On November 2, director Luca Guadagnino’s newest film, Suspiria—a remake of Dario Argento’s 1977 cult classic—will hit theaters nationwide. As the Walker prepares for a Halloween night screening of the Argento’s original, and in advance of Guadagnino’s February 2019 visit to Minneapolis for a Walker Dialogue and Retrospective, we present two perspectives by Walker Moving Image staffers, connecting the dots between the two films. As a companion to Deborah Girdwood’s look at Guadagnino’s homage, here’s Kelsey Bosch’s view of the Argento original.
The Mother of Sighs is summoned once again this Halloween with the Walker’s screening of the recently restored uncut 4K restoration of Dario Argento’s Suspiria (1977) in the Walker Cinema, preceding the nationwide release of Luca Guadagnino’s homage.
Argento’s Suspiria is part one of “The Three Mothers” horror trilogy, which includes Inferno (1980) and The Mother of Tears (2007). The three mothers—Mother of Sighs, Mother of Darkness, Mother of Tears—are drawn directly from Thomas de Quincey’s assertion in Suspiria de Profundis (1845) that, in addition to three Fates and three Graces, there exist three Sorrows. The chapter “Levana and Our Ladies of Sorrow” details his theory in which he names each Sorrow: Mater Lachrymarum (Our Lady of Tears), Mater Suspiriorum (Our Lady of Sighs), and Mater Tenebrarum (Our Lady of Darkness).
Narratively, Suspiria is based on the tale of Bluebeard, about a young woman who marries a nobleman and literally finds skeletons hidden in his closet: Bluebeard has a history of marrying then murdering his wives. Argento, however, spins the tale—Bluebeard is here morphed into Madame Blanc, headmistress of the renowned Tanz Dance Academy in Freiburg—and infuses the narrative with notes of Snow White (“Who is the fairest of them all?”). Given the dark nature of these tales, it is fitting that Argento would draw artistic influence from German Expressionist cinema, specifically Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920). A notable similarity between both films is the cityscape mural in Madame Blanc’s office, which appears very similar in geography and perspective to the town of Hostenwall in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. It is through this wall that Suzy discovers the horrific truth behind a series of murders and within the walls of Hostenwall that Francis witnesses Dr. Caligari’s gruesome spectacle.
What about Suspiria affords it cult status? Rene J. Meyer-Grimberg offers an answer in an article for Berlin Film Journal: “The saturated red colors of cinematographer Luciano Tovoli, who made this movie using zero post-production alteration of the images. It is celebrated as one of the last Italian films to be filmed in three-color dye transfer Technicolor. Quirky unusual framing of objects in the foreground surprise the viewer over and over. The film has mesmerizing music by Goblin…” and so on. Argento’s synthesis of folktales, which span centuries and still haunt us today, alludes to a human condition, connecting us to our past, of a long-held fear of sleep and complacency. It would be remiss not to mention the cinematic history from which Argento’s Suspiria is said to been influenced. In addition to Robert Wiene, artist-filmmakers such as Georges Méliès, Fritz Lang, and Jean Cocteau helped set the stage with their innovations, which feel starkly removed from blockbuster films of today.
As a nod to this particular history of artist-driven early cinema, a playlist including The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and A Trip to the Moon (1902) by Georges Méliès will play on Target Free Thursday Night, November 1, 2018 in the Bentson Mediatheque.
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