Alan Jones is one of the most respected journalists working in the business today. He has contributed to many of the most popular magazines around including Empire, Total Magazine and Premiere as well as writing for countless others. He is one of the co-founders of FrightFest and is the man behind the acclaimed book Profondo Argento, which after 8 years has been fully updated, retitled as Dario Argento: The Man, The Myth And The Magic. The book will launch at FrightFest The 13th so we thought we'd chat to Alan about his work covering Argento's career and the anticipated revised edition of his book.
HC: When did you first meet Dario?
AJ: 1982. I was working for Videomedia, one of the very first video retail companies on London's Wardour Street. The Managing Director was my good friend Maureen Bartlett who returned from the Cannes Film Festival that year saying she had acquired an Italian film for both theatrical and video distribution. That movie was Tenebrae and I couldn't believe it because Dario Argento was my all-time favourite director. A decade before I had seen his debut giallo thriller The Bird With The Crystal Plumage and I had never stopped raving about it or his talent. It made me seek out every one of his subsequent movies and The Cat O'Nine Tails, Four Flies On Grey Velvet, Deep Red, Suspiria and Inferno only cemented my gibbering adoration. So to be told by Maureen I'd be working on his latest Giallo, the movie I was most dying to see EVER, was just so fabulous. I worked on the poster designs, the theatrical campaign and the publicity and part of my PR strategy was to bring the great man himself over to the UK for press interviews. Mainly because I wanted to meet him myself of course!
HC: What was your first impression of him?
AJ: That he was God. I was so excited about meeting him I did the whole 'I'm your biggest fan' routine, until he completely gobsmacked me by saying he already knew that. Just prior to his arrival I had written a profile of Argento and his work for the magazine Cinema (it was the sister publication to Starburst for a while during the 1980s). He had read that feature and was very complimentary about my depth of knowledge and understanding of his artistic motives. We spoke for hours about everything - Mario Bava, Giallo, favourite directors, movies in general and it was clear we were on the same wavelength regarding horror. Although I say it myself, Tenebrae would not have got the PR it did in the UK without my burgeoning relationship with Dario. He did everything I asked him to and as the years have gone by I found out that was highly unusual.
HC: How did you become such firm friends?
AJ: After working so closely with him on Tenebrae we kept in touch. Because I was writing for the seminal magazines Cinefantastique and Starburst anyway, he made me promise him I would always keep his fans informed of what he was up to. I have never broken that promise in 30 years. Then in 1985 he invited me over to Rome to attend the world premiere of Demons, the horror blockbuster he produced for his friend Lamberto Bava. I went and met everyone in the Argento universe I had always wanted to and from that moment on became a fixture on his movies. We have only had one argument in three decades. I didn't like Phenomena at all and he couldn't understand why as it was one of his personal favourites. But we eventually got over that. Dario is unusual in the fact that once he's made a movie and it has been released, he loses all interest in it. That's why people find it so hard to interview him about the classics Deep Red and Suspiria. And it's the reason why I would go on location with every single one of his subsequent pictures to date (apart from Giallo, thank you Adrien Brody for closing the set even to me!) because that's when he's most effusive and detailed about the movie in question. I learnt very early on that all the information on a particular movie had to be gleaned while he was making it or it would be forever lost in the aftermath. That’'s why people liked my book Profondo Argento so much as it was just so packed with the kind of information you could only get in such close circumstances.
HC: Dario had an amazing start to his career with such memorable pieces as The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, Suspiria and Tenebrae. Do you think he coped well with the pressure this must have created for him?
AJ: Of course. The movies you mention are three of his biggest hits and wouldn't we all like to cope with the pressures of such success? I don't think I've ever seen Dario look like he's under pressure of any sort apart from his own high standard benchmark. It's hard to understand now what a sea change The Bird With The Crystal Plumage represented for Italian cinema. Spaghetti Westerns were on the wane and literally overnight Argento saved the Italian film industry by minting a new genre - the Jet Set Giallo - that everyone rushed to copy. People around at the time have told me only Dario and his father Salvatore believed the movie would do well. Everyone else thought it was a disaster. As a result Dario has never listened to critics or, more significantly, producers since. His unshakeable self-belief in what he's doing being completely right is why his movies are so unique and bear such an indelible signature. Why would anyone take that away, even though it can lead to the dodgy compromise many felt Mother Of Tears was? Dario knew the end of his Three Mothers trilogy would never please everyone or be considered as great as Suspiria by anyone. So he simply pleased himself instead. Being one of the greatest thriller/horror genre auteurs the world has ever known, Dario has earned the right to fail and sometimes there really is no success like failure.
HC: Is his body of work respected in his native country of Italy?
AJ: Absolutely. Purely in commercial terms his movies have proved profitable, many wildly so, and his name is a brand with a global reach unlike any other Italian director apart from Fellini in the last century. That's why his latest movie is called Dario Argento's Dracula 3D and his name has been made part of the title The only other Italian director whose work is now consistently released worldwide is Giuseppe Tornatore (Baaria, Cinema Paradiso) but he's in another genre entirely, one I call 'Picture Postcard Italy' because he sells a typical 'Mamma Mia/pasta/Vespa nostalgic image of the country abroad. Although Italy made a fortune out of horror in the Golden Age of the 1960s/70s, the genre and its journeyman directors like Mario Bava, Antonio Margheriti and Lucio Fulci were always looked down on. Argento gave horror a respectability the Italians still grudgingly resent, the reason why it is taking ages for them to embrace it again with the likes of Tulpa and Paura 3D. Only now are key vintage titles from Italy's horror past being released on DVD (Seddok, Son Of Satan, Death Smiles On A Murderer etc) because no one thought anybody would be interested in what was considered trash. It took Quentin Tarantino moaning at the Venice Film Festival before the Italian industry backtracked over their pretentiously snobby stance to the genre. Why it took them so long to understand fans choosing Argento over Antonioni I can't quite fathom!
