In Dario Argento’s Deep Red, the piercing visions of a Jewish-German telepath (Macha Méril) serve as an embodiment of this Italian master’s worldview: to look is to know, and to know is to feel. As in Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up before it, a murder (here it’s Méril’s imperilled seer) drives the wanderings of David Hemmings’s would-be detective, Marcus Daly — a musician with a “sensitive” temperament to match. The setting, though, is not the Swinging London of Blow-Up, but a cavernous, depopulated Rome, where Daly is accompanied by Gianna Brezzi (Daria Nicolodi, Argento’s lover at the time), a brash, “elephant-hided” reporter and a “liberated woman” to boot. Unlike in Antonioni’s masterpiece, however, the inciting event here is never in question — and there’s a dead body to prove it. (It’s no accident that, viewed in retrospect, the film’s prologue contains all the answers, if one only looks properly.) Despite the protestations of Carlo (Gabriele Lavia), a perpetually sloshed-out queer layabout, the mystery is hidden in the details, disguised among the screaming faces of the murdered woman’s apartment, and locked away — as in Argento’s The Bird With the Crystal Plumage — somewhere within a foreigner, Daly’s, fickle mind. Only he can reveal it by chipping away at the “house of the screaming child,” a climactic location that’s amusingly up-front about its Jungian symbolism.
Bringing to mind the traumatic flashes of color in Marnie, Deep Red’s final, fatal image is of a pool of blood that reflects Hemmings’s impassive face — a face looking, knowing, feeling.
Throughout Deep Red, Argento’s images alternate between cavernous emptiness (the space surrounding a Roman fountain) and bustling, frenetic activity (which is very much reminiscent of the stock exchange chaos in L’Eclisse); between bold color (the plush, velvet curtains of an opera house) and the absence of same (a stark white bathroom, and a shot of a swirling drain that’s right out of Psycho). Flimsy dynamics of character give way to an angular abstraction that’s augmented by Goblin’s chillingly memorable score, and by Argento’s ever-moving camera-eye. The film’s abject terror flows less from the threat of murder than the director’s studied inscriptions of space: the fated mansion, an academic’s apartment, and a school named after Da Vinci. (In one particularly memorable interlude, the camera surveys a psychologist’s playground of horrors: severed dolls’ heads, pins, macabre crayon sketches, etc.) At the outset, Daly claims that he really “just likes music.” But as Argento’s lurid giallo seems to ask: Does anyone “just” like what they like? Bringing to mind the traumatic flashes of color in Marnie, Deep Red’s final, fatal image is of a pool of blood that reflects Hemmings’s impassive face — a face looking, knowing, feeling.
Part of Kicking the Canon – The Film Canon.