Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Buried Pleasures of SUSPIRIA

Every Dario Argento fan, upon seeing SUSPIRIA for the first time, reacts to this shot of Suzy Banyon (Jessica Harper) entering the secret domain of Mater Suspiriorum with the same gleeful note of recogition. Here the art direction seems to pay specific tribute to Argento's directorial debut, THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE [L'uccello dalle piume di cristallo, 1970]. But upon reviewing parts of the film again, I noticed something I hadn't caught after I don't know how many viewings.

In the opening scene at the Freiberg airport, we are given this subjective shot of the exit, whose double glass doors precisely mirror the double-doored art gallery entrance where Tony Musante is trapped to witness the attempted murder that sets BIRD in motion. Since this scene was not actually shot at a real airport, it is quite possible that this exit was literally composed of the same set components as were used in the earlier film.
Another celebrated SUSPIRIA moment among the eagle-eyed is this almost subliminal image, from Suzy's point of view, as her taxi drives her through the Black Forest. As a flash of lightning casts unbidden shadows, we see what appears to be a maniacal hand wielding a wicked blade.

I've always considered this flash -- which exists outside the main narrative but serves to make the night appear full of unimaginable horrors -- to be one of the movie's moments of real genius. It looks so spontaneous but it must have been extremely well planned. But again, while revisiting SUSPIRIA recently after I don't know how many viewings, I happened to catch another subliminal during the taxi sequence -- possibly unintentional -- for the first time.

Right after Suzy presses a piece of paper bearing the address of the Tanz Akademie to the glass separating her from the taxi driver (Fulvio Mingozzi) -- another glass barrier! -- there is yet another flash of lightning, revealing yet another subliminal. What? Didn't catch it? Here, have a closer look...
Yes, that's a reflection of Dario Argento himself, evidently directing the scene from the back seat of the taxi! To the best of my knowledge, no one else has previously documented this hidden image (if so, I'll happily credit them) and it's a particular delight to discover after all this time. It makes me wonder how much still remains to be unearthed from the endlessly rich textures and scenics of SUSPIRIA -- buried references to all of Argento's previous features, perhaps?

I can cite two other examples right away. If something seems familiar about Albert (Jacopo Mariani), the malevolently grinning child in the background of this shot, it is because Master Mariani wore the same, or very similar, shoes and socks when he previously stepped into frame at the end of the startling pre-credits scene of DEEP RED [Profondo rosso, 1975]. My thanks to Thomas Rostock for confirming this in his note below. And isn't Daniel (Flavio Bucci), the school's blind piano teacher, an echo of Karl Malden's Franco Arno in THE CAT O' NINE TAILS [Il gatto a nove code, 1971]?

I don't pretend to have all the answers, but I suspect this film still has much left to reveal.


  1. Thomas Rostock5:44 PM

    Albert (Jacopo Mariani) who is seen here in SUSPIRIA as the spooky kid with the white socks and black shoes does indeed portray the the young Carlo in Profondo Rosso. Imdb cast link verfifies it:

    Daniel the blind piano teacher, however, is played by Flavio Bucci.

  2. Thank you for your note, Thomas. I have tweaked my original posting accordingly.

  3. The backseat reflection of Argento has indeed been discussed before (actually, I thought it had been you that mentioned it previously, at Mobius, though it's IMPOSSIBLE to search that site for verification). It was known enough for two people to confirm that it was Argento's face in this thread from 2009 at AVManiacs:

    ...and a Google search brings this discussion from 2004 up (had to use Google's cache function, as the board hosting this discussion seems to have been lost to the ravages of time):

  4. Thanks, Aleck. I don't know how this info and discovery could have eluded me for so long, but evidently lots of other people missed it too. I'm glad to revive the topic along with some other fresh observations to offer.

  5. Very nice!
    The shots look exceptionally this from the DVD or is there a Blu Ray somewhere?

  6. Oh, sure! It definitely fits into the pattern of reflecting (ha!) his past work you've noted, which is something I hadn't taken into consideration previously. What first came across as either a sublime accident or a winking prank, has added resonance when you consider the echoes of BIRD, CAT and DEEP RED present. And when you take into account that so many of his gialli hinge on something that is right before the protagonist's face -- hidden in plain sight, as it were -- these flashes of imagery puts us right where David Hemmings finds himself in DEEP RED, wondering if what we just glimpsed might mean something larger.

  7. These grabs came from TFI Video's French release DVD from 2000, which happened to be the closest copy of the film I had to hand.

  8. Anonymous10:36 AM

    Thanks, Tim -- now I'm newly obsessive about these films! I had an off day to watch Suspira and Inferno back to back and was looking for clues and hidden meanings everywhere. Interestingly I also read your account in the Bava book about Fellini and Bava using the figure of the little girl dressed in white, and then had to watch the Toby Dammit segment from Histoires extraordinaire (sic?), after watching Fellini: I'm a born liar. This was the first time I watched the remastered version of Suspira I'd bought some time ago, and everything was (sometimes painfully) much clearer so I could actually see the things you mention above. If I had never read Video Watchdog I probably would never have seen Argento films, and now I actually enjoy them!

  9. In Phantom of Soho, a crystal bird serves as an alarm for the nightclub owner. I always think of BWTCP when I watch this film.

  10. Here is another reflection of Dario Argento in Suspiria:

  11. bavafan@hotmail1:55 PM

    Re: the shadow on the tree trunk: everyone I show the movie to is disturbed by that image without knowing why. Some people have said to me that it's the shadow of a woman. I had always thought that it was just the shadow of a tree branch, caught accidentally. I'd never seen it as a hand holding a knife, but the shape made me think of a scythe. Very Rorscharch! My friends and I have been aware of Argento's reflection in the cab since the movie came out on video. It's been documented in several articles on the net before, I'm sure.


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