First off, here’s an interview I did with Dario Argento way back in the day, fifteen years ago. When I was studying film at Uni, I wrote my bachelor thesis on “The Modern Film Techniques Used in the Films of Dario Argento”. This was in 1994, a lifetime ago, but still then I was pushing my way through the mainstream sewer proclaiming that genre cinema be taken seriously. That book, or rather a semi pretentious, but dead fucking serious 60 page booklet was an important piece of work for me, so important that I even had 20 copies printed and sold them in the video store that I worked in. I managed to sell 17 of them, two I still have, one was given to Argento. I’ve toyed with the idea of bringing it up to date as my texts end on Trauma in 1993. Oh! I just remembered that I know a guy who runs his own publishing company…Anyways, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Argento in person three times, once when I handed him the book and talked very briefly, a second time when I was an assistant on a filmed interview for a movie show I used to edit, and the third time when I again went along with my mate who had the movie show, although this time I wormed my way in and got my own interview for Art Video Club, the video store who's newsletter/fanzine I used to write, edit, layout and fuckinmake come to life once a month after I stopped working there. The way things where looking the movie Argento had with him to the festival was looking like a triumphant return to Giallo form...
Think of it as a time capsule I’ve just opened for your delight, and I've tossed in some pics of a painfully overweight me too - but it's a decade and a half ago and I can laugh at them now! Enjoy or weep - it's up to you!
Parts of the interview below figured in DELIRIUM [The Essential Guide To Bizarre Italian Cinema] Issue 5 1997.
Saturday 16th November 1996
Jason: So here you are again, back at the Stockholm Film Festival. The last time we saw you was in 1993 and the screening of your film Trauma. A lot has happened since then. You have returned to Italy and you have made two new movies. You have collaborated with another great horror director. Your name - and projects - have been featured frequently in the genre magazines, but could you give us a short summary of the last few years in your own words.
Argento: Well after Trauma I return to Italy and begin with the pre-production for this movie La Sindrom di Stendhal which you have seen here today, and then I started a project with [Lucio] Fulci, but as you know he passed away. The film La Maschera di cera which we finished this year with a young man, Sergio Stivaletti as director, who I have worked with many times before. And now I am here in Stockholm with my new film La Sindrome di Stendhal.
Jason: The feeling that I got when I watched La Sindrome di Stendhal this morning was that you have returned back to a more European style, and that La Sindrome di Stendhal actually felt more like an Argento movie than your earlier movie Trauma. This movie felt more like Profondo Rosso or even Opera. Was your return to Italy an artistic improvement or a kind or “recharged batteries” boost on your work.
Argento: Yes, La Sindrome di Stendhal was a better movie because in America the director is, in these type of movies, the director is a very small person. You have lots and lots of people on the set and the director somehow almost disappears. Star actors are very rude, actors assistants are also rude, the people who pay are rude, difficult people to work with who I didn’t know too good.
Jason: Was this rudeness and control difficulties a problem on the movie you made previous to Trauma, Due occhi Diabolici?
Argento: No, No. This movie The Black Cat, which I like, its one of my best I think, I made as part of an episode movie with George Romero and it was a smaller production so I had more control over what was happening.
Jason: On the subject of The Black Cat, most of your films are based on articles or fields of interest that you have furthered with your own interests and ideas into your movies. The Black Cat is originally a novel by Edgar Allan Poe, so was this your homage to Poe or where there other players on the table?
Argento: I actually have a black cat, and he is always disturbing me when I work, so when I was working on Opera, I one day said to him, “ I will put you in my next movie. The next movie you will be the star.” George [Romero] and I had discussed for a long time to make an episode film based on Poe’s novels, and there was the opportunity for me to work with George, make a film in America based on Poe and my cat could be in the film.
Jason: During your time in the states, you also featured in John Landis comedy/horror Innocent Blood, how come you turned up there. It surprised me at least.
Argento: John [Landis] is an old friend of mine, and he asked me if I wanted to do a small part, in his newest film, which I did. I was a nurse at the end of the film. But as we said earlier that I had a very big crew on Trauma, John had almost nobody. So I start to help him. John was setting the camera, directing, shooting, all over all the time. So I decide to get the actors to read their lines to help John. But everybody just says Fuck you!, so I get shocked, and ask the next person to read, they say Fuck You! Everybody saying Fuck You. So yes I did the part to help John but people were so rude.
