Sunday, December 23, 2007

FOUR FLIES on Grey Market

One of the most exciting developments of this holiday season is the unexpected arrival of a German gray market release of Dario Argento's elusive FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET on DVD. I've received some e-mails asking me if the rumors are true and, if so, how does it look... so I'll devote today's blog to answering that question.

As these screen grabs illustrate, the 97m disc -- titled VIER FLIEGEN AUF GRAUEM SAMT and credited to a company called Retrofilm -- is indeed real and it looks pretty good. It was also obviously assembled by people who know their Argento movies well. The great bulk of the source material comes from a 35mm print, in English, that looks like it's been around the block a few times; it's a bonafide, old-fashioned grindhouse print, complete with the occasional travelling scratches and thumpy splices... but the image quality, imperfect as it is, is by far the best I've seen for this particular film. If you've only seen the film on one or more of the ratty bootleg videocassettes long in circulation (which happens to also be my story), I think I can safely promise you a viewing of FOUR FLIES that you might consider revelatory.

Closeups like this one, of the blackmailing maniac's mask, are sharp enough to bring out previously unsuspected textures. I always thought this was a facial mask, but it appears to be more of a whole-head mask.

Medium or long shots like this look a bit softer, but still more than acceptable on my 58" widescreen set. If your screen is smaller than mine, the quality will only improve for you.

As always, the sharper the picture, the more attentive we can be to matters of performance and Mimsy Farmer gives one of her most interesting and brittle performances here.

This shot of protagonist Michael Brandon, sharing the screen with Euro great Bud Spencer (as "God") is a good index to the disc's color quality. As you can see by comparing these skin tones to those in the bed shot shown previously, they are prone to fluctuation. Not ideal, but those who saw the film in theaters here in 1972 probably saw something similar.

Earlier I said that "the bulk" of the disc looks pretty good. I qualified my statement because the 35mm print used for this release was evidently incomplete, requiring the Argento buffs behind the scenes to obtain the best possible inserts from other sources to make their presentation as complete as it could be. I didn't notice anything missing from the movie; in fact, there are shots included in this disc that I've either never seen before, or saw in such poor quality that I could never appreciate them for what they were. The scene illustrated here, of Brandon's maid waiting in the park for a meeting with the killer, is one of five or six short patches inserted into the continuity from other sources. They're unfortunate, but it would be worse not to have them in place.
I should also mention that it's a pleasure to see this Techniscope film in its correct ratio, which brings to life fleeting shots like this one -- of the gay private eye investigating the case.

Indeed, the disc salvages so much heretofore obscured detail that, for the first time, I noticed that Argento or his art director used some record albums of the day to wryly underscore the film's death imperative prior to its grand finale: Traffic's JOHN BARLEYCORN MUST DIE and George Harrison's ALL THINGS MUST PASS.
The only source I know for this Region 0 PAL disc is Xploited Cinema, where it is priced at $29.95. The disc includes English, German and Italian audio options, but only German subtitles. A bonus section includes German trailers for this film, as well as one each for Argento's previous features THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE and THE CAT O'NINE TAILS. Alternate Italian titles and an extended edit of the film's finale also taken from that version are included, as well.
Of course, VIER FLIEGEN AUF GRAUEM SAMT is not what anyone would call a definitive release. It's really just a deluxe pacifier to keep Argento's fans contented until whatever legal problems are preventing the film's legitimate release can be solved. Anyone who buys this disc will inevitably want to upgrade in the event of an official release, but it's worth the inevitable double dip to have this movie available to us now -- for those crazy goddamn nights when nothing else will do.

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