Stuck in the throat of Dario Argento

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Yesterday I was at Film 4’s Frightfest in London is see a talk by that wonderful horror auteur Dario Argento. He remains an iconic director amongst fans of the genre for his classic series of surreal 1970s and 1980s masterpieces, including Deep Red (1975), Susperia (1977) and Tenebrae (1982). Most recently, with Rutger Hauer, Argento has just completed a 3D version of Dracula (2012). From the perspective of popular music studies, though, what is interesting about the Italian master of horror is that he frequently discusses his own music fandom as part of his public image. Not only did Argento work on soundtrack material with Ennio Morricone and foster the talent of the then unknown band Goblin, he also collaborated with the group in creating the soundtrack album to Susperia before the movie was started. Argento cleverly used the weird musical result to inspire the actors. In a sense, this makes him a cinematic orchestrator of the sonic uncanny, but there also is also a limit horizon to his creative narcissism: despite quickly becoming a celebrity in his native Italy – and even creating a TV ad for the RCA soundtrack album to Demon’s (1985) – he has never been a star musician himself, at least not in the way that, say, Clint Eastwood has publicly traded in jazz and blues.

It is interesting, then, that at least one central characters in Dario Argento’s scripts has been a rock musician. I am thinking specifically of the long-haired drummer played by Michael Brandon as the troubled protagonist in Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971). Argento also includes rather a large number of mouth / throat injury garotting scenes in his movies; put on a DVD from the master of horror and its usually not long before someone is getting chocked by a wire to their larynx. A psychoanalyst might read that as repression with the unfortunate victim in effect stifling their own scream. A literary biographer, that Argento revels in his own lack of voice, turning his frustrations into an engaging symphony of the macabre.

Famously, Dario once cancelled filming for a day so he could see the Rolling Stones in concert. Whatever way one cares to read such public fandom, it is clear that Argento acts as a cultural intermediary: bringing, say, Goblin to a wider audience and then doing creative things with them. Moreover, he uses his performed enthusiasm to draw in the rock audience, as a sort of salutation that says ‘I am one of you, and if you like that music, you might also like my films (they have similar themes.’ Argento’s music fandom itself, then, seems to be central his public profile, bringing him closer to the many rock fans who love his dark art.