Italian film director Dario Argento is best known for his work in the style of giallo, the crime/thriller mixture that influenced the slasher genre. Argento has gained acclaim from horror fans with movies such as Suspiria and Deep Red.
L. Andrew Cooper, author of the Contemporary Film Directors series title Dario Argento recently sat down with the horror movie master in Chicago. Argento was at the Chicago International Film Festival to debut his new film Dracula 3-D.
L. Andrew Cooper: I want to focus on your recent work, though I am going to work in questions that range over your career because that’s what my book does. But first I want to start with Dracula. F.W. Murnau, Tod Browning, Terence Fisher, Dan Curtis, Jess Franco, Francis Ford Coppola, even Andy Warhol…
Dario Argento: Yes, yes. (laughs)
Cooper: So, Dario Argento’s Dracula. What do you see as your contribution to this long tradition of adapting Bram Stoker’s novel?
Argento: I think it’s a contribution because I change something from the story from Bram Stoker. I change the vision of Dracula. It’s much more romantic, first of all. All the titles you mention, those visions are for me the best, some strong, marvelous images, beautiful colors, very good, the best. But I want to do something, something much more fantastic. For this reason I think, if Dracula can transform into different creatures, like a bat, like a wolf, it’s possible he can become every creature, like a spider, a bat, flies, everything. This is an idea I put in the film. For some people, it becomes ironic, they think it’s ironic, and some people laugh. It’s good, because I want to do this. And then I want to do the colors so they were, again, different; different from my other films, similar to Suspiria, and for this reason I used the same D.P., the same cinematographer, director of photography, as from Suspiria [Luciano Tovoli], to realize new colors for this Dracula. We have the colors of the old paintings. . . we need something different.
Cooper: You mentioned your use of effects, and that reminded me of a question I had when I just rewatched the film. The flies in particular, which you used computer graphics for, reminded me of the physical trick photography you had to use in Phenomena.
Cooper: How did you find the difference in working in the two different media, the digital versus both the real bug-wrangling you had to do in Phenomena and the tricks with coffee grounds and the like?
Argento: In Phenomena it was real, and real of course is better. But we spent a large amount to use these flies, and the work was very difficult. The flies would go, and then, eh, again new flies. It was very hard work when the flies were real. Now we have the technology to do it differently, with the technology of today. With the flies in Dracula it was much easier because we had the laboratory and worked together. Some flies in Dracula are from Phenomena. Some flies, the exact movements—we stole.
Cooper: Really? You lifted them from the prints… wow, that’s cool.
Argento: Yes. I put this in—when we see so many, it’s the same scene as Phenomena.
Cooper: That’s brilliant! Oh cool, I didn’t realize that. That’s wonderful. So how does your approach to adapting Dracula compare to your Phantom of the Opera? Was that a similar idea, in terms of bringing a new dimension to the story?
Argento: Yes, a new dimension to the story, because in Phantom of the Opera, for the monster, the face is good, a beautiful face—it’s different, we change a lot of these things. This time also, I want to change from tradition. I want to change; I want to transform. They are two films from books. I did another film from a book, it was “The Black Cat,” from Edgar Allan Poe, and they are the only three films I based on such writing.
Cooper: So, this is a question I have to ask: did you intend re-pairing your daughter Asia with Thomas Kretschmann as a way to revisit territory from The Stendhal Syndrome, particularly the mixture of sex and violence between those two actors and the characters they portray?
Argento: No, because also she was involved in directing another film, and Thomas Kretschmann had other work acting, and me, I was doing an opera, Macbeth from Verdi, which I just finished five days ago. It was good work—acting on stage, and the singers, and the orchestra, and the special effects, real special effects, and the blood, people are stunned—the first time in theater—also nudity, very strong things. People are happy, because this is a new vision of the opera.
Cooper: And was this a second chance, because you had tried to do that before, in the 80s—
Argento: Yes, in Opera.
Cooper: So you feel you finally got a chance to bring that vision to an audience?
Argento: Yes, an audience, it was good, good.
Cooper: Good, well I’m glad that was a success. So then, putting Asia and Thomas Kretschmann back together for you was just one of the pieces of work you were juggling at that time.
