Comedian/writer/actor/director/quintuple threat Brett Goldstein tackles Suspiria. Argento or aaaaaargh-gento?
IT HAD LONG been a dream of mine to be asked to do The First-take Club, and then one day, as I forlornly swept the floors and dreamed of a better life, Empire emailed me and asked me to do it. As Gabrielle once said, “Dreams can come true, look at me, babe, I’m in The First-take Club.” They sent me a list of films to choose from and it turns out I had seen all but one of them, which is either a huge achievement or a depressing indictment of my life priorities. Anyway, the missing one was Suspiria . I had heard of it. And I do love horror. But I had a Dario Argento gap in my movie knowledge. I had seen none of his films. I’d vaguely heard he made arthouse, colourful slasher films and liked killing beautiful women in dreamy ways.
I was performing a stand-up show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and amazingly, at the same festival, there was a screening of Suspiria with the real band, Goblin, playing their original soundtrack live. So I went with three comics and immediately found a certain type of audience that suggested a certain type of film. I’m not one to make generalisations, but it seemed clear if you didn’t have a beard, you probably wouldn’t be let in. We put a beard on our friend Rose, and in we went.
Goblin introduced the film and said, “We were very young when Dario asked us to score the movie. And we were very lucky. But then, he was lucky too ’cause we did a brilliant job.” Goblin were not wrong. Arrogant, but not wrong. And so the film began.
Um. Okay. So it starts with a woman who looks like Margot Kidder arriving in Italy during a storm. There is a lot of noise and as she exits the airport we see a close-up of the locks on the door opening as if to say, “Uh oh, shit’s gonna get real unlocked now.” She then gets in a moody taxi and drives to a weird academy in a castle in the woods. As she gets there another woman who looks like a redhead Margot Kidder is leaving and screaming in the rain. Original Margot Kidder just watches her run off and doesn’t even offer to give her a lift.
She goes to get into the academy and can’t. She gets back in the taxi and then she drives past an unnerving shot of Red Margot running through the woods. Again, she doesn’t stop to offer her a lift.
Then we are following Red Margot and she is at her sister’s house. Her
sister looks like an older Margot Kidder. They argue. So far, I have no idea what is going on. Then Red Margot gets creeped out by the sudden Goblin music playing in her room. She doesn’t even have a radio on her. She sees some eyes at the window. Then she gets killed. In a very long, drawn-out way.
It is violent and also weirdly not violent. The blood is very clearly a light red paint. Every shot is like a painting or a sculpture. Here she is beautifully hanging from the ceiling. Here she is with glass beautifully cutting her face up. Here she is beautifully dead and painty. It’s eerie and sort of sexy and disturbing, and also very arty and the music is like fucking loud, scary Riverdance. Also, the live guitarist was making all the “oooohhh” spooky noises into the mic which only heightened the experience.
The whole thing is dubbed which makes it almost funny but also uncanny, ’cause everyone is even more creepy and otherworldly as they are never quite in sync, both sonically and emotionally.
Anyway, original Margot gets back in the academy and things slow down as we meet an SS officer dance teacher, an old-age Margot Kidder headmistress and lots of stoned, bitchy ballerinas who all look like Margot Kidder. I reached a point when I was like, “Stop worrying about the plot.” I mean, it’s there. Sort of.
When you lay the story out (ballerina uncovers a secret coven of witches), it does go from A to B to C. Although it’s presented confusingly, it’s actually pretty straightforward. As my friend Chris Lincé pointed out, “Next to David Lynch [who I love], Argento is goddamn Robert Mckee.”
It is occasionally scary and the whole thing has a strange, hypnotic vibe. It’s all red and blue and dreamlike, and like nothing else I’ve ever seen, which is all I ask for from cinema. On that level it completely succeeds.
I think I loved it. And it has stayed with me. I just would love to have been in a notes meeting with the execs on this film. “Quick question, Dario. I know you love her but… If Margot Kidder isn’t available, who do you want to play ALL THE PARTS?”