Wednesday, 14 March 2012

01 Abstract

The purpose of my dissertation was to look in the genre of film; Giallo. I wanted to look at the artistic values of the genre that I felt deserved to be recognized on a greater scale and as a possibility to be referenced at an academic level, for the way the genre explores the use of colour in film. What I was asking was, could high art exist in low art?

For my research I looked directly into the giallo films of the past, paying closer attention to the works of director Dario Argento in particular. The main body of my research was to read the only existing book dedicated to the giallo genre. The other half of my research studies was spent reading recent academic books that looked into the use of colour in film.

I found out through my dissertation and research that the giallo couldn’t be paired with the likes of such high art genres like neo-realist cinema and with those films by high acclaimed directors such as Fellini and Antonioni. Even though I felt that after all my research that the giallo showed interesting uses of colour in film that should be considered high art and has history steeped in the contextualized symbolism with Italy’s ties in post war trauma with strong links to Mussolini.

From this dissertation I think that the most interesting question to follow it would be; why can’t high art and low art be bridged together? Why do they have to be such separate entities?

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

02 List of Contents

01 – Abstract
02 – List of Contents
03 – List of Illustrations
04 – Acknowledgements
05 – Introduction: Development of Giallo as a genre
06 – Chapter One: History of the Giallo and the birth of the Masked Killer
07 – Chapter Two: Behind the Mask of the Killer
08 – Chapter Three: The swift move from B&W to Colour
09 – Chapter Four: Dario Argento – The Fetish of Red
10 – Chapter Five: Argento and his transition from the Giallo into the Supernatural
11 – Chapter Six: The downfall of the Giallo and its potential rebirth
12 – Conclusion
13 – Bibliography
14 – Filmography

Monday, 12 March 2012

03 List of Illustrations


Fig1. 3 stills from Suspiria (dir Argento, 1977) in post #10.


Clip 1. Blood and Black Lace (dir Bava, 1964) 1m52s in post #8.
Clip 2. Tenebrae (dir Argento, 1982) 0m40s in post #9.
Clip 3. Suspiria (dir Argento, 1977) 2m23s in post #10.
Clip 4. Inferno (dir, Argento, 1980) 4m59s in post #10.
Clip 5. Amer (dir Cattet and Forzani, 2009) 4m19s in post #11.
Clip 6. Amer (dir Cattet and Forzani, 2009) 0m26s in post #11.
Clip 7. Amer (dir Cattet and Forzani, 2009) 0m46s in post #11.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

04 Acknowledgements

I would like to thank my contextual tutor Sally Hall for helping me develop my initial ideas for my dissertation and helping me construct the structure of the format of this dissertation, helping me gain a greater understanding of my area of interest and getting the most out of my research. I’d also like to give special thanks to fellow BA Hon(s) Film Arts student; Robert Cooper, who has helped me with my disciplined approach to writing the dissertation and the development of my research time through organized group study sessions during our own time, which helped me to put more time into my research and writing, which would have been much less if I had been left to my own accord and relied solely on self-motivation.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

05 Introduction: Development of Giallo as a genre

For my dissertation, I will be looking at the film genre giallo; and why I believe that the genre deserves to be held in higher regard from an artistic and movement within film history, rather than being grouped together with other examples of low budget exploitation films. I will look into what makes the genre standout and what artistic merits I believe make the giallo warrant a closer look by film academics.

My starting point will be to look at the history of the giallo and see where it first began and where its origins lie in and how the genre was received; and how the genre molded into the form it is perceived today as your typical genre piece (the birth of the masked killer). From there I will look at the genres swift transition from Black & White film to Colour, looking at colour theory and look at examples of how the giallo makes great use of colour within the mise-en-scene incorporating wonderfully vibrant colour palettes. Further exploration of colour will then move into talking about fetishism in giallo particularly looking at Director Dario Argento and his fetishist obsession with the colour red.

The main body of my research will then look into Dario Argento himself and how he applied all the characteristics of the giallo genre (which he himself helped build) into a more supernatural horror approach, paying close attention to Suspiria (1977) and Inferno (1980) as prime examples of how he used the supernatural genre to build upon the use of colour within giallo and build upon and explore greater uses of different colours giving them more meaning within film.

And finally I will look at the rapid decline of the giallo, look at the modern day attempts to revive the genre and how successful they’ve been and then conclude by giving my opinion on whether the giallo can still be relevant in modern day cinema and whether the key elements from the genre can be still as effective in modern day cinema.

Friday, 9 March 2012

06 Chapter One: History of the Giallo and the birth of the Masked Killer

Just by looking back at the history of the giallo and its recognized birth, automatically, controversy strikes as to why this genre of film has been kept in the dark from an artistic standpoint and rather labeled as an exploitative genre.

The giallo takes its name from a series of lurid thrillers with trademark yellow covers (giallo means 'yellow' in Italian), which first appeared in Italy in 1929. Typically Latin in nature, the giallo took the staid crime novel and spiced it up with doses of sex, glamour and violence - and great soundtracks. (Kerswell, 2010 p44)

What Kerswell is saying here is that the giallo took inspiration from the lurid thriller novels that were popular travel reading material; and to make them stand out from traditional crime thrillers, the giallo added elements of sex and violence that would excite and please a cinematic audience looking to be entertained.