Jason: If we return to La Sindrome di Stendhal, you have apart from returning to Italy, used an almost complete Italian crew. I am in specific thinking about the choice of Ennio Morricone for the soundtrack and Pepito [Guiseppe Rotunno] as your photographer. It feels almost as a deliberate move to go back to the style of your earlier giallo movies where the photography and the music where very important to your films.
Argento: Ennio is an old friend of mine so it felt natural to ask him to do the music for my film, and we made the film in Italy so I wanted to use an Italian crew. It was fun working with Pepito because he hates steady-cam, and every time we planned a shot I said, and here I want to follow with the camera like this, and Pepito goes “ oh, no, not the steady-cam. I hate the steady-cam”, (laughter). No, it was good.
Jason: Something that has always fascinated me with your movies, is the camera work and how you combine both the visual effects with direct on camera action. Such as the camera crawl over the house in Tenebrae, or the bullet through the head sequence in Opera. But I noticed in La Sindrome di Stendhal that you have a rather frequent use of computer simulated graphics, as in the scenes where Asia [Argento] walks into the surrealistic paintings and the scene where the camera follows some pills being swallowed. How do you feel about these new techniques, now that computer graphics are staring to become a constant part of major pictures?
Argento: I like the possibilities that the computers can give you; you can trick people to see things that aren’t there. I feel that they are a really good tool. You don’t have to be stuck in one setting or one special studio.
Jason: I know that you collaborated with [Lucio] Fulci shortly before his tragic death, and there are loads of rumours circulating about the film, the script, etc. etc. Could you tell me anything about this project?
Argento: First I must tell you, Fulci and I we were not friends for many years. We were friends a long time ago and once, maybe fifteen years ago, I said to him, as a joke that he had copied my movies and he got angry and said that I had copied his. I said no, no, you copied me, and then we said OK, we’re not friends any more. But then for maybe two years ago at the Fanta Festival, I saw this small old man in a wheelchair. Oh he was so old, and grey, and I asked people, “Who is he? Who is this old man?” And people answer me, Why that’s Fulci. You know he was very sick at the time, and poor. He lived outside of Rome in an old house that almost fell down. He was so sick he couldn’t use his legs and couldn’t afford the money for an operation. He was so sad, and bitter. So I didn’t tell him, but we collected some money, without telling him, and helped him pay the operation and a house in Rome. After the operation he could walk with a cane, and he said to me that he was so happy now. Living in Rome he could go out and eat every night he could go to the cinemas, when he earlier only could get old videos and couldn’t go out. So he was very happy, and then we started talking about this dream he had always had. He wanted to film The Mummy. But the script was no good. So he wrote the script to La Maschera di cera and we started the pre-production but just as we are ready to start, he died. It was sad, very sad, because he was so happy at the time, living in Rome, getting out eating, seeing films, very sad. We finished the film with Sergio Stivaletti as director, and it is finished in Rome now. So we will see.
Jason: I must ask about a few rumours that I want checkout with you. First it is said that you directed a TV commercial for the car company Fiat. Is this true? Secondly, the fashion show Trussardi Accion, is supposedly a fashion show based on the opening sequences of Suspiria, you know, the first murder and all, is this true or just a rumour?
Argento: Erhm, yes I did make an advert for Fiat...
Jason: Why? What made you turn to television commercials?
Argento: You see it was before I was gong to make Opera and I had these dreams for some special camera effects, you know the raven attack in side La Scala, many of the steadycam moves, thing like this. Now to try out all these ideas, I made the commercial for Fiat, and they pay (laughter). We shot the film on locations in Australia, terrible place, and in Rome. So all the camera effects you see in this film are made for the Fiat advert, and were all used in the film.
Jason: And the fashion show...
Argento: I directed a show for my friend Nicola [Trussardi] who worked with me earlier, but it wasn’t Suspiria, no no. It was just a show, we did things like have rain falling on the audience (laughter) and, loud music, flashing lights, but it wasn’t Suspiria.
Jason: Finally I have ask you, I know that you don’t like these questions but what are the future plans, will we be seeing a third instalment to the “Mothers trilogy”?
Argento: Not now, no. Future plans, hum, I have many, we will see, maybe... (laughter)
Jason: Then again that’s probably part of the mysticism surrounding the films, there’s no third part, no explanation to the mothers being there they just are and always have been. Well I know we are running out of time here and I would on behalf of myself and all Art Video Club Members thank you for taking the time out to talk to us, Thank you and I hope that your cold gets better.
Argento: (laughter) Thank you, thank you.