Interview with Dario Argento!!

Director Dario Argento really needs no introduction. For over forty years now the man has been responsible for creating some of the most important and controversial horror movies in cinema history and his work has influenced a slew of filmmakers. Famed for titles such as Deep Red, Suspiria and Opera, his films are inimitably stylish, atmospheric and dazzlingly shot, as well as being unbelievably violent and unnerving explorations of the darker side of human nature. Drawing from an encyclopaedic array of influences such as art, philosophy, literature, cinema and indeed Italy’s own rich and full-blooded culture, Argento continues to experiment and forge ahead in the creation of beguiling and devastatingly violent visions to this day.

I recently had the absolute pleasure of conducting a brief interview with Dario Argento himself – words I never thought I’d type! With the help of Kamera Books’ Francesca Brazzorotto, who kindly set up and facilitated the whole interview, translating my questions and Argento’s responses, I interviewed the director on Friday 9th April, 3pm. Timidly accepting the invite to join the three-way conference call between Belfast, Harpenden and Rome, I somehow found the ability to scrape myself off of the floor and speak just in time to splutter my admiration and undying love for Argento’s work and to thank him profusely for accepting my call. Argento was cool, calm and very gracious. The interview, which lasted approximately 30 minutes, is below and was kindly translated and transcribed by Francesca. Grazie mille, Francesca.

The Interview.

You have a body of work that deals explicitly with death – violent death. What is it about the dark subject matter in your work that draws you to it?

Argento: To be honest there isn’t a definite reason. I don’t really know exactly why. All I know is that I’m interested in aggressiveness, violence and the colour of blood. I’m fascinated by the aesthetic of it, and by the style it’s possible to represent and translate these passions, because in the end, horror is a passion.

Italian culture and art, and indeed its cinema, is rife with depictions of the demise of beautiful women. What do you think draws Italian artists, including yourself, to this mysterious link between sex and death?

Argento: I think that’s something very ancient, which comes from the Renaissance period. It’s an Italian tradition the act of narrating death and sex. The sex is seen almost as a psychoanalytical act, like in Freud, death is seen as the peak of the sexual act.

Gialli haven’t really been in vogue for some time – and were exclusive to Italian cinema. Do you think they will ever witness resurgence in popularity?

Argento: Well in the history of this kind of movie there are cycles. For example, for a certain period the classic horror was the trend, then the modern one. It’s bound to the creativity of the authors and directors, which at times bends on the horror side and other times on the giallo/thriller ones. Therefore I think the giallo genre could make a comeback.

Do you think that if the giallo made a comeback, it could be as popular as in the past?

Argento: There was a time when the giallo genre was very popular, but it’s never going to be as popular as then, although there have been few nice examples.

Out of all your contemporaries, such as Sergio Martino and Aldo Lado, you are the only one who continues to make giallo films today – why do you think this is? What is it about gialli that appeals to you so much as a filmmaker?

Argento: I’m deeply fascinated by the mystery, the mystery of the human soul, by the enigma within us. Therefore for me the giallo is the narration of something mysterious and inexplicable. Sometimes I like directing gialli, and other times I prefer the horror, it’s not like I only direct the former.

Do you think Italian cinema will ever experience as much success and prominence as it did in the 60s and 70s?

Argento: No, I really don’t think so. This is not the right time at all. The way people are watching movies has changed and new nationalities have come out, like oriental cinema and southern American cinema, which didn’t exist on the cinematographic scene before. Italian cinema has consequently lost a lot of his prestige.

Much of your work after Opera has divided critics and fans – many of them neglecting to see how your style and approach to film making has constantly been evolving. Of your own films, which do you feel were not as appreciated as they should have been?

Argento: In my opinion, for example, Opera hasn’t been appreciated enough. Then also Sleepless, which I thought was very interesting. They haven’t been understood by the public. Clearly my style is always evolving and therefore I’m always looking for new themes. People expect the author to make always the same movie, because it was successful and likeable. Instead I’m driven towards the change.

Would you ever film something that wasn’t giallo or horror? Like Five Days of Milan? What would convince you that doing this was a good idea?

Argento: Not at the moment, no, because I’ve been disappointed by the reaction of the public, even though I really liked that movie. I used to go for different genres, but then again I was young, I longed to tell different stories, but now I’ve learnt that the horror and giallo world is so wide that you’d need two lives to cover all those themes.

You have a few unfilmed scripts such as Dark Glasses/Occhiali Neri – will we ever see these as completed films?