The later giallo filmmakers tend to be contextualized within other forms of exploitation horror cinema, although often they worked in as many different genres as were being produced within Italian cinema at the time-mondo documentaries, zombie pictures, police action films (poliziotto), and sex comedies. So most histories of giallo cinema, such as are available, contextu-alize the genre within the history of Italian horror cinema, rather than the crime film, with Mario Bava unofficially credited with inventing the giallo as a cinematic genre. (Koven, 2006 p3)

What I think Koven is trying to say here, is that because of the later forms of the giallo grew more into the exploitation genre of film making of the time, with the increased amount of sex and graphic violence being shown; the genre itself lost it’s original identity and has since become shoehorned into the history of Italian Horror rather than it’s true roots which would be more akin to the crime thriller; this lead to Mario Bava being recorded as the father of the genre, even though there had been previous films based on the source material.

Despite the fact the gialli’s roots are deeply set in the thriller genre that can best be summed up as simply as murder mysteries; looking into the lurid thrillers that were being released in Italy at the time, they were predominately Italian translations of British/American writers including some household names and highly respected writers like Agatha Christie and Ellery Queen for example; yet despite having these roots in well respected works within literature, the giallo has become no more than a exploitative horror genre that it seems, only has what can best be described as a cult following outside of Italy. And it seems that not just the miss-interpretation of the giallo with regards to genre, but also its birth with Mario Bava’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1962) commonly regarded as the invention of the genre. It was actually released almost 20 years after the first giallo film.

Literally the first giallo film was made under Mus-solini's nose toward the end of Italy's participation in the Second World War. Luchino Visconti's Ossessione (1942), although mostly heralded as the first neorealist film, since the film is loosely based on James M. Caine's novel The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934), is also the first giallo film. (Koven, 2006 p3)

Here Koven is pointing out that Ossessione (1942) is actually the first giallo film and pre-dates Bava’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1962) (commonly labeled the first giallo film) by 20 years.

What I feel this points out is a certain phobia that film academics and film theory writers have with the possibility of high art being linked with any genre of film that is considered to be low art or exploitive, in turn indirectly labeling those films to be less valuable than those considered high art. But it is not the murder and the violence that makes a film a giallo, it is the work of the lurid thrillers with their yellow covers. Of course the genre grew on to be more violent and graphic but to deny the genre it’s history just because some might feel it tarnishes a highly regarded genre is unacceptable. The film Ossessione (1942) itself does have significant links to the giallo genre that bursts into peak during the 1960s and 1970s when the surrounding history of Mussolini crops up again in genre again, this time not surrounding the release of the giallo film but the effects of Mussolini on the characters within the genre.

The gialli were not intended for consumption in the first-run theaters in Italy or meant to circulate internationally through film festivals and art-house theaters. These films circulated on the margins of Italian, European, and International film exhibition-the drive-ins and grindhouses, rather than the art houses. They appealed to the most salacious aspects of literary crime fiction, thereby making these films closer in spirit to horror films than to mysteries. (Koven, 2006 p16)

Koven here is pointing out that the giallo wasn't intended to be viewed by the same audience of those in the high art population being shown in various art houses; the giallo was being targeted to the audience of the drive-ins and the grindhouse scene where the audience is purely looking to be entertained and the narrative can almost play as a second fiddle, as it's target audience would have a more relaxed approach to consumption.

And within this context, not only in terms of production but perhaps more importantly consumption, a traditional aesthetic consideration of the giallo alongside high-art filmmakers such as Fellini, Bertolucci, and Antonioni cannot work. The giallo is not high art; it is vernacular in its mark-keting, consumption, and production. (Koven, 2006 p16)

Here I think that Koven really hits the nail on the head as to why the giallo and the high art works from Italian directors of the same era are kept from being linked. He points out that the aesthetics and consumption and production are so vastly different and the giallo itself cannot be considered high art therefore trying to juxtapose the giallo with the high art movement wouldn't be complementary or beneficial to either the high art or the exploitative horror. 

But returning to the birth of the giallo as it is seen most commonly today; there are 3 films that together give birth to the traditional giallo that became hugely popular in the 1970s and early 1980s. Though it was Mario Bava who is credited with creating the genre as we know it, beginning with The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1962) and again 2 years later with Blood and Black Lace (1964) it isn’t until Dario Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970) that the giallo’s identity is set in stone and the masked killer becomes infamous.

Bava's The Girl Who Knew Too Much (La Ragazza che sapev troppo) (1962) established the giallo films' narrative structure: an innocent person, often a tourist, witnesses a brutal murder that appears to be the work of a serial killer. He or she takes on the role of amateur detective in order to hunt down this killer, and often succeeds where the police fail. Two years later, Bava further developed the genre with Blood and Black Lace (Sei donne per l'assassino) (1964). This film, although the narrative structure is quite dif-ferent from Girl, introduced to the genre specific visual tropes that would be-come cliched. Specifically, the graphic violence was against beautiful women; there were many murders committed (in Girl, all the victims ware stabbed the same way, but in Blood and Black Lace we see stabbings, strangu-lations, smothering, burnings, and other violent acts); but most important is the introduction of what was to become the archetypal giallo killer's disguise: black leather gloves, black overcoat, wide-brimmed black hat, and often a black stocking over the face. (Koven, 2006 p3-4)

Here Koven is telling us how Mario Bava created the now considered traditional giallo; he first points out that The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1962) builds the narrative structure of the giallo and 2 years later with his next film Blood and Black Lace (1964) Bava creates the graphic murder sequences adding more creative techniques and weapons that were missing in Girl and also adding the famous image of the giallo killer; dressed in disguise with black leather gloves etc…The combination of the two creating what is now consider the traditional giallo.

