Sunday, February 8, 2009

Pondering Dario Argento and MOTHER OF TEARS

In a recent posting on the Horror Hacker blog, Maitland McDonagh, the author of the brilliant BROKEN MIRRORS, BROKEN MINDS: THE DARK DREAMS OF DARIO ARGENTO, turns her attention back to the Argento canon to list her favorite films by the maestro. This posting, combined with Maitland's much-anticipated review of MOTHER OF TEARS in an upcoming issue of VIDEO WATCHDOG, offers compelling reasons why an updated edition of BROKEN MIRRORS, BROKEN MINDS would be most welcome. Published in 1991, my edition covers films up to TWO EVIL EYES, leaving out a sizable body of films that Argento went on to complete, including MOTHER OF TEARS, the controversial completion of the trilogy begun with SUSPIRIA and INFERNO.

I won't hazard a guess as to what McDonagh will say about MOTHER OF TEARS. In her book, she remarks on the "mind-boggling artificiality" of SUSPIRIA and INFERNO, so we can only imagine what she will make of the trilogy's new film, wherein Argento takes that sense of artificiality in an entirely different direction. Part of what makes the first two films notable is how Argento delves into Jungian symbolism in a way that seems bent on shattering the traditional cinematic language of the horror film. MOTHER OF TEARS, on the other hand, feels at times like reversion to traditional storytelling, even incorporating an American aesthetic that we might attribute to a scheme to appeal to one of the largest movie market in the world, or perhaps it comes from the fact that Argento collaborated with Jace Anderson and Adam Gierasch, two American screenwriters who specialize in horror films. Unlike SUSPIRIA, which leaves the viewer feeling like Suzy Banyan, helplessly trying to decode an array of symbols without a reliable system of reference, MOTHER OF TEARS seems bent on explaining everything, even making direct, reassuring connections to the other films.

Argento has always been a self-referential film-maker, going so far as to famously incorporate family members into his screen world, as he continues to do so here with Asia Argento. However, where Argento once welcomed us into the uneasy terrain of his own psyche, he now seems bent on giving us that psyche in easily marketable terms. Despite all this, I actually liked MOTHER OF TEARS, though I find it difficult to place it in the scheme of INFERNO or SUSPIRIA. The real trilogy on hand here seems to be the one he began with JENIFER, the first of his MASTERS OF HORROR entries, and continued with PELTS. He shot both of those films for American cable, and they both reflect a growing preoccupation with perverse sexuality, something he continues to explore in MOTHER OF TEARS. In short, we should perhaps think of those films as a group rather than try to find unsatisfying ways in which MOTHER OF TEARS continues the aesthetic of SUSPIRIA.

For what it's worth (and I know that ain't much), here is my own top ten Argento films:

10. Jenifer (not a popular choice, I know, but I loved seeing how Argento approached the adaptation of a comic book story)
9. Trauma (another unpopular choice, but I'm a sucker for crazy moms)
8. Phenomena
7. Sleepless
6. Inferno
5. Four Flies on Grey Velvet (and now we have a new dvd to look forward to!)
4. Opera
3. Tenebre
2. Suspiria
1. Deep Red

Feel free to post your own Argento top ten in the comments section.


Volcanic Slut said...

My favorite Argento films:
1. Inferno
2. Phenomenon
3. Suspiria
4. Tenebrae
5. Four Flies on Grey Velvet
6. Deep Red

I haven't seen any of his newer films.

The Headless Werewolf said...

My opinion fluctuates a bit concerning his newer films. They're often problematic to say the least, most notably Phantom of the Opera, but I'd suggest giving them a go. STENDHAL SYNDROME seems to hold up the best for most people . . .

maitlandm said...

I love Volcanic Slut's top 6, though I prefer Suspiria to Inferno.

And I'm definitely with the revisionist school of Stendhal Syndrome: I disliked it intensely when I first saw it, but Stendhal subsequently become my favorite post-Opera Argento movie.

Broken Mirrors/Broken Minds, 2010 expanded edition

The Headless Werewolf said...

Thanks for your input, and I must say that I'm excited that a new edition of your book is indeed coming out. I'm very much looking forward to reading it!