Argento: I don’t think Dark Glasses will ever be made into a movie, since the script has ended up with a company that went bankrupt and it won’t be possible to recover it.

Can you tell me anything about your new script?

Argento: At present I’m looking at various projects, so I can’t be more precise. I have been offered a couple of movies to direct in the US, but I don’t know when they’ll be shot. At the moment I don’t know which one of these projects will be taken to the next step.

Argento directs Adrien Brody on the set of Giallo
You had a number of bad experiences when collaborating with American producers while making Inferno, Trauma and now with Giallo. Why did you decide to direct Giallo? What have you learned from making films with non Italian studios?

Argento: I felt very comfortable working in the US, because under the working point of view, people there are very professional; I was really comfortable when I shot Masters of Horror, because the technicians and actors were very professional. Unfortunately, though, I had problems with the post production, because the American producers have a way of doing things completely different from the Italian and European ones. Therefore I had various problems, especially, for example, with Giallo, which has been a disastrous experience.

For you, what are the key components of a good horror film or thriller?

Argento: They’re many. The most important thing, in my opinion, is to be honest, to narrate a story in an honest way, without worrying too much about what the public will like, or will be interested in. You need to think about something which will interest you first, so you need to look inside you, inside your own soul and conscience and try to tell these stories in a simple way.

What is your opinion on contemporary horror films? Any filmmakers you admire?

Argento: I think that at present the American horror genre is very commercial, often based on sadism, so I don’t really like it that much. Instead I’m very interested in Japanese and Korean cinema. I’m fascinated by its stories. Asian horror cinema, with its deep thought and psychology is very interesting.

Why do you think you have such a devoted following of fans around the world?

Argento: I think that this is due to my sincerity in telling stories. They come from a deep place inside of me, therefore they have a value which is not only national, but understandable anywhere. I’ve recently discovered this in my travels to Japan, Korea, USA, Brazil, Turkey, Greece... basically you can find the same correspondence anywhere in the world.

There are a number of recurring images throughout your work that seem to harbour significant meaning – for example the various shots of lizards in the likes of Inferno, Opera and Trauma. What is the significance of these? Is there any?!

Argento: I’m fascinated by animals, (in my movies) there are many: flies, dogs, cats... I’m really interested in the way animals live among us, in our lives.

How do you feel about Suspiria being remade? Are the rumours true that you plan to remake Deep Red?

Argento: I didn’t know about a remake of Deep Red. I knew about Suspiria because the American production at Fox told me they were going to do a remake around this time of the year. I’ve shot the original movie, and I don’t think it’s going to be easy to remake it with the same passion I put into it.

Don’t you think that the remake of Suspiria could attract the new generation towards the old genres and your older movies?

Argento: I think that already a lot of generations know Suspiria, so I really don’t care about its remake.

In hindsight is there anything you’d change about your career path and where it’s led you?

Argento: Well, the past is past and you can’t change it. I’m what I am because of my past; therefore I wouldn’t change a thing.

What would be your ideal project and what does the future hold for you?

Argento: I think that I will focus on exploring the aspects of the human soul. This is going to be my duty: to look inside myself, explore my dark side and tell about it in my movies. Just like Edgar Allan Poe did in his books. My ideal project will be to continue on this path.


Aaron said…
Good job! Great interview, James! I'm glad you asked him about GIALLO and the SUSPIRIA remake. It's interesting to read that he thinks OPERA doesn't get the attention that it deserves... isn't that one of his most highly regarded films? Again, awesome job, James. I'm glad you were able to score this interview.
Zach S. said…
excellent interview! you hit every topic I wanted to know about. A fantastic post!
James Gracey said…
Cheers guys! When I say the pleasure was all mine, well, I'm sure you know I mean it! This was a dream come true.

Aaron, it seems almost everyone but Argento himself, until very recently, held Opera in high regard. For him, the problematic shoot really tainted his experience of the film. In a recent interview with Alan Jones, he said that he now understood why Jones had championed the film for so long. Guess he just needed to put some distance between it and himself for a while in order to appreciate it.