The year 1970 is generally considered the key threshold for giallo cinema, due to the international success of Dario Argento's The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (L'uccello dale piume di cristallo) (1970), which takes the innocent eyewitness who becomes an amateur detective through a grisly series of murders from Bava's Girl and adds the graphic violence and iconically dressed killer (black hat, gloves, and raincoat) from Bava's Blood and Black Lace. It is this combina-tion that really defines the giallo film as it is more commonly understood. An av-alanche of similar films was quickly brought out by Italian producers looking to cash in on Argento's success, all using combinations and variations on the com-plexity of the mystery, with the standard giallo-killer disguise. (Koven, 2006 p4)

Here Koven tells us how director Dario Argento with his film The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970) (which combines both elements of Bava’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1962) and Blood and Black Lace (1964) to create the traditional giallo) and it’s international success created the opportunity for more Italian filmmakers to direct giallos in it’s vein as producers were keen to use Argento’s film as a template for financial gain.

Not only does The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970) become the film that sets the rollers in motion for the giallo to take off into commercial success, but it is also the starting point for Dario Argento to becoming the widely regarded master of giallo and ultimately becoming the only director with the power of his internationally recognizable name to be able to continually direct gialli after the genres apparent demise in the late 1980s.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

07 Chapter Two: Behind the Mask of the Killer

Looking at the typical mystery killer that is ever present in giallo, on the surface they may just looked like a fashionable if not fetishistic dressed generic murder; but if we delve a little deeper into the killers identity and background then we find out some interesting facts that could very well prove that these killers might just have deeper meaning than just being you mad psychopathic killer.

Let us remind ourselves that these movies are thirty to forty years old now, made (predominantly) in the early 1970s. The characters are approximately in their thirties and forties, which means the characters would have been born between 1930 and 1950 If the past trauma these films' killers experienced was in childhood, or experienced by their par-ents, doing the math, we find they are traumas occurring during World War II under Mussolini's Fascist rule. (Koven, 2006 p109)

Here Koven points out an interesting fact about the giallo killers, that the characters including the killers themselves would have been children during the Mussolini era. The killers in giallo tend to suffer from past trauma from their childhood and I think Koven here is trying to make the allegoric connection between the giallo killers and those of the children growing up under Mussolini’s Fascist rule.

Most gialli killers have experienced some kind of trauma in their diegetic pasts, which erupts murderously in the diegetic present. Take, for example, the films of Dario Argento, whose films often rely on the revelation of some kind of past trauma to explain their murders. In Bird, for example, we are told a psycho killer attacked Monica Ranieri (Eva Renzi) as a young girl, and she was lucky to be left alive. It was this trauma that sparked off her own murder spree, which the film is about. (Koven, 2006 p104)

Here, Koven is telling us that most of the killers in giallo do suffer some trauma in the childhoods and it is this trauma that is the main reason behind them growing up and committing murders. This I feel provides a strong argument that the killers themselves and their pasts are directly linked to the traumas of those Italians that grew up under Mussolini’s rule. I personally feel that this can be read as a genuine fear amongst Italians that the trauma’s of Mussolini’s Fascist era could have unforeseen effects on future generations, especially the young generation growing up under his rule, who might be more mentally venerable to suffering from long term trauma. The fear of the medically unknown can be quite a scary prospect, of which Italy was unable to predict how far the traumas caused by Mussolini would stretch into the nation’s future.

The films' audiences are likely to be ap-proximately the same age as the characters, so they either would have had early childhood memories of the war or been more than familiar with their parents' experiences. Are these films reflecting the more cultural explanation of 1970s Italian disassociation resulting from fascism, military defeat (con-sider how many of the audience members or their parents would have been soldiers during the war), and postwar reconstruction? (Koven, 2006 p109)

Here I think Koven clearly adds more evidence to support the connection between Killer and Mussolini; he points out that the films’ audience themselves would be of an age close to the characters themselves and would reflect on their and their parents own experiences of life under Mussolini’s reign; this I feel wouldn’t be such a far stretch for the Italian audience to make a connection between the films killer and Mussolini himself. Further to this Koven adds;

This death can take a number of forms, but one of the most popular is throwing the killer off of a cliff or other high place. This method of death seems to be a metaphoric "fall," whether echoing Satan's fall from Heaven, or our fall from Eden. The fall is almost always spectacular, filmed in slow motion and in such a way as to maximize the visual power of the image. In particular, in Lu-cio Fulci's Don't Torture a Duckling, Don Alberto's fall is not only in slow mo-tion, but Fulci includes insert shots of the physical trauma the killer's face re-ceives by smashing into the cliff's rocks on his way down. (Koven, 2006 p107)

Here I feel Koven is making the connection between the gialli killers death on screen to the fall and demise of Mussolini’s Fascist reign; he points out that the falls themselves are filmed in a certain way that draws out the screen time of how watching the killer fall to his death, even taking the time to include close ups of the physical injuries incurred on their descent.

These falls are given tremendous amounts of on-screen time, so they must have some meaning beyond just narrative closure. Perhaps reading a lapsar-ian metaphor into them is excessive, but the films seem to welcome such analysis.(Koven, 2006 p108)

Here Koven points out the prospect of the metaphor of the killers fall to death and that of the fall of Mussolini; surely with the amount of screen time given to this falls it cannot be just a case of giving the film it’s narrative closure; yes there will be the argument that these falls and deaths are drawn out to allow more explicit violent scenes for the films audience to enjoy, but I feel there is more than enough evidence that we can strongly argue that these falls to death can be directly linked to the metaphor of the fall of man; with the man being Mussolini in the case of the giallo killer.