Cooper: And you’ve said in other interviews that it’s just a matter of professionalism and getting the work done.
Argento: Yes, it was good, good to come back to work with my daughter, it’s marvelous now, because during my life I saw her grow up—she was 13 in her first film, 18 in the second—I saw her change, become a woman. It was an incredible experience. She changes at all times. Every film she does with me is different from her others.
Cooper: And speaking of her role in your work, a lot of critics seem to feel that your style took a turn between Opera in 1987 and 1993’s Trauma. And of course Two Evil Eyes with your “The Black Cat” adaptation was in between there, and you were doing some work with Soavi and some of your other colleagues. Do you agree with the sense that that you took a stylistic turn in that period?
Argento: No, I don’t think so. I think that if you see the film exactly, you will see the same
style, the same man. The story is different, of course, but not the style. I always follow my idea to describe the dark side of my soul. This is my idea, deeply.
Cooper: How do you feel about the way you’ve been expressing that dark side in your recent work, and where do you see that taking you next?
Argento: My dark side. . . it’s possible to explain my dark side because. . . Freud described the unconscious, sexuality, everything. I am inspired by Freud. Freud inspired all my feelings, symbolic, symbolistic, ah yes. For this reason, I say it is possible to watch my dark side because Freud exists; he described it for the first time. And the other answer was…?
Cooper: Where do you see your dark side taking you next? Do you have projects planned?
Argento: For the moment, no, because I just finished the opera, and I am very tired. Maybe I’ll do a giallo, but I’m not sure, that’s just one idea. I must go back to my house and write, and see if it’s a film and if it’s good or not.
Cooper: Fair enough. I have a question about Mother of Tears. Personally, I love that film, and I think it’s a great conclusion for the trilogy, but as I’m sure you know, some people don’t agree with that. And as I point out to those people, for Suspiria, when it first came out in 1977, the critical reaction was very cold.
Argento: Yes, yes.
Cooper: Do you think in time people’s understanding of Mother of Tears will change in a similar way?
Argento: Yes. Already now, many people are changing ideas. Now Mother of Tears is important. Big newspapers have writers about film say it’s marvelous. For me, it’s one of my best films, like a prophecy, life, something inside the prophecy. . . I like the film. Really I appreciate being able to do that.
Cooper: It seems to have the broadest scope of any of your films. You’re taking on the entire world through the lens of Rome.
Cooper: And that seems like a successful experiment on your part, and that’s one of your
Cooper: Do you have other favorites from the last ten years or so that you hope people start to appreciate more?
Argento: The Card Player, I think, is something interesting because it’s a vision of my city Rome in a new way. We see the periphery, what you never see in the movies.
Cooper: It’s a very atypical film for you because you experimented a lot with natural lighting and because it’s almost bloodless, which shocked a lot of your fans, but it’s still a very gripping film.
Argento: Yes, it’s different.
Cooper: Is that one of your sources of pride—that you created tension without your signature blood and guts?
Cooper: My students are talking about Deep Red on Monday. Anything particular to say to them?
Argento: I do. I want to represent the importance of architecture in the film. Architecture is important like in Tenebre, maybe. The villa’s architecture is very peculiar, very strange, very art deco, and also the square with the fountains, they are characters in the film, very important. In this film I use the camera very well I think, some movement, the difference
between small and big becomes the same, they confuse your mind. I think it’s one of my best films. Good acting, and the music is some of the best in my movies. Music is very important, and this was my first time working with Goblin. Goblin was very young, coming from the conservatory. It was a very young band. I chose these young guys, and it was good. It was dangerous because they were so young (laughs), but they were very good people.
Cooper: And you’re still working with Claudio Simonetti.
Argento: Yes, in fact, in Dracula, Simonetti used music with the influence of Balkan music, very interesting.
Cooper: Last question, this is a biggie, but—what do you see as the most important thing your films give to film history?
Argento: I think I invented something different from the others. I invented giallo, and it’s something that changed many things in the movies, directors in every country. I think I do films with the uses of the camera, color, and music, something with a mixture, a new way of doing films. I think this is what I give to the movie industry.
(left) Cover design, Paula Newcomb. Credit, Photofest