Sometimes I feel like I’m running out of things to say about film. Not because I can’t write anymore, my hands still work decently and my brain hasn’t melted into soup yet. And its not because I’ve run out films to watch either. There’s over 100 years, that’s at least over 36,500 individual days of film history to continually wade into, alongside the constant slew of individual releases which come through every day. No, I think it’s just that films come at you in waves, and their effect can crash down on you to varying degrees.
And so Suspiria (Dir. Dario Argento, 1977) crashed down on me. And it crashed down with the impact of all of its Technicolor might.
The more you experience, the more you know. But one of the facets of the beauty of film, is its ability to deliver such a complicated and multi-layered vision. And while the director is the spearhead of that vision, they also channel all of the other creative outputs of everyone who works with them. And I think what keeps Suspiria close to the surface of film history, is its overwhelming abundance of expression. Of nightmares, of music, of landscapes and myths and much more, each part of its construction like snakes intertwined. If one of film’s major abilities is to create an escape from the conventions of normal reality, to tear apart the prisons of space and time and our fixed perspective, then Suspiria is a film which goes hell for leather towards that point, a searing meteorite of colour and nightmares going across the sky.
It is a film so flippant of normal concerns, of reality based aesthetic choices. It’s vibrant, gaudy and fantastical use of colour (amplified by that Technicolor process mentioned earlier) is one which is so divorced from our own reality. But that intensifies its’ vision to an absurd degree, its colours become hypnotic and entrancing purely as primal entertainment. But the colours are not just an abstract light show, fireworks for its 94 minutes and nothing more. The colours communicate with you, the surreality of the world, it’s dangers and riches and complements and conflicts. Colour, shifting and unstable, communicates in the silences between moments. Or it emphasises certain moments, fears, emotions. The colours assault your senses, they seem to be pushing you into the films phantasmgoria.
And the other elements, the exaggeration and violent instability of almost every aspect of Suspiria’s world. It’s grandiose and strange spaces, overflowing with artistry. Words and paintings and patterns and colours stream across the film’s canvas from its beginning to its end. And because it is so saturated by it, by decorative stimulation, it leaves no dead space in the experience, no room of blank walls to let your eyes metaphorically switch off. The characters are backdropped against the world. meshed into it. They appear from its walls, it’s walls become doors and its doors become walls. The whole world is a continually shifting labyrinth, without clear understanding of where things are in relation to each other. In fact I’d go so far as to claim that the school itself where most of the film is spent, becomes a threat simply because of its unknown, hidden nature.
But those kind of claims are claims and just that. And a film is not just these kind of abstract, psychic thoughts. Because the killer haunting the world of Suspiria is one of ugly, violent reality. The killings in the film are guttural, blunt happenings. Just like the colour, they spill all over the film, irregular editing and violent screams and violent imagery and discordant sound work all combine to create this horrible, dread inducing experience of the danger of Suspiria. It’s a danger which is fragmented, glimpsed and searched for, frantically tried to understand and when it’s over, to reconstruct and process. Argento’s overwhelming aesthetic vision takes on a hellish, furious extreme at moments like this, and it pulls you into the peak of horror cinema; an experience which you can’t look away from, because that would be even scarier.
I’m sure my experience, and my understanding of the film will change, develop over time, as I become more accquainted with its vision. To spend more time with a film is to bring it closer to your mind, to make it more intelligble and less unknown, which usually means less scary. So I think it’s important to put down my experience of this, because it can become easy when watching films, especially watching films in-depth, to forget that their aim is to build up all their pieces, the story and performances and camerawork and sound and etc etc into a single unified whole. And when you study those disciplines in detail, when you move your magnifying glass over a particular aspect of its construction, you can be in danger of forgetting how the combination of those parts grow something more, the film itself.
One of the myths about film is that it’s a visual medium. And that’s not true. It’s an audio-visual medium (side note: soundtrack on this film is insane), but both of those have their own language, one never fully explained by writing. What can be attested to, is how when those elements speak together, in such a well synchronised way, then it has the power to affect your senses and your mind in such a powerful way. And the elements of Suspiria which affected me might not affect you in the same way. It has elements which people might find off-putting; out of sync english dubbing, garish and intense colouring. It has a world which might be boring, confusing and uninteresting to some. But I’d like to hope that those people would find other cinematic experiences which could move them as much as Suspiria moved me, with its curious story of the things in the darkness which lurks beyond the edge of our vision.
I’m gonna call it for me; Suspiria is some peak cinema. And it’s given me more to say.
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