Koven notes that “The real past trauma is a historical one: the defeat and emasculation of Italy in the war and under fascism. And this trauma has been haunting Italians ever since.” (Koven, 2006 p109)

Koven here is pointing out that the trauma of Mussolini and the war has continued to haunt Italians and I’d argue that the giallo killers and their murders on screen are a visual representation of this traumatic fear.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

08 Chapter Three: The Swift move from B&W to Colour

If we ignore Ossessione (1942) and take Mario Bava’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1962) as being the first giallo film, then it becomes apparent that not only is Bava’s Girl the birth of the traditional giallo but it is also the only giallo that is shot in Black & White. The interesting question is; why for so early in the life of a genre did the giallo move from Black and White film to Colour? Was it just a case of timing; with the widespread introduction of colour in cinema? Or was there something more to the genre itself that leant more towards the use of colour on screen than the monochrome of Black and White?

Comparing color to sound, Kalmus described color as the next logical step in film's historical trajectory, "tending towards complete realism." While helping to mold film's vision "according to the basic principles of art." her approach aimed to produce what she termed an "enhanced realism" (Dalle Vacche and Price, 2006 p31-32)

This idea of enhanced realism would really emphasize the horror of the giallo greater than it would being shot in black and white; the idea of seeing a murder being committed in colour seemingly being more realistic adds  greater impact to the murders that are being shown in gialli.

Namely, Bazin very deftly offers a theory of color in film that ultimately allies cinema with painting, such that color becomes the constituent feature of art, whereas black and white simply documents reality. (Delle Vacche and Price, 2006 p51)

The idea of black and white visually implying the documentation of reality when applied to the genre of horror, can certainly remove some threat on screen from the murderer; the audience might find themselves detached from what is happening on screen. Though the timing of the common place use of colour in film and the birth of the giallo did pretty much coincide with each other, I would argue that the giallo genre itself wouldn’t have been as popular as it was (even if only on a vernacular level) if they were shot in black and white.

Mario Bava's Blood and Black Lace opens with a credit sequence unique in gi-allo cinema: each of the actors featured in the film are given their own tableau, bathed in a combination of red and green chiaroscuro lighting, with appropriate black spots. (Koven 2006, p151)

Whilst Mario Bava had made a name for himself with his expert use of light in previous films, he quickly adapts to colour straightaway with his second giallo film Blood and Black Lace (1964); his chiaroscuro lighting effect in the opening title credits give the film a very artistic feel and using his skill in lighting, he sets the tone for future giallo films to experiment with the use of colour, beyond just the simple effect of “enhanced realism”.

Clip 1. Blood and Black Lace (dir Bava, 1964)

The usual reaction of a color upon a normal person has been definitely determined. Colors fall into two general groups. The first group in the "warm," and the second the "cool" colors. Red, orange, and yellow are called the warm or advancing colors. They call forth sensations of excitement, activity, and heat. In contrast, green, blue, and violet are the cool or retiring colors. They suggest rest, ease, coolness. Grouping the colors in another manner with gray suggest subtlety, refinement, charm. When mixed with black, colors show strength, seriousness, dignity, but sometimes represent the baser emotions of life. (Dalle Vacche and Price, 2006 p26)

Bava opening the film, combining the warm colour of red with the cool of the green; in chiaroscuro style lighting you could imply these two colours with the black spots are telling us the seriousness of the use of colour in the film and it’s cool characters are going to be set in a heated active story that will give its audience a strong sensation of excitement.

When any two colors are placed together, the first emphasizes in the second the characteristics which are lacking in the first. (Dalle Vacche and Price, 2006 p29)

Bava, by placing both the red and green directly casting across the films characters in the opening title sequence is creatively getting the most out of each colour; this allows him to keep his creative chiaroscuro lighting style whilst only having to cast two colours to portray something far greater. The lighting for the title sequence has various different shadings of colour, which looks so vastly different when compared to the chiaroscuro of black and white film.

In black-and-white film there is but one way to achieve extreme contrast: through the difference between black and white. In the color image there are as many extreme contrasts as there are basic colors. (Dalle Vacche and Price, 2006 p54)

Bava’s chiaroscuro lighting, though has varying different set ups for each actor/character in the sequence, manages to keep them all as a rather blank canvas, not letting too much known about their personas, but with the beautiful shadings of colour and the combination of red and green, aside with odd splashes of blue; the sequence itself conveys a mysterious visual feel to it, using colour coding introduce the audience to the films atmosphere.

As with Blood and Black Lace (1964) and later with Argento’s The Bird and the Crystal Plumage (1970); it’s very apparent that fashion plays a big role in the early era of the giallo; with the 1960s fashion of Italy being glamorously captured on film, it is here that the use of colour is really able to show its value as with much of the fashion at the time in Italy, colour played a huge role in its identity and if the giallo had stayed in the black and white, then a lot of the glamour would have been lost within the monochrome shades of black and white, but with the introduction of colour the giallo shines vibrantly within the 60s and 70s and to a later extent 1980s of fashionable Italy. 

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

09 Chapter Four: Dario Argento - The Fetish of Red

Mario Bava might be considered the father of the giallo, the main director behind the giallo becoming a successful genre, was Dario Argento; who now recognized as the iconic master of the giallo. After his first entry into the genre with The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970); where he created what is now considered to be the traditional format for the giallo. What makes Argento’s work within the genre stand out from the rest, is not just his rather graphic approach to the use of violence on screen, but his stunning visuals, creative camera movement and from his colourful cinematography it was apparent that he was open to being creative and experimental with the use of colour in his body of work, especially with the colour red.

