Hitchcock is my mas­ter, but my love for cin­ema I learned at home

All About Italy (USA) - - Editorial - Clau­dia Catalli

The mas­ter of the Ital­ian thriller, be­stowed with the Fellini Plat­inum Award in Bari, the Golden Globe for his ca­reer in 2017 and among the hon­oured guests at the 70th Cannes Film Fes­ti­val, is a con­tin­u­ous sur­prise. He never strug­gles to talk about the un­con­scious, the cre­ative re­source and font of pri­mary in­spi­ra­tion for his work. He is in­clined to ad­mit his dark side as well as to show­case his very lat­est projects: a tele­vi­sion se­ries of “Sus­piria de Pro­fundis” – the work by Thomas De Quincey that in­spired his own leg­endary “Sus­piria” – on which he will be su­per­vi­sor as well as di­rect­ing a cou­ple of episodes; plus a fea­ture film en­ti­tled “The Sand­man”, with rock star Iggy Pop. In true Ar­gento style, ev­ery­thing is murkier than ever: “Pro­duc­ers of var­i­ous na­tion­al­i­ties are in­volved”, he de­clares. “As far as I know they can­not agree… and it’s a while since they’ve told me any­thing”. Mys­tery, in essence, is some­thing that is part of his own char­ac­ter.

Was he born with a love of cin­ema?

My fa­ther was the film­maker, so at home he al­ways talked about cin­ema, and of­ten ac­tors, di­rec­tors, au­thors and crit­ics came to din­ner. My mother was a pho­tog­ra­pher, she spe­cial­ized in por­traits of women. This also in­flu­enced me very much, I al­ways paid close at­ten­tion to fe­male char­ac­ters and learned the use of light from my mother.

“But if I hadn’t gone to work as a jour­nal­ist...” Ex­actly, go­ing on to be­come a film critic, I per­pet­u­ally dis­agreed with my di­rec­tor who chal­lenged my pref­er­ence for cer­tain film gen­res! Later I went on to write screen­plays, in­clud­ing “Once Upon a Time in the West”, a very im­por­tant ex­pe­ri­ence. At some point I wrote the screen­play for “The Bird with the Crys­tal Plumage” and I hit upon the idea of di­rect­ing it my­self. It was a great suc­cess, it was even well re­ceived in the United States and I went on with what was then called the ‘An­i­mal Tril­ogy’.

Look­ing back, what does he owe Ser­gio Leone?

I learned from him what is cin­ema, tech­nique, the pos­si­bil­i­ties of­fered by the cam­era.

The lat­est work of the king of thriller will be called “The Sand­man”, a project in­spired by the epony­mous tale of E.T.A. Hoff­mann, for which the di­rec­tor has launched a crowd­fund­ing cam­paign on the web.

And then the pas­sion for hor­ror, how did that start? Ev­ery­thing started out when I saw Arthur Lu­bin’s “Phantom of the Opera” as a lit­tle boy. He made me dis­cover a world, the world of the fan­tas­tic, of the mys­te­ri­ous, that I did not know and which grabbed me straight­away. Then I read books by Edgard Al­lan Poe and Bram Stoker, and I re­alised how this movie genre, more than any­thing else, gave me par­tic­u­lar emo­tions.

You have man­aged to di­rect great ac­tors over the years, for­eign and Ital­ian. Who has par­tic­u­larly im­pressed you? Jen­nifer Con­nelly was so young at the time of “Phe­nom­ena”, then my daugh­ter Asia, who de­buted with a movie pro­duced by me and whom then I di­rected five times. I also re­mem­ber a mar­velous re­la­tion­ship with Har­vey Kei­tel, whom I di­rected in an episode of “Two Evil Eyes”, a real phe­nom­e­non. But there are the ex­cep­tions: on the set of “The Bird with the Crys­tal Plumage”, I had a ter­ri­ble rap­port with Tony Mu­sante, right from the first clap­per­board.

He knew I was a be­gin­ner and he thought he was go­ing to make all the de­ci­sions, and my in­struc­tions never went down

well. At the end of the shoot, he asked for my ad­dress and came to my front door, punch­ing and kick­ing.

Re­ally? And how did you re­act?

I pre­tended not to be at home and af­ter a while, thank­fully he left. Another con­flict was with Cristina Mar­sil­lach, whom I per­son­ally chose for “Opera”, but who showed her­self to be capri­cious and con­tro­ver­sial even from the be­gin­ning. We quar­reled for sev­eral days un­til, at a cer­tain point, I started talk­ing to her only through my as­sis­tant di­rec­tor, Michele Soavi, far more pa­tient than me.

“Sus­piria” is my most fa­mous film abroad, but the Ital­ians are more at­tached to “Deep Red”, be­cause it speaks about some of our coun­try’s vices while “Sus­piria” is the ul­ti­mate fan­tasy, in­ven­tion, vi­sion.

What do you say about the mem­o­rable act­ing trio formed of Clara Cala­mai, Joan Ben­nett and Al­ida Valli?

Clara Cala­mai I di­rected in “In­ferno”, be­cause I wanted an ac­tress from Ital­ian cin­ema of the past, with that kind of ex­pe­ri­ence, with an an­cient way of act­ing. She was very rich but she ac­cepted the part. When I went to pitch it to her, she was al­ways sip­ping vodka with chili. Joan Ben­nett I chose for “Sus­piria” be­cause she was Fritz Lang’s wife, one of my cin­ema heroes, and I was hop­ing she’d tell me some­thing about him. But she al­ways post­poned it un­til we ended shoot­ing and she still hadn’t said any­thing about him to me. Al­ida Valli, in­vari­ably for “Sus­piria” I chose for her Nazi-type grin and she was re­ally gor­geous, po­lite and kind. And above all, she did not drink.

Do you have any re­grets?

There’s a tinge of re­gret that I could not pro­duce a film with Lu­cio Fulci, who made me an­gry when he did “Zombi 2”, the sup­posed fol­low-up to a film I had pro­duced for Ge­orge Romero. We had patched things up but he died two weeks be­fore the start of shoot­ing.

Who do you feel has had the most in­flu­ence on you?

Fritz Lang has al­ready been men­tioned, Ger­man ex­pres­sion­ism, the first Danish cin­ema, Bergman, the Nou­velle Vague, Fellini, but above all Alfred Hitchcock, whom I con­sider to be my ab­so­lute men­tor. Even though I never knew him.

What re­la­tion­ship does a hor­ror mas­ter like you have with cen­sor­ship?

I suf­fered it once when the Amer­i­can distrib­u­tors cut 20 min­utes from “Opera”, the most beau­ti­ful scenes among other things. But then I took my re­venge. Hav­ing kept the orig­i­nal copy, I was able to re­assem­ble the movie as I had con­ceived it to make it suc­ceed as a home video in the full ver­sion.

And with Ital­ian cin­ema?

They were fine as long as they did not start to zero in on things, and al­ways on dull, stupid come­dies, more for tele­vi­sion than film.

Cin­ema is a fam­ily art. Dario Ar­gento, class of ’40, fa­ther of ac­tress and di­rec­tor Asia and son of Si­cil­ian pro­ducer Sal­va­tore, knows this only too well.

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