Cheers Zach - glad to be of service! Thanks for dropping by. :o)
Fascinating interview with some great questions. I love the way he knocked back your suggestion that there might be anything good about the Suspiria remake. Sounds like he still has a bit of fire in his belly. Thanks for sharing!
James Gracey said…
Indeed, Igloo Keeper! He's really not into it at all. Can't say i blame him!
Thanks for your comments.
What a coup James! - the man himself. I think you may have reached the pinnacle of your career :-) outstanding work!
James Gracey said…
Thanks Shaun. I need never write another single solitary thing for as long as I live! Cheers for stopping by. :o)
Anonymous said…
James, an incredible interview. I'd give anything to interview one of my horror heroes.
Franco Macabro said…
Great interview, I thought it was real interesting to see how he thinks that Opera doesnt get enough recognition, Ive always held it in such high regard! I love the color scheme, the blacks and grays are great in that movie.
Simon said…
You magnificent bastard, how'd you score an interview!?!

Incredible one, by the way. Argento's kind of awesome.
WriterME said…
Terrific! Great interview, and the chance of a lifetime; I'm so happy for you for getting this chance! *insert fangirl squeals where appropriate* ;)
James Gracey said…
Thanks guys, glad you dig the interview - it really was a milestone for me, to say the very least!

Simon - Francesca Brazzorotto at Kamera Books organised the whole interview. When she said she'd been in touch with Argento's 'people' in Rome, I didn't expect anything to come of it to be honest - so you can imagine my absolute euphoria when I found out Argento was cool with doing a quick phone interview.

Writer ME - Thanks! I look forward to checking out your contribution to the latest Paracinema!
Matthew Coniam said…
Top scoop, James! Great reading. Yes, odd that when you asked him if he had any favourites among his less regarded later films he went for the two that I thought evryone did like... But you didn't ask him about Deep Red the Musical!
Remi said…
Great job, excellent interview.
Guillaume said…
Fine interview James.
Funny that Argento seems to like so much SLEEPLESS,it's probably the film i like the least in his career,with PHANTOM OF THE OPERA.
His most underrated works post-OPERA are in my opinion THE CARD PLAYER and TRAUMA (well,i also like very much STENDHAL and JENIFER but both have been mostly well received,i guess!)!

It seems that GIALLO was a very difficult experience for Argento...i had high hopes that the film will be released in theaters thanks to the casting of Adrien Brody and Emmanuelle Seigner but it seems that the film will be another direct to dvd release for the Maestro,even in Italy...sighs.
I must say that GIALLO,despite its flaws,has grown on me...interesting film,especially thematically.
James Gracey said…
Cheers, Matthew. Yes his choices were not what i was expecting. Typical of Argento though, he likes to subvert expectations. Didn't he once also say that Phenomena was his favourite film, or that it best represented his work?

Thanks, Guillaume. I really want to check out Giallo again. I haven't seen it since the screening at the Edinburgh Film Festival last year.
I also like The Stendhal Syndrome and Trauma.
Any idea when Giallo might receive a DVD release in Europe or the States??
Mykal said…
Impressive, james. Very top flight stuff. -- Mykal
What an awesome surprise this morning, excellent interview and great questions James! I am so glad you were given this opportunity, that is a once in a lifetime my friend!
Jeremy [Retro] said…
coolest thing ever!
Joe said…
Hello James!

I've recently bought a copy of your Argento book for a Uni piece on Argento/Auteurism, it's proving very helpful, so thank you! Also really enjoyed the interview - I am simply jealous :p

Thanks again, and good luck with whatever your next project may be. - Cheers, Joe.
psynno said…
Great interview. Haven't seen Giallo. Not a big fan of Sleepless, but at least it's more vivid than the recent ones of his. Still a great admirer of underrated Stendhal Syndrome- a real state of mind film, voyeuristic, deviant, everything i love about Dario. You're lucky to have interviewed him. I once went to PRofondo Rosso in Via dei Graachi and met Luigi Cozzi...
By the way, I was showing some films at YF Fest in Belfast. Pity I missed most of the other work, and yourself... Really enjoy your site here&will hopefully check out your books...
James Gracey said…
Cheers Paul! It is true most of Argento's recent work is sorely overlooked - Sleepless, The Stendhal Syndrome and Trauma in particular. In comparison to much of contemporary horror, his recent work (no matter how weak in comparison to his earlier putput) is still in a league of its own.

I caught your short film showcase at the YF Fest - loved it! And of course being a fan of giallo movies I couldn't help but be reminded of Sergio Martino when I saw the title of your film All The Colours Of You - really unnerving stuff.

And I know I was so lucky to have interviewed Dario - as trite as it may sound, it was a dream come true. ;o)
Unknown said…
Thanks for bringing us this really interesting interview with one of the true masters of horror.

Great stuff.

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