Argento once said, 'I am in love with the colour red, I dream in red. My nightmares are dominated by red. Red is the colour of pas-sion and the colour of the journey into our subconscious. But above all, red is the colour of fear and violence'. (Gracey, 2010 p24)

Taking from Argento’s own quote, he does come across as a man who has a genuine obsession with the colour red, and from looking at his body of work, there does seem to be connotations of fetishism and the colour red itself; not only with the use of graphic visuals of spilt blood, but also his applied use of the colour red in other areas of his films. He has always had misogynistic criticism thrown in his direction because of the nature of his films and their depiction of graphic violence towards beautiful women.

Gracey notes that “The fetishisation of weapons and murderous implements occurs frequently in Tenebrae, particularly in the flashback sequences fea-turing a woman 'orally raping' a man with the heel of her bright-red stilettos.” (Gracey, 2010 p91)

The fact that Argento goes out of his way to show a rather fetishist approach to torture, with a woman using her stilettos to choke her victim; her shoes are bright red adding to the scenes fetishism. I think that what Gracey is saying is that Argento is not only being creative with the use of what his killers use as weapons for murder, but he also makes a point of revisiting the colour red wherever possible, the use of the red stilettos in Tenebrae (1982) adds a kinky tone to the torture, and is glorified with their bright red finish which exemplifies Argento’s fetishist approach to murder.

Tovoli claims that Tenebrae was perhaps even tougher to light than Suspiria and the vaguely futuristic look was a challenge he relished tackling. The result is a striking looking film bathed in bright whites, with sporadic slashes of bright primary colours. (Gracey, 2010 p87)

I find it interesting to hear that Argento chose to have a giallo film bathed in bright whites; whilst on the surface this might seem like a rather unusual choice for a director making a genre film to work so boldly with a colour that could be deemed to be an almost non-colour, and coming away from the use of vibrant lighting, it actually turns out to be a masterstroke; as because the film is bathed in bright whites, when the use of primary colours comes into shot in Tenebrae (1982), they standout far more; therefore having a greater impact on the audience. It’s also key to note that you could argue that Argento’s fetish of the colour red reaches a new high in Tenebrae (1982), as what better way for blood to be seen than on a bright white background, it is also by far Argento’s most bloody outing in the giallo genre, which you could argue: that he is over indulging in the use of the blood shed.

Clip 2. Tenebrae (dir Argento, 1982)

In this clip from Tenebrae (1982) is a prime example of how Argento manages to use bright whites to make the redness of the victims blood standout greater. It is also worth noting the amount of blood that is sprayed across the white wall as the victim has her lower arm chopped off; the spray of blood is so excessive it borders on the ridiculous, but it’s evidence that Argento himself is bordering on the obsession with the colour red. As the woman turns away and her blood sprays against the wall, what we see as a result is a screen that has a base colour of bright white and then half covered in bright red, Argento then follows this up this shot with a close up shot of an axe penetrating the victims back and we see the blood seep through the victims white dress, holding the shot until almost half of the screen is covered in red, and finally he cuts to the victim falling to the floor; as she turns around it is revealed that her dressed is soaked through with blood. The set itself; the walls, floor and appliances are bright white which makes sure that red is the only colour that holds our attention in the scene.

Even early on in Argento’s giallo career it became apparent that he had an eye for colour and for the colour red in particular, in Howard Hughes book Cinema Italiano talking about the cinematographer’s work on The Bird with the Crystal Plummage (1970);

Hughes notes that “Storaro's Eastmancolor Cromoscoped images bathe the screen in colour-coded symbol-ism, usually involving lurid reds or bright whites.” (Hughes, 2011 p229-230)

Hughes here touches on something with regards to Argento and his use of colours within The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970); taking note of the use of bright whites and lurid reds, though he says that this use of colour is a form of symbolism, he doesn’t really expand this further which is a real shame, as he implies that there is a contextual method of symbolism used by Argento within the film with his use of the colours which red plays a huge part of, but he doesn’t elaborate on this, leaving us the reader to go out and view the film making up our own opinions.

Whilst Argento himself might actually explore the use of colour within the giallo, especially with the use of bright whites and creative lighting techniques using primary colours, it’s still clear that the colour red has a special place in his heart and he expresses his love for the colour throughout his body of work; in fact he at times does go the extra mile to have a personal touch with regards to the involvement of the colour red on screen.

"By 1975 [the black leather gloves] was a giallo cliche: the ritualistic adornment of leather, with its connotations of fetishism and sex, suggesting that [in Deep Red] the killer isn't just a psychopathic murderer but kinky with it" (Grainger 2000: 123). Even more playful, Argento also made it a habit in his films to don the black gloves himself in these sequences, partially as an homage to Alfred Hitchcock's cameos, but also, as Peter Bondanella noted, as "a humorous act of identification with his killers" (2001: 420) (Koven, 2006 p101)

Whilst the fact that Argento himself dons the black leather gloves of his film's killers, might be the main reason why he has been labeled as misogynistic by a number of critics, but this fact to me strikes as fetishist approach to how the colour red is used within his films, it could be argued that Argento isn’t happy enough with the redness of blood appearing on screen, but he himself has to be the one who physically makes this happen; with himself holding the weapons that penetrates the victims’ bodies causing the blood to flow. You might say that directing the colour red isn’t enough to appease his fetish; he himself has to be the one that paints the screen red, holding the symbolic brush that is the murder weapon of the killer.

