Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Ten Statements About....PHENOMENA (1984)

It's Jennifer Connelly playing with a blog...there's a fetish for
that, isn't there?
1) You want some proof that Dario Argento is interested solely in the moment and not in the story?  Look at how the killer turns out to be a character who literally appears in the beginning, disappears completely from the film, only to reappear in the third act to behave totally in opposition to how her behavior was in that long ago first scene.

2) Supposedly, Argento intended this to be ‘a fairy tale for adults’....and once you know that information, you can see the Brothers Grimm influence throughout, from the evil house in the woods to the kindly old wise man to the guardian spirit saving our heroine.  Okay, granted the guardian spirit in this case is a mass of bugs, but still....

3) You know, people always focus on the weird gore when it comes to Argento and they don’t realize the man has a real eye.  There are a number of compositions in this movie that use color to draw the eye.  Some of the shots of Jennifer Connelly’s Jennifer walking through these vast fields really pop because of Argento’s decision to have Connelly wear an Alice-In-Wonderland-style all white dress.  And speaking of Connelly....
"So I'm going to slash Daria Nicoldi and bite Jennifer
Connelly's thumb...anything else, Don?"

4) ...for someone assaying her second film role in a movie whose director is notorious for putting his female leads through the wringer, Connelly really acquits herself amazingly well.  She manages to both be creepy and otherworldly while also keeping the audience empathy, primarly through the genuinely sweet interactions she has both with Donald Pleasance’s  McGregor and Federica Mastroianni’s Sophie.

5) What a freakin’ weird soundtrack, switching from heavy metal songs to long time Argento collaborators Goblin to cues from the original Dawn of The Dead.  Admittedly there are moment where this strange Frankensteined things works, but there are other times when you know the soundtrack should be underplaying things and Argento has chosen to have Lemmy from Motorhead screaming in your ear.

6) It’s interesting how Patrick Bauchau looks vaguely sinister even when he’s playing a good guy cop who’s actively interested in helping Jennifer.  Of course, this being a film set in Argento’s Universe, he ends up being not so competent, and dies in the third act.
It's a woman's head going through plate glass....there's a
fetish for that somewhere...oh, yeah, in Argento's house!

7) It’s obvious that even though Tenebrae was made between this and the two ‘Mother’ films, this movie is much more influenced by the look and feel of Suspiria and Inferno.  Argento is still exploring monochromatic compositions and unconventional set-ups, and his sometimes infuriating habit of throwing stuff in not because it strengthens the story but because it contributes to the feel he’s trying to achieve (I’m looking at you, sleep walking Jennifer Connelly) is very much in the forefront here.

8) Even though she slashed Daria Nicoldi and bit Jennifer Connelly’s thumb, I am struck by the performance of Tanga as McGregor’s chimpanzee assistant Inga.  Whether through intelligence or manipulation by her owner, Tanga manages to convey actual emotion, especially affection towards her master and rage at his killer.  And while we can see Inga as one of Jennifer’s protectors, we also realize that she is acting out of grief for the man who showed her care and affection.

9)  Considering what Argento has his then-wife Nicoldi do, and what happens to his daughter Fiore...well, he must have conflicted feelings about his family.

10) You know, given how much is made of how sinister Dalila Di Lazzaro’s Headmistres is and how antagonistic she is to Jennifer, having her literally drop out of the picture whole makes no sense.  She doesn’t even have enough screen time to qualify as a red herring. of those films that made Argento’s reputation before he went diving in the shit barrel, it’s an essential view for people interested in what we all see in the man, and for people curious about seeing Jennifer Connelly at her very beginnings.

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