Deep Red

While I find that I rapidly grow bored with the grue and silliness of Dario Argento, I always take pleasure in returning to him for brief stays. Ah, the luminescent colours! Ah, the plunging camera-work! Ah, the bizarre plot-twists and psychotropic Gothicism! This is what cinema is all about! With the exception of Suspiria (1977), Deep Red (aka: Profondo Rosso) is perhaps Argento’s best-known film and it is easy to see why. Occupying the same well-trodden shatter zone between crime, mystery and horror favoured by all the gialli directors, Argento weaves together the story of a British musician (David Hemmings) who teams up with an Italian Journalist (Daria Nicolodi) in order to track down a brutal murderer.

Most murder mystery stories tend to function in one of two ways. One approach, the one used in the TV series Monk, is to lay all the clues at the feet of the audience and allow them to effectively work alongside the detective as he makes his way through the case. Another approach, the one used in the TV series The Nero Wolfe Mysteries, is to present the audience with a lot of facts but make connecting those facts together so difficult that it requires an act of genius that is only possible for the detective. Argento’s Deep Red is a classic whodunit story because Argento manages to walk a fine line between these two approaches. What Argento does is to use what can only be called thematic foreshadowing in order to lead the audience’s speculations in one direction or another.

For example, at one point, some evidence raises the possibility that the murderer might well be of a different sex than might be expected. However, before this possibility is even discussed by the characters,

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Argento has not only ‘primed the pumps’ by introducing a trans-gendered character into the plot, he has also established that one of the central characters possesses characteristics that do not fit comfortably within the gender role traditionally associated with their sex. Deep Red functions beautifully as a mystery not only because the script by Bernardino Zapponi and Argento is beautifully written and exquisitely delivered by a central pairing that positively fizzes with sexual chemistry, but because Argento uses the language of cinema to guide our reasoning. Leading us down blind alleyways and taunting us with a series of subtle clues so elegantly injected into the film that Deep Red is a real pleasure to watch and watch again.

Aside from cunning placement of clues and visual motifs, Deep Red also shows Argento at the absolute pinnacle of his directorial powers. It is a film full of elegantly sweeping camera movements, unexpected angles and a use of colour that effectively pre-empts the chromatic chaos of the later Suspiria. Deep Red is not only artfully shot in the sense of being beautifully lensed (though it is, keep an eye out for the fake 3D effect in the opera house scene and the use of zoom to track characters’ movements as they walk away from each other across a piazza) it is also ‘artful’ in the sense of being full of images and details borrowed from well-known works of art. This means that, as well as looking out for clues and keeping track of thematic foreshadowing, Argento also has us wondering where we might have seen a particular cafĂ© or sculpture before. The result is a visual experience that is nothing short of stunning.

As usual, Arrow Video has done us proud by pushing out the boat and filling it with a load of excellent extras. This edition of the film comes with two DVDs including two slightly different cuts of the film but the real prize is a couple of candid interviews with Daria Nicolodi and Argento himself. Argento looks like the crudely re-animated corpse of H.P. Lovecraft, a thin, pale and constipated figure who talks somewhat vaguely about his memories of the project.

Nicolodi, on the other hand, comes across as hugely charismatic and engaged. She talks knowledgeably not only about the production of the film but about Argento’s career, and seems eager to take credit not only for most of the film, but also the bulk of Argento’s back catalogue while she’s at it. This may well seem like so much luvvie hubris but Nicolodi was married to Argento during his most productive period. They even shared the production of one of Argento’s most enduring legacies to contemporary cinema: the magnetically watchable Asia Argento.