Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971)

I try not to be, but whenever I see a Dario Argento film it’s hard not to compare his work to the master, Mario Bava. And with such a pairing, Argento always seems to come up short. But this could be a personal issue, and perhaps I’ll outgrow it and become a healthier moviegoer—or maybe I’ll become a sadistic psycho-killer like the one in Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971).

Last night I saw a 35 MM print of what is one of the rarest of Argento’s films (though you can find the entire film on DailyMotion these days) at the Library of Congress, Packard Campus. They had an uncut version in English, but the print was pretty bad quality with lines all over the place. What’s more, the colors were faded leaving a red tinge throughout. The film is the third installment in Argento’s “Animal Trilogy” and it’s not nearly as gory or scary as some of his better know films like Profunda Rossa (1975) and Suspiria (1977).  In fact, it’s actually more comedic than anything else.

There were various scenes when the small film audience I was watching it with burst out in laughter. And for most of them that seemed to be the desired effect. The plot was thinner than the various women’s blouses in the film, and the lead actor was almost impossible to relate too. That said there were some scenes that were pretty awesome. In particular the opening scene and the closing scene.

The opening features the protagonists band rocking out and then cuts to a human heart beating in empty space. In many ways it’s a perfect metaphor for the incongruence of much of the plot, but the rockin’ drumming which seamlessly compresses a week’s worth of time into a few minutes was pretty awesome.

On the other hand, the final scene does that opposite, taking one moment and stretching it out over three minutes. It’s a bit gory (although not by Lucio Fulchi’s standards), but marks one of the first times a feature film uses “high-speed camera (capable of producing 1000 frames a second)” to slow down the action so you can see crazy details of the collision. It’s a beautiful scene, and the music makes it. Also, it’s not really too gory but you should take heed that heads will roll.

I didn’t really think about it until writing this post, but the compression of the opening scene and the expansion in the closing moment is an interesting meditation on time in both film, life and death. But I’m not sure all that came between those two points of the film reinforced that intelligibly in any way—but it does make me admire Argento a bit more. Who knows, maybe it’s a sign I’m turning.

Finally, the music is by Ennio Morricone, and he rules. Although apparently Argento and Morricone had a major falling out over the exclusion of certain tracks, so they wouldn’t work together again until his 1996 film The Stendahl Syndrome. You could argue this made way for Argento’s work with Italian progrock, soundtrack band Goblin, which is significant given how connected their sound is to Argento films like Suspiria and Tenebrae—not to mention Romero’s Dawn of the Dead.

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