Monday, 5 March 2012

10 Chapter Five: Argento and his transition from the Giallo into the Supernatural

During the late 1970s and at the beginning of the 80s, Dario Argento took a step away from the traditional giallo film genre and explored more into the world of the supernatural horror scene, but whilst this was a change in tone from the norm for the director, he still brought a lot of his applied techniques and visual identities that he had become well known for within his previous giallo work.

In 1977 he directed Suspiria, a film that is largely seen as his stand out masterpiece of all his filmography; the opening murder of the film has many traits that can be linked back to the giallo, though Argento this time decides against the black leather gloves that he helped make famous within the giallo and technically he takes a sidestep from the POV killer shot, the killer and his hand/weapon still take a strong influence on screen, and whilst the camera work still implies a voyeuristic approach in the build-up to the first murder, the killers striking blows now come from the side of the camera not from directly behind.

Clip 3. Suspiria (dir Argento, 1977)

It is still clear in this opening murder scene that Argento is still obsessed with the colour red, but now that he's tackling a new genre he is now showing signs of experimentation with various different colours. In the scene above there are various different uses with the coolness of the colour blue; which is very contrasting next to the vibrant brightness of the reds; it is very clear from the beginning of Suspiria (1977) that it's going to be a visually visceral experience in colour.

The films use of vivid primary colours and outlandish set design is what makes Suspiria (1977) a standout piece of filmmaking.

Suspiria is a visceral onslaught of vision and colour. Argento bom-bards the viewer with lurid colours and renders them breathless with his opulent set design, sado-erotic imagery and extremely sinister and powerful soundtrack. This sensory excess defies the belief that horror emerges from nuance and shadowy suggestion. Nothing is left to the imagination in this film. (Gracey, 2010 p70)

What I think Gracey is trying to tell us here, is that with Argento’s use of colour and combined with the effective soundtrack, the audience is seemingly under constant attack, whether it be visually or audibly. He manages to successfully go against the rules of horror filmmaking by not leaving much to the audiences imagination, and instead of areas of dark shadows and mystery, Argento visually engages the audience with bright vivid primary colours that bleed across the screen from all angles.

Fig 1. Stills from Suspiria (dir Argento, 1977)

Luciano Tovoli shot Suspiria in garish widescreen Technovision. Blocks of colour - predominantly red, black and white, occasionally icy blue or green - dominate the screen, suggesting the malingering witchery lurking in the school. When the practice hall is hastily converted into a dormitory with suspended sheets (following an attic infestation of maggots) the room is bathed in throb-bing reds and dark shadows. (Hughes, 2011 p242)

These images from the scene that Hughes is discussing in the above quote are predominately discussing Argento’s fascination with the colour red, this ‘loud’ use of the colour red in the scene creates an unnerving atmosphere, the atmosphere in the scene gaining in it’s eerie-ness, this supernatural change in tone has allowed Argento to really exploit his passion for red, where he may have felt reserved in his use of the colour in his giallo work; here in Suspiria (1977) he is able to bombard the audience with the screen awash with red, free from the shackles of restraint it is here in Suspiria (1977) where Argento’s love of the colour red is obviously there to be seen.

Again 3 years later Argento returns with another more supernatural horror title with Inferno (1980), and again vivid primary colours play centre stage to the cinematography, with a heavy emphasis on blue contrasted against Argento’s favourite red and in the scene below (the underwater sequence) from Inferno (1980) the water itself viewed from above seems a tranquil green almost turquoise acting as a mid-range level between red and blue on screen; what Argento has managed to achieve is a rather more edgy and supernatural atmosphere to the scene and the film as a whole which draws in the audience attention to the visual style.

Clip 4. Inferno (dir Argento, 1980)

Vivid colours and beautiful lighting simply drip out of each frame and an ever-present sheen of livid red lighting dev-ilishly presides over proceedings. Extreme colours and overwrought images are all characteristic of 'vintage Argento'. (Gracey, 2010 p21)

Gracey here talking about Argento’s Suspiria (1977) and Inferno (1980), notices and picks up upon the visual style that Argento had become well known for in his previous works in the genre of giallo (calling it ‘vintage Argento’) is very apparently again applied to these two films, despite taking a step away from the genre that created himself to be recognized internationally, his visual traits still linger within his new direction.

When any two colors are placed together, the first emphasizes in the second the characteristics which are lacking in the first. (Dalle Vacche and Price, 2006 p29)

With both Suspiria (1977) and Inferno (1980), Argentos’ clever use of using bold colours like red and blue against each other he is able to extract greater meaning and visual representation from both than they would as colours alone; and especially in the scene from Inferno (1980) above in which the colour green is added to the scene; this allows Argento’s use of colour to greater present a supernatural element to the reds and blues, that maybe wouldn’t have come across as well if there wasn’t a colour next to it to pull out those characteristics which wouldn’t necessarily be communicated to the audience as effectively.

Hughes notes that “The photography by Romano Albini is Bavaesque in style, with glow-ing blues and reds.” (Hughes, 2011 p243)

Here Hughes is talking about Inferno (1980) and is pointing out that the photography of Argentos’ film has a very similar a style in lighting of those films of Bava (the ‘father’ of giallo) who has become very well known as being the master of lighting techniques; and this is high praise for Argento’s film; and looking at the use of colour it really stands out as being a high skilled and composed piece of cinema.

