "Do you have more plans to work in the states?"
DA: "For the moment, no."
JW: "Because you made Trauma there..."
DA: "I think now in America, they are remaking some films of mine. I am not involved in them but I believe in the next two years we have a remake of Suspiria, Deep Red and the Bird with the Crystal Plumage"
JW: "That must be an amazing thing to see someone else re-imagine your work"
DA: "hmmm..I'm not involved in these projects, I know nothing of them"
I then gushed about how Dario made me love cinema, and he graciously listened, but I won't inflict my obsequiousness on you, reader. Dario Argento avoided a couple of my more critical questions and my explicit concern about him doing less and less of his writing these days, he struck me as someone who doesn't like to analyse his own work too much and someone who freely admits his preference for lone authorship of his works. On these pages, I know that you will soon read about Mother of Tears and I think Michael will find it easier to praise than I do, but Dario Argento will never owe me anything if a film isn't quite to my taste because he made Deep Red and many films almost its equal. It is a joy that the man still gets to make movies and it would be a sin if that situation stopped, I just hope he writes more of them than he has in the last couple of years.