Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Argento Talks About Himself

It came out in English about four years ago, but I just recently caught up with Dario Argento's autobiography, Fear. As a long-time Argento devotee, there was no way I was not going to read this. Besides, much as I love so many of his films and much as I've read about him and his films over the years, he's one filmmaker who has always been a little enigmatic to me since he's never really let the public "inside", so to speak. By inside, I mean on an ordinary what's Dario-like level. He's put his utterly distinct visions on screens for years, working (when at his best) from his subconscious, exploring his deepest obsessions, but he's one creative person who I genuinely have wanted to know more about on what you might call a mundane level. I was confident that no amount of self-explanation from Dario, as it does with some, would diminish the power and the essential mysteriousness of his greatest films.

Fear met my expectations. He tells his story in a straightforward chronological manner, with the skill of an excellent raconteur. We get childhood anecdotes and his account of how he went from journalism and writing film reviews to writing film scripts and treatments, a period which culminated, of course, with the screen story he wrote along with Bernardo Bertolucci and Sergio Leone for Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West. We learn about how he made his first film, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, with his producer father's help, and how the production company funding it, seeing his early dreamlike footage, not typical of the giallo film they were expecting, told him in no uncertain terms that he didn't have a clue about what he was doing. Dario persisted, with his father acting to some extent as his shield, and The Bird with the Crystal Plumage went on to be a huge hit both in Italy and internationally. Argento's career path was set.

Argento tells anecdotes about nearly all his film and TV work through 2013 (the book was first published in Italy in 2014), and he also talks about his mother (who he was close to) and his various romantic relationships. There is much about his years with Daria Nicolodi and the very productive period they spent working together. And we get a good bit about Dario as a father, a father to only daughters, both Fiore (whose mother, Marisa Casale, was married to Dario for four years) and Asia (Daria's daughter). It is amusing, and even touching, to think of Dario in this mode:

"My youngest daughter [Asia] came to live with me permanently, so now in my house I had two women who controlled my every movement like an orchestra conductor. They told me off if I was too far away from them or if I worked at weekends and they were free from schoolwork and wanted me to take them on trips. I tried to shoulder all my burdens, meetings with their teachers, appointments with dentists and gynaecologists, and the inevitable heartaches caused by first loves..." 

That Dario is a cinephile is no surprise; he references numerous directors he has admired and studied and known over the years: Federico Fellini, Fritz Lang, Alfred Hitchcock, George Romero, John Carpenter, Ingmar Bergman, Ricardo Freda, and "that genius" Mario Bava. What I didn't have any idea about is how much Dario has loved swimming since childhood and how he and his brother and sister grew up with a ping pong table in their house and that ping pong is a game he enjoyed playing well into adulthood. Fear is filled with personal tidbits like these, as any interesting memoir should be, and it's part of what makes the book such a pleasure to read. If you like Argento and haven't read it, I can't see why you wouldn't pick this up. It comes as well with a lot of great color photos from throughout Argento's career, from on his film sets and off. A very nicely put-together book overall.

Happy Halloween!

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