If I were to begin my summary of Day Three by doing anything other than talking about Deep Red, I’m pretty sure that there would be a revolution. Give the people what they want.
Even accounting for the Q&A session with actor Tony Musante on Thursday night, I would be willing to bet that the Saturday night screening of Deep Red had the largest attendance of any screening so far. When the lights went down and the movie started, a few people in the audience even clapped, which was a first for the festival (a few minutes later, a lone person would try and start a round of applause for the What Happened to Solange? trailer, but nobody offered to help). And me? I had my notebook on my lap – my notebook with a yellow cover, naturally – and I was determined to jot down not only my thoughts on the movie, but the reactions of the crowd around me. Deep Red is as mainstream as the giallo gets, so I was hoping to gain some insight into how the genre is viewed based on the audience reactions.
I didn’t have to wait long before the audience gave me an interesting experience. While the opening credits were still rolling, I caught a person taking a picture of the screen out of the corner of my eye – I apparently wasn’t the only one who saw this, because another man a few seats down from me angrily shouted at him to turn off his cell phone. The humor in this was not lost on me. After all, the entire genre of the giallo was developed around the idea that the audience was not fully engaged with the screen. As we’ve discussed in the weeks leading up to the festival, the actual structure and cinematography of the films are designed to cue audiences as to when they should turn back to the screen. And here we are, in the year 2012, where these same movies were being held to a standard of silent reverence. My gut tells me that if Dario Argento knew that eventually his movies would be held to the same kind of hushed scrutiny of his art-house contemporaries, he would have been greatly amused.
Still, it wasn’t long before the illusion of the silent audience was shattered, because during the movie, the audience laughed. A lot. I had gotten used to the occasional laugh during these movies; let’s face it, some of the dialogue in the films is pretty poorly delivered, and the giallo is not above a laugh or two at its expense (my personal favorite thus far has been the big laugh after the line, “Drop it! I don’t like your sex habits!” from The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh). Maybe it’s because I’ve been watching these movies nonstop for the past few weeks, or because I’m so focused on the set pieces, but I had forgotten that a lot of aspects of these movies are kind of objectively bad. The laughter and cheers that occurred during Deep Red weren’t entirely of a good nature – some people had come for the same reason that people go to movies like The Room and Birdemic. They hooted and hollered at every gratuitous zoom, cheered every poorly-delivered line (“There’s someone in the house… absolutely trying to kill me, ya’know?”), and just generally acted like they were at a midnight movie. Not all of them, mind you, and certainly not to the point of distraction, but it was a solid reminder that not everyone views the giallo as these brilliant visual gems worthy of higher debate.
Still, the audience definitely had a good time, and I was glad to finally see the most famous of all the gialli. I will admit that I did not find Deep Red as impressive as some of the other gialli I’ve seen at the festival, or even my favorite among the limited Argento films that I’ve seen (that might be Tenebrae), but it was the only movie at the festival with a bonafide Goblin score, and my foot would not stop tapping the whole movie through. I have the soundtrack playing as I type.
During the break between Deep Red and What Happened to Solange?, I was able to connect with a fellow giallo fan and supporter of the festival named Chris. Chris is the owner/operator of the GialloScore website, which attempts to provide a quantitative analysis of what makes a movie a giallo or not. In a nutshell, Chris breaks down movies based on how well they conform to the genre archetypes. His criteria are lumped into three categories, which he refers to as “Staples,” “Standards,” and “Signatures,” and his site provides an overall score that he uses to rank gialli against each other. For example, a movie like Short Night of Glass Dolls, which is one of my personal favorites within the genre so far, does not receive a strong score at GialloScore because of how much it diverges from the standard giallo format. As the website touches on genre and our own expectations of the movie, I’m understandably a big fan.
Chris and I stood outside and chatted for a little bit. I got the impression that, while passionate about the giallo, Chris was also not going to pretend like it was an untouchable art form, so we swapped a few jokes. We both remarked upon how many red herrings each film had, especially the earlier movie, The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh, which we agreed had a bit of Strangers on a Train to it. We also joked about the inefficiency of the giallo killer – how if they only learned how to kill someone properly in way that didn’t leave a trail of witnesses, the body counts in the films would be significantly lower. Chris would not be able to stay for the late show, as he had come up all the way from Philadelphia to attend the festival, but he gave me a few pointers on what to look out for while watching What Happened to Solange? and went on his way.
And speaking of Solange - I mentioned on Twitter after the movie that this was the first film that had genuinely impressed me with its story, and after spending the morning thinking about it, I would say that feeling holds up. There certainly are holes throughout the film, but the revenge story at the center of the plot, the red herrings with the priest, and the horribly visceral style in which the victims are killed – the woman next to me actually grunted during a murder scene – all combined to give me a giallo that actually had me peeking through my fingers at times. I’ll admit that the subject would seem alarmist and somewhat out of fashion in today’s society, but when placed in its proper context, I found Solange to be a much more unsettling story than any number of sexually ambiguous killers or perverted maniacs.
A few final notes on the quality of the prints. While I have been, by and large, extremely impressed by the print quality at the Giallo Fever! festival, The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh is in terrible condition. The entire print has taken on a strong pink hue over the years, which both dulls the color scheme and makes some of the evening footage a little hard to follow. Your eyes will adjust over time, but it was a bit disappointing to see that the print had been so poorly maintained over the years. A woman stood up in the middle of the theater during the end credits and told the remaining patrons to seek it out on DVD, because the edition used had both ruined the cinematography and presented a few changes from the original Italian version.
For all you projectionists out there – take care of your prints, please. Some of the films - Deep Red included – have a tremendous amount of damage done to the beginning and ends of reels, where the projectionist would have spliced together/apart the different reels. A lazy projectionist will simply cut around the splice and cause a single frame at the end and beginning of each reel to be lost – I know, because I have (back when I first started) been that lazy projectionist. But these prints serve as a prime example as to why you should take the extra few minutes to not only unpeel the splicing tape, but also to make sure that you are careful in how you handle those few feet of film. An otherwise solid print can explode into a series of scratches and soundtrack pops for the final few second before and after a reel changes, and each single frame lost adds up over time if every projectionist is taking the same approach.
I don’t mean to stand on my soapbox, but with the number of theaters that are converting to digital projection systems, these 35mm prints are going to become increasingly rare. Don’t do harm to the few that we have left.