Beware of Dario Argento

Dario Argento

Back in February, the Berlinale proudly presented the world premiere of Dark Glasses, the first feature directed by Dario Argento since 2012’s Dracula 3D. The gala event was the culmination of a revived interest in the filmmaker the Village Voice’s Michael Atkinson calls “the scarecrow maestro of giallo” that began in earnest with Luca Guadagnino’s 2018 reimagining of Argento’s 1977 horror classic Suspiria. More recently, Argento has appeared as an actor, playing an elderly film scholar in his first lead role in Gaspar Noé’s Vortex (2021). His partner, a retired psychiatrist, is played by Françoise Lebrun, who was in Cannes just a few weeks ago to attend the world premiere of the new restoration of Jean Eustache’s The Mother and the Whore (1973).

Starting Friday, Film at Lincoln Center will present Beware of Dario Argento, a twenty-film retrospective featuring seventeen new restorations overseen by the director himself. Noting that Argento recently told la Repubblica’s Arianna Finos that “my retrospectives are full of kids,” Elizabeth Horkley suggests at Hyperallergic that his “chromatic, archly composed aesthetic holds obvious appeal for the Instagram and Tiktok generations.” But “his popularity can be traced back decades, through his influence on American slasher films up to and beyond directors like Nicolas Winding Refn, Julie Ducournau, and even Wes Anderson. The question of ‘Why now?’ could have been answered easily at any point in the last thirty or forty years.”

In 1940, Argento was born in Rome and into a family seeped in the art and business of the movies. His father, Salvatore Argento, was a producer, and his mother, Elda Luxardo, a Brazilian of Italian descent, was a respected photographer and fashion model. While still in high school, Argento began reviewing movies for the Roman newspaper Paesa Sara, and the job led to screenwriting gigs—westerns, war movies, and eventually, the collaboration with Bernardo Bertolucci and Sergio Leone on the story that became Once Upon a Time in the West (1968).

The first three features Argento directed—The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970), The Cat o’ Nine Tails (1971), and Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971)—were all produced by his father. His brother, Claudio, came on board the family project as a producer with The Five Days (1973). In 1974, Argento met perhaps his most vital collaborator, Daria Nicolodi, the actor and screenwriter who cowrote Suspiria and performed in several of his films, even after their romantic partnership ended in 1985. And of course, their daughter, Asia Argento, is a director and an in-demand actor who has worked not only with her father but also with Abel Ferrara, Olivier Assayas, Catherine Breillat, Sofia Coppola, and George A. Romero.

Surveying Dario Argento’s life and work for Senses of Cinema in 2003, Xavier Mendik pulled a quote from Maitland McDonagh’s 1991 book Broken Mirrors/Broken Minds: The Dark Dreams of Dario Argento: “You can’t reasonably look at Argento’s work without bearing in mind the contradictory context from which he springs: on the one hand, the practical Italian film industry, with its relentless emphasis on genre and its quick and dirty production practices; on the other, the cerebral world of film criticism, with its inevitable emphasis on analysis and intellectual distance.”

Writing in the Voice ten years ago, Nick Pinkerton contended that “Argento’s is a cinema of exhibitionistic, ornamental virtuosity, not only wrought, but also deliciously overwrought.” Argento “reproduced Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks on the soundstage for a throwaway shot in Deep Red (1975); orchestrated an extraneous, elaborate crane shot creeping between an apartment building’s windows in Tenebrae (1982); blasted his soundtracks, often quite abruptly, with commissions from the likes of Goblin, Claudio Simonetti, and Keith Emerson; and staged Irene Miracle in an underwater ballroom, tangoing horribly with a bobbing corpse in Inferno (1980).”

The FLC retrospective, copresented with Cinecittà, will run through June 29, and Argento will be on hand to introduce three screenings and to take part in Q&As following three others. Any New Yorker whose appetite has been whetted for more scary movies can look forward to Horror: Messaging the Monstrous, a series of more than a hundred films screening at the Museum of Modern Art from June 23 through September 5.

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