Should red form part of a system involving any other colours, the need to prevent it overwhelming them by assigning it a subsidiary position runs the risk of making it seem no more than an accent, a marker of a particularly dramatic moment, or causing it to be over-looked. (Coates, 2010 p84)

This is an interesting quote from Coates he is saying that the colour red can lose it’s effectiveness to have meaning if it becomes apparent that its place on screen doesn’t capture the audience attention and can lose all meaning if it’s forced out by another bold strong colour dominating the scene. This I find particularly interesting with regards to the two above films of Argento; his passion for the colour red means that he has it onscreen but recognizes that whilst he needs other colours to create a supernatural atmosphere for his film, he makes a point of making the red lighting play a very powerful presence on screen not only allowing the other colours to create the desired atmosphere but also keeping that obsessive use of red noticeable to the audience; going by Coates’ statement, this proves that Argento is fully aware that he cannot allow the colour red to play just a small role in his films lighting, which for me says that Argento has a great understanding of colour and lighting on the deepest of levels.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

11 Chapter Six: The downfall of the Giallo and it's potential rebirth

As the 70’s came to an end, so it seemed that the era of the giallo was dying off from the international scene; maybe because of producers eagerness to cash on what Argento had started by in the early 70’s it brought about a quick saturation in the market of gialli, this rapid production of trying to replicate the international financial success from the previous films might have created a rather over exposure to an audience that became just too much and the audience for this had grown tired of the style of the giallo and found the rise of the Slasher films from American to cure the itch for exploitive violence and sex demand of what was the drive-in/grindhouse market.

While a few giallo films were made in the 1980s, mostly by Dario Argento himself (Tene-brePhenomena, and Opera), only Lamberto Bava, Mario Bava’s son, was re-ally making gialli anymore, with two films, A Blade in the Dark (1983) and Delirium: Photos of Gioia (Le Foto di Gioia) (1987). Beyond the 1990s and into the new century, Dario Argento is still producing giallo films: Trauma (1993), The Stendhal Syndrome (1996), Sleepless (2001), The Card Player (Il Cartaio) (2004), and Do You Like Hitchcock? (Ti piace Hitchcock?) (2005). (Koven, 2006 p170)

Here Koven is stating that the giallo had already started it’s decline in the 1980s with only a select few directors still releasing the traditional giallo and beyond this into the 1990s and further it was really only Dario Argento who was able to direct giallo in the modern day; this is really only possible because of instantly internationally recognizable name that he has created for himself and a gaining a certain cult following over the years from his strong body of previous titles.

Sporadically, other filmmakers try to produce these old-fashioned-style thriller, with varying degrees of success, either in Italy or beyond. The best of the contemporary gialli, Occhi di cristallo (Eros Puglielli, 2004), which I was lucky enough to catch at Edinburgh’s “Dead by Dawn” film festival in 2005, while available on DVD in Italian, does not offer English subtitles or an Eng-lish soundtrack. It seems that with the exception of new films by interna-tionally recognized masters of the genre, such as Argento, these thrillers seem to be made exclusively for the local, vernacular audiences. And maybe that is as it should be. (Koven, 2006 p170)

Koven seems to be taking the view that while the giallo is still being made to this day, it has become on a much smaller scale and back to the vernacular, where it’s true roots lie. It would seem that he is implying that the giallo has no real significance to an international audience and that it should solely remain in the Italian third-run theatres.

While for a while it might seem that the giallo would just slip away into the memory of cult horror fans; in 2009 a French/Belgium co-production film Amer (2009) came out that paid homage to the giallo genre and in particular it’s three most famous directors; Mario Bava, Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci. The film itself recognized that the gialli narrative wasn’t that well structured and that the dialogue played second fiddle to the visual experience; with this Amer (2009) almost consists of no dialogue.

Clip 5. Amer (dir Cattet and Forzani, 2009)

In this clip of Amer (2009) we can see that it makes such wonderful use of colours and is very reminiscent of Dario Argento’s work and especially Inferno (1980) in the underwater scene that I talked about in Chapter 5; the combination of the bold uses of red, blue and green are so boldly used to create a very atmospheric scene, and with the uses of such a variety of colours the film is able to express the feeling of fear, mystery and the supernatural to the audience through colour.

Clip 6. Amer (dir Cattet and Forzani, 2009)

The clip above of Amer (2009) shows again the desire of fetishism within the genre of the giallo plays such a strong role in the appeal of the giallo to the audience, the scene seems to imply a playful approach to this fetishistic act as during the close up of the woman’s mouth she slowly bites down on the metal seeming on her free will; this can be interpreted as an symbolic act saying that the giallo of the 1970s themselves were seductively playing with the fetishistic murders on screen.

Clip 7. Amer (dir Cattet and Forzani, 2009)

This final clip above from the film Amer (2009) shows it homage to the fetishism again of the giallo and the fashionable killer; seen here donning the infamous black leather gloves; it’s also interesting to note that in this clip the film seems to experiment with the colour blue, where we, as the audience might expect the red, paying homage to the Argento’s fetish of the colour. Instead this use of the cool of the stark blue in the scene I feel represents the naturalistic and ease of approach of the genre back in the 1970s to show such graphic and rather disturbing murder scenes, also could be read as how cool and calm and undeterred approach to the point of view filming of such graphic violence that the directors of the time had; especially with Argento, who as mentioned earlier, donned the black leather gloves himself from behind the camera.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

12 Conclusion

Whilst one of my initial reasons behind writing this dissertation might have been to prove that the traditional giallo can still be relevant today to an international audience hasn’t quite developed into the answer I was looking for, I still feel that with the evidence discussed with Amer (2009) and it’s homage to the giallo, there is certainly enough within the genre to be adapted to the modern day audience and something that can easily feel right at home in the art house cinemas. Its stylistic visuals and almost complete neglect for dialogue could really provide a starting point for a new era of art-house cinema, maybe not a resurrection of the giallo but certainly a new wave of genre filmmaking that is inspired by the genre itself.