HC: His more recent titles haven't gripped audiences like his older work did, do you think its time these releases were reappraised?
AJ: The decades since Opera have represented shifting sands for Argento fans who think his recent films haven't measured up to his bona-fide classics. Myself included, after all I was the one who said I'd be available in the foyer for therapy sessions after the infamous FrightFest Giallo screening. But in writing the second part of the book - I've kept the first intact labelled 'Primo Tempo', the new section is named 'Secondo Tempo' just like the way movies are still split for an intermission in Italy - I rediscovered my deep love and respect for the man who fired my passion all those years ago and made such an indelible mark on my life forever. I do like The Phantom Of The Opera. There's something quite offbeat and zany about it, and through covering it on location in Budapest I did get to meet my all-time favourite soundtrack composer Ennio Morricone. Sleepless is the best of Argento's recent work no question - Max Von Sydow was so great to me on that despite his publicist trying to keep us apart. I have to be honest in my views on Dario's movies - anyone who knows me knows how brutally honest I am on this subject - but I will never desert the director who remains one of horrors greatest icons and who has provided me with some of my most treasured moments in a darkened cinema. I watch all his movies all the time and as the years go by see more value in titles like Trauma than I ever did at the time. When you become an Argento fan, you become one for life, the joys will always outweigh the disappointments and I was always in it for the long haul anyway. I signed on the moment The Bird With The Crystal Plumage began with the art gallery murder.
HC: There is constant chat about his films being remade. Who would you like to see directing a remake of one of his movies?
AJ: No one. Ever. It's such a bad idea. I end my revised book update with the Suspiria remake about to be made by director David Gordon Green. Aside from the fact he directed the repellent Your Highness, Suspira wasn't about the story content, it was about the director's innovative vision and cinematographer Luciano Tovoli's extraordinary lighting effects. No one can ever replicate Argento's stunning achievement and are stupid to even try. Take the look, design and atmosphere away and you have a cliché banal witch story, which is exactly what Green's film will be. Adam Gierasch, co-writer of Mother Of Tears, was once down to direct a remake of Tenebrae. But even he soon realised what was the point?
HC: As I Mentioned your acclaimed book about Argento has been fully updated and readied to launch at FrightFest the 13th, what happy memories did it conjure up whilst revisiting some of the old material and photographs from your personal collection?
AJ: First off I've re-titled the newly revised update Dario Argento: The Man, The Myth And The Magic mainly because my publisher (FAB Press) kept being asked if the original edition was in Italian. This way there is no confusion. Looking at all my set photos and collection of stills and memorabilia is like watching my whole life flash by. There is nothing like being on an Argento set for me. Most film journalists will know watching a film being made is like watching paint dry - so boring. But I never tire of watching Dario work because his boundless energy and ever-inventive mind is just astonishing to see in action. The revised book takes in all my interviews, observations, notes and reviews from Do You Like Hitchcock?, through Dario's two Masters of Horror episodes Jenifer and Pelts, Mother Of Tears, Giallo and bang up-to-date with Dario Argento's Dracula 3D. I had absolutely the best time on Dracula with Dario. I spent five days last summer on location in a Turin forest watching him film the finale between stars Thomas Kretschmann and Rutger Hauer. It was a balmy Midsummer Night's Dream fantasy for me as I knew practically all the cast and crew from his past movies and had kept in touch with Kretschmann since he starred in The Stendhal Syndrome with Asia Argento. Oh, I also include a whole new chapter on Asia taking in The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things scandal and Land Of The Dead to Dracula 3D and beyond.
HC: Its looks like the definitive account of Argento's career, what does he think about it?
AJ: No one has ever been in such a position to cover the life of their favourite director and I'm eternally grateful to Dario for allowing me the access he has. That's because he always produced his movies and had the power to call the shots of course. I remember only too well showing him the first copy of the first edition. He couldn't believe how beautiful it looked (I do think my editor/publisher Harvey Fenton did a wonderful job on the design and layout). Then he looked at some of the pictures and realised how much I'd 'taken' from his Rome office and all the props I'd 'acquired' from his sets. One of the latter, the Opera basement sign I'd literally pulled from the door before the set went up in flames, he demanded back. Needless to say he's never had it returned! Every time I see him he always says in amazement, 'I went to a film festival in ____ (put in city/country) and everyone wanted me to sign your book!'. If I have helped people understand his work and career more then I'm happy, my life's mission is complete.
HC: You spoke last year about working on a book about Guillermo del Toro, how's that coming along?
AJ: That's on the back burner at the moment. Because Guillermo is so available to everyone - every day there's a new movie announcement it seems - I'm reassessing the value of a book going into depth about the Hellboy duo when every fact about both is online. What I'm thinking of doing now is focusing on his early career up to Mimic because no one knows all about his life in Mexico and what drove him become a filmmaker.
HC: What other projects are you working on at the moment?
AJ: Another on-going book idea has been the career of my good friend Nicolas Winding-Refn, especially after his massive success with Drive. Because I've known Nic for many years now and covered his work in detail on location - in a similar way to Argento actually now I think about it - and through all the DVD commentaries I've done with him, I’m in a good position to analyze it all. Especially as he's about to remake Logan's Run too. Nic is as much a singular talent as Argento and it would be intriguing to put his life in perspective in much the same way.
HC: Alan Jones, thank you very much.
For more information on Dario Argento: The Man, The Myth And The Magic click here to visit the FAB Press site.