Saturday, July 13, 2019

Here we Roeg again... Who saw them try?

A few days back The Guardian's resident film-scribe Peter Bradshaw wrote a piece paying tribute to Nic Roeg's eerie masterpiece Don't Look Now from 1973, as it's been restored and re-released with a short theatrical run along side that.

Now off the bat, I have to point out that I agree with everything that Bradshaw points out in his text, of how the film is a psychological study of the human psyche processing loss, grief and quest for closure. How Venice is as much a part of the entity of the film as it location of the film, how the film holds its place as part of horror canon, and how it's spiralling roots lead right into fodder such as Trier's Antichrist, and Ari Aster's Midsommer. (Still on my watch list btw...)

Don't Look Now is the melancholic and uncomfortable tale of how the loss of a child drives a married protagonists John and Laura, (Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie) into a confusion of love / hate / psychosis. A film that uses it misty and eerie location as a metaphoric backdrop, where a ghostly apparition in a red rain coat haunts the narrow streets and foggy nooks of Venice killing people as it forcefully slashes at them with a razorblade. How Eros and Thanatos meet in bed for a cinematic moment. Because Bradshaw is correct to point out that the infamous sex scene, or rather sex-post coitus scene as it intercuts both the act and the slow decent back into sadness as they dress after their act, was an addition to DuMaurier's original story by Roeg. Something that showcases Roeg's male genius and benefitted the film immensely as its still one of those moments still discussed by cineastes and scholars with equal passion.


It's beyond me that there's not a single nod, comment or referent to Aldo Lado's giallo Who Saw Her Die? which was released in 1972, a year ahead of Don't Look Now. I've been down this road many times previously, but it's one that's of importance in my constant struggle with the high-brow/low-brow paradox.

Key connections between the two are too many to be coincidental. Lado's film, as Roeg’s films focuses on a married couple struggling to come to terms with the horror, shock, heartbreak and grief of losing a child. But they discover something darker, hidden behind the tragedy that shook their worlds.

Franco and Elizabeth (George Lazenby and Anita Strindberg), find their young daughter violently murdered and dumped in a Venetian canal. (The kid is played by Nicoletta Elmi for anyone with a weird love/hate thing for Italian child actors, as most of us who watch that fare do). John and Laura’s daughter is found immersed in water too, although in a pond after an accidental death. Where John and Laura lose themselves in work and socializing(-ish), Franco / Elizabeth also become obsessed elsewhere, as they learn of a similar murder in France leading them to start investigating the parallels between the two cases. Both films have a lot of action taking place in the foggy, dim lights of Venice canals and back alleys. A strange figure, almost ghostly, lurks the shadows, taunting us as an audience and the protagonist on screen. Slowly and deliberately confusingly, both films displace pieces of the narrative puzzle to lure us down wrong alleys to the surprise last act twist/reveal that comes with the genre. They do differ in their conclusion, but this is perhaps the widest distance between the two films, although they will both leave you with a what the fuck frown on your forehead.

The psychological turmoil of the protagonists is the same, the location and atmosphere is the same, the fluid cinematography of Franco Di Giacomo versus Anthony B Richmond, the way Graeme Clifford clings to his edits like Angela Curi previously did. Roeg's Pino Donnagio score to counter Ennio Morricone’s superior one of Lado's movie. The similarities are too many to ignore, it's almost a doppelgänger movie, but elevated out of the low-brow pinfold, hence never questioned, but accepted as original.

But it all culminates, or climaxes with pun intended, in the final proof of Sex and Death entwined. Lazenby and Strindberg fucking, intercut with post-coital crying over the death of their child, Eros and Thanatos unified in a spectacular way. Roeg lifted this right out of Who Saw Her Die? flipped it spatially timewise as the sex is intercut with flash forward to the apathy of post sex,and got the credit of genius when it's all Aldo Lado’s brilliance at work, because Lado’s collision of emotions is a immensly powerful one.

If nothing else, it's arguable that Lado's Who Saw Her Die? deserves more than to be a curiosity left for cinephiles and Giallo fans alone. It needs to be rediscovered and put in place within the canon of horror film history, something that very little outside American, British and/or the major studios actually seem to qualify as. My torch song is that the fibres of "canon" that stretched out into the nooks and crannies of the horror genre, as deep as they/we need to go, deserve to be lifted forth and acknowledged, as it's no rocket science behind the fact that without Who Saw Her Die?,there would have been no Don't Look Now as part of the "checklist of horror film canon". First then do we look into the possibility of DuMaurier's source material being an influence on Aldo Lado.

Bradshaws article here.

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