Though the main question that I had posed for my research was to answer can ‘high art’ exist within ‘low-art’ and I think that the giallo genre has shown plenty enough in it’s rich if not short lived history to provide enough artistic qualities, especially with the marvelous and thought provoking use of colour in film and not forgetting the symbolism with the Italian traumas caused by Mussolini’s fascist reign. With the links to Mussolini and giallo dating back to the very first gialloOssessione (1942) which managed to get released under the nose of his fascist reign, there really should be a clear recognition not just from film academics from the horror aficionados that Ossessione (1942) was the first giallo film as well as being the first Itailan Neo-Realist film; no matter what the genre, whether it be high brow art or exploitation each has the equal right to their history and should be embraced and not ignored for the fear of being tarnished just because a genre can be linked with another genre that doesn’t fit within it’s artistic value.

There has always been a gap between High Art and Low Art; it’s something that most people would argue that has no connection, the art house/high art movement is completely separate from the low art/exploitation form and the Hollywood movement, but I feel that through my research and readings into the giallo, I believe that the genre itself manages to bridge the gap between high art and low art; whilst the films of the genres didn’t play in the art houses and first run theatres at the time and appealed more to the grindhouse cinema and drive-in audiences, the films themselves show great uses of colour in film and symbolize themes and atmosphere through their visceral lighting techniques and style, and not forgetting the strong link between the gialli killers and Mussolini, there is plenty of contextual theory to be read into and it is this quality that I believe can build bridges between High Art and Low Art; which could allow for a better appreciation of the art of film as a whole. 

Friday, 2 March 2012

13 Bibliography


Coates, P,. (2010) Cinema and Colour: The Saturated Image. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Dalle Vacche, A. and Price, B., (eds). (2006) Color, The Film Reader. Abingdon: Routledge.
Gracey, J., (2010) Dario Argento. Harpenden: Kamera Books.
Hughes, H., (2011) Cinema Italiano: The Complete Guide from Classics to Cult. London: I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd.
Kerswell, J. A., (2010) Teenage Wasteland: The Slasher Movie Uncut. London: New Holland Publishers (UK) Ltd.
Koven, M.J., (2006) La Dolce Morte: Vernacular Cinema and the Italian Giallo Film. Lanham: Scarecrow Press, Inc.
Rigby, J., (2011) Studies in Terror: Landmarks of Horror Cinema. Cambridge: Signum Books.


                        Internet Movie Database: (accessed 20/02/12)
                        Youtube: (accessed 20/02/12)

Thursday, 1 March 2012

14 Filmography

A Blade in the Dark. 1983. Directed by Lamberto Bava. Italy: Lightning Video. [film].

Amer. 2009. Directed by Helene Cattet, Bruno Forzani. France/Belgium: Zootrope Films. [film].

Blood and Black Lace. 1964. Directed by Mario Bava. Italy/France/Monaco: Cosmopolis Films. [film].

Deep Red. 1975. Directed by Dario Argento. Italy: Howard Mahler Films. [film].

Delirium: Photos of Gioia. 1987. Directed by Lamberto Bava. Italy: 20th Century Fox Italia. [film].

Do You Like Hitchcock?. 2005. Directed by Dario Argento. Italy/Spain: Anchor Bay Entertainment. [film].

Don't Torture a Duckling. 1972. Directed by Lucio Fulci. Italy: Nightmare Video. [film].

Inferno. 1980. Directed by Dario Argento. Italy: 20th Century Fox Italia. [film].

Occhi di Cristallo. 2004. Directed by Eros Puglielli. Italy/Spain/UK/Bulgaria: Revolver Entertainment. [film].

Opera. 1987. Directed by Dario Argento. Italy: J. Arthur Rank Film Distributors. [film].

Ossessione. 1943. Directed by Luchino Visconti. Italy: Industrie Cinematografiche Italiane (ICI). [film].

Phenomena. 1985. Directed by Dario Argento. Italy: New Line Cinema. [film].

Sleepless. 2001. Directed by Dario Argento. Italy: Medusa Distribuzione. [film].

Suspiria. 1977. Directed by Dario Argento. Italy: EMI. [film].

Tenebrae. 1982. Directed by Dario Argento. Italy: Titanus. [film].

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. 1970. Directed by Dario Argento. Italy/West Germany: Constantin Film. [film].

The Card Player. 2004. Directed by Dario Argento. Italy: Anchor Bay Entertainment. [film].

The Girl Who Knew Too Much. 1963. Directed by Mario Bava. Italy: Warner Bros. [film].

The House of Laughing Windows. 1976. Directed by Pupi Avati. Italy: Image Entertainment. [film].

The Stendhal Syndrome. 1996. Directed by Dario Argento. Italy: Blue Underground. [film].

Trauma. 1993. Directed by Dario Argento. Italy/USA: Republic Pictures (II). [film].

Watch Me When I Kill. 1977. Directed by Antonio Bido. Italy: Cobra Media. [film].