LATEST | FEATURES | INTERVIEWS | NEWS | FRIGHTFEST | REVIEWS Journalist Alan Jones Chats About Dario Argento
By James Whittington, Sunday 26th September 2010
Alan Jones is one of the most respected journalists around today. His work has appeared in far too many magazines to list here, he is also one of the four organisers of the legendary FrightFest movies events and is a leading authority on the work of Dario Argento. Alan will be on the Horror Channel introducing the movies in our Dario Argento season during October so we decided to chat with Alan as to why Argento's work is so important and why he loves the work of this Italian director. (photo of Alan Jones by Steven Hurst)
HC: When were you first exposed to Argento's work?
AJ: I'm very lucky in that I’ve seen every Argento film in sequence and in the cinema. Being a horror fan ever since I was 12, I read all the American horror magazine like Famous Monsters and Castle Of Frankenstein. In 1970, just after I had moved to London, they started mentioning The Bird With The Crystal Plumage as being the best movie since Psycho. I finally tracked it down under its UK title The Gallery Murders on a double bill in an East London flea pit - in those pre DVD days you had to catch movies fast, otherwise you never knew when you’d see them again. To say it made an impact on me is an understatement. Watching Crystal Plumage was a revelation in terms of style, story content, violence and surreality, all wrapped up in a cosmopolitan Italian atmosphere. I was besotted, and became a rabid giallo and Argento fan from that moment on. I had already worshipped the work of Mario Bava and Riccardo Freda in my teens, without really understanding why, but Argento finally locked down my love for Italian horror sensibilities and their brand of shocking and ethereal imagery I clearly responded to more than any other sub-genre.
HC: Can you recall the first time you met him?
AJ: Like it was yesterday. In 1982 I was working for the video company Videomedia who had offices on Wardour Street. My boss Maureen Bartlett first started off the company with a series of language tapes before moving into more commercial product. One day she came back from Cannes saying she had bought this great movie from Italy titled Tenebrae. Naturally because I was an Argento devotee I was absolutely thrilled. And I took over all aspects of the release, which meant Dario and Daria Nicolodi, his partner and leading lady at the time (and mother of Asia Argento), came to London to do press for the theatrical debut. I had already entered the horror journalism field and had written a major piece on Argento’s work for the magazine Cinema. I was astonished to learn Dario had read it and was familiar with my writing. He’s credited me as being the first person outside of Italy and France to fully appreciate and understand his work. That began my relationship with him and his family that endures to this day, and saw me on every subsequent film set to cover the making of his movies. I rewrote all those set reports into my bestselling book Profondo Argento, which fans will be delighted to know I’m currently updating for a 2012 launch date. On our first meeting, Dario said something to me I’ve never forgotten. He asked me to always keep his fans informed on what he was up to. I promised him I would and through my magazine connections I have done that. On the Turin set of Mother Of Tears I told him how grateful I was he had let me into his life, and he in turn thanked me for all my support. I reminded him of our first meeting, and once more I was astonished that he remembered it in precise detail too.
HC: How do you think he’s changed as a director and as a person over the time you’ve known him?
AJ: As a director, especially watching him work as much as I have, he hasn’t changed at all. He’s still this tireless mad whirling dervish. Anyone in my line of work will know being on film sets is very boring, but Dario’s are different because of his over-powering personality. I know all his traits and whims - for example, beware when he goes to the side of the soundstage and starts walking in a circle because he’s thinking about the next shot and you are dead if you interrupt his train of thought - and the drive he has to put the images he sees in his mind on film. As close as we are in some ways, I’ve always kept Dario at a remove too, that way I can always be objective about his work and I have told him my honest opinions of his movies over the years. He recently turned 70 and perhaps is now looking his age, but the fire is still there, so is the temper and I hope he can forget all about the experiences on his last movie Giallo - significantly the only one he never produced or had full control of - and bounce back with something worthy of his estimable talents. Argento is a brand name the Italian Film Industry should not be ignoring. Who else has had such continued global success in the horror field that the Italians still see as the poor relation.
HC: Of the five movies showing this month on the Horror Channel which one is your favourite and why?
AJ: Oh dear, it’s Sophie’s Choice, how can I pick one out of the masterworks they represent? I adore Terror At The Opera because it features two of my favourite Argento set pieces - the crow-camera flying around the opera auditorium to unmask the killer, and Daria Nicolodi’s spectacular bullet-through-eye death. And I had the best time on the Rome locations for that movie. Deep Red has my favourite murders, each foretold by actions in the sequence before it. Tenebrae has that fabulous soundtrack, T-shirt death and camera-over-the-roof stalking... But it has to be The Bird With The Crystal Plumage because it is still so fresh looking, so exciting, so beautifully composed, a marvellous mixture of art and exploitation. And the knife rape murder is still one of Argento’s most amazing moments.
HC: It is rumoured he is remaking Suspira; if true do you think this is a wise idea?
AJ: Dario and his producer brother Claudio Argento sold the remake rights to Suspiria ages ago and the producer has been trying for years to get it off the ground. The latest news is that David Gordon Green, of Pineapple Express fame, (!) is down to direct. But then Natalie Portman was also supposed to be taking the star role brilliantly essayed by Jessica Harper in 1977, and she ended up in the remarkably similar Black Swan instead. The problem with a remake of suspiria is that why it’s such a great film is because of Dario’s style and directing prowess. It has nothing to do with the story. Anyone could film the plot about a ballet school infested by witches. But no one can replicate the florid visual look and stunning images Dario gave that seminal supernatural masterpiece. There have also been rumoured remakes of The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, Deep Red in 3D and Tenebrae. Take them all with a pinch of salt.
HC: Argento inspired many big name directors; do you agree that it was about time he was recognised by critics outside the horror genre for his accomplishments?
AJ: Well, John Carpenter, Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino, and many lesser directors, consistently cite Dario as one of their major influences. I do think he has been recognised now by the people who count as one of the key masters of horror. Once people realise he directed Suspiria, one of the Top Ten horrors of all time, they get it. Unlike Mario Bava, Riccardo Freda, Sergio Martino, or even Antonio Margheriti, whose reputations outside Italy are stronger than within their own country, Dario’s name has always meant something special there. I can still recall attending the Rome premiere of Terror At The Opera and the massive advertising campaign calling it 'The Christmas Chill From Argento'. Don’t forget Dario is constantly on TV in Italy, had his own Saturday night game show ‘Giallo’ at one point, and in the 70s he and Daria were the Posh and Becks tabloid figures of their era. So he has always signified something more in Italy. Internationally he may be pigeon-holed as just a horror thriller director, but what’s wrong with that? Especially when you have your name above the title as he always does.
HC: Are there any directors around at the moment that you think could handle the Giallo genre and update it for the 21st century?
AJ: See my favourite film of the moment Amer. What co-director Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani do in that stunning thriller is replicate the motifs, visual codings and cliches of the classic giallo movie to fashion a whole new contemporary narrative sensation. Think of it as a neo Three Faces Of Fear with three stages of female sexuality explored to unmask its black-gloved assassin. All set to recycled Italian soundtracks in the Tarantino tradition. Amer is mesmerising and magnificent and anyone who loves Dario’s movies will be beside themselves when they see it
HC: So what’s next for you?
AJ: Hopefully covering every aspect of Dario’s next film. Will it be the Cannes announced Dracula 3D? I know he’s been working on that but not sure how concrete the plans are yet. You can be sure I’ll let you know though.
HC: Alan Jones, thank you very much.
You can catch Dario Argento movies throughout October on the Horror Channel. Click here for the full list and start times.
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