Dario Argento

Dario Argento (born September 7, 1940) is a film director, producer and screenwriter well known for his work in the typically Italian giallo genre, and for his influence on modern horror and slasher movies. He is the father of actress Asia Argento.

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Early Career

Argento was born in Rome, Italy as the son of film producer Salvadore Argento and Brazilian fashion model Elda Luxardo. He started his career in film as a critic, writing for various magazines while still attending high school. He did not attend college, electing rather to take a job as a columnist at the newspaper Paese Sera.

While working at the newspaper, Argento started screenwriting. His most notable work was for Sergio Leone, collaborating with Bernardo Bertolucci on the story for the spaghetti western classic Once Upon a Time in the West. Soon after its release in 1969, Argento wrote and directed his first movie, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, which was released in 1970 and was a major hit in Italy.

His directing style was influenced by Mario Bava, Sergio Leone, Alfred Hitchcock, Michelangelo Antonioni, and Federico Fellini.

Giallo Years

Early in his directing career, he continued to concentrate largely on the giallo genre. The films, like the lurid yellow-covered murder-mystery novels they were inspired by, followed the suspense tradition of hardboiled American detective fiction while incorporating baroque scenes of violence and excess. While Mario Bava is credited with inventing the giallo film, Argento's passion in developing the genre has earned him widespread recognition as the key influence in popularising giallo cinema outside of Italy, and his unique vision has earned him acclaim as an 'auteur' director.

After directing two further successful thrillers, The Cat of Nine Tails (1971) and Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1972), he turned his attention away from giallo movies, directing two Italian TV dramas and a period comedy film (Five Days in Milan) in 1973 before returning to thrillers with 1975's Deep Red, often cited as the best giallo ever made, the film which made him famous internationally, and which inspired a number of other directors to work in the genre.

Supernatural Years

His next movie, Suspiria (1977), an extremely violent supernatural thriller, is considered by many to be his absolutely best work. Freed from the constraints of the more conventional giallo format, Suspiria is a semi-surreal work of art, where plot and character become secondary to sound and vision. Argento planned for Suspiria to be the first of a trilogy about "The Three Mothers", three ancient witches residing in three different modern cities. The second movie of the trilogy was 1980's Inferno, which went even further towards pure art, but he so far has not completed the trilogy. (In an interview at the 2003 Trieste Film Festival, Argento reportedly said that he was working on the third movie of the trilogy, to start filming in August 2004.)

After Inferno, he returned to more conventional giallo with Tenebrae (1982), then attempted to combine giallo and supernatural fantasy together in Phenomena (1985), which was one of Jennifer Connelly's first movies, and also showed Argento's predilection for using new technology, with its many prowling Steadicam shots. Both these movies got lukewarm receptions upon release (although both have been re-appraised retrospectively) and Argento took a break from directing to write two screenplays for Mario Bava's son Lamberto Bava, Demoni (1985) and Demoni 2 (1986).


Opera followed in 1987, and was, according to Argento, a "very unpleasant experience". Set in Milan's La Scala opera during a production of Verdi's Macbeth, the movie was beset in real life by misfortunes that Argento was starting to suspect were caused by the traditional "curse" on Macbeth. Argento's father died during the production, lead actress Vanessa Redgrave dropped out of the project before filming began, he had problems working with his former long-time girlfriend and collaborator Daria Nicolodi on-set, and the cast and crew were plagued by minor accidents and mishaps. The movie was again not well received, despite showcasing Argento's skill with color and composition, and featuring some truly breathtaking camera movements.

It is widely accepted that his 1990s career and onwards has failed to live up to his golden period between Deep Red and Opera. Despite an unsuccessful stab at a mainstream Hollywood production (Trauma (1993)) and a disastrous version of Phantom of the Opera (1998) which lost him many fans, he continued to innovate: for example, his 1996 The Stendhal Syndrome, in which a policewoman suffering from a dramatized version of the illness is trapped by a killer in a museum, is the first Italian film to use computer-generated imagery (CGI).

Many saw 2001's Sleepless, deliberately designed as a "comeback movie" with its strong giallo theme and numerous references to his earlier work, as a step back in the right direction.

Critical Reception

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His works always include a profusion of allusions (both obscure and obvious) to other films, literature ranging from the Greek classics to current popular novels, politics, film/literary theory, as well as his own films. This dense network of allusions, combined with his notorious negligence of plot, his bizarrely detailed mise-en-scenes, his obsession with gore-filled death scenes, and his unpredictable and roaming camera angles, has proven particularly resistant to critical interpretation.

Little 'serious' academic work on Argento has been published; the two most notable publications on Argento is Maitland McDonagh's auteur study, Broken Mirrors/Broken Minds: The Dark Dreams of Dario Argento, and a collection of poster art and critical essays, edited by Chris Gallant and entitled Art of Darkness.

While critical work on Argento is unfortunately limited (and often out of print), he has acquired a cult fan base in Italy and the rest of the world; film reviews and interviews are regular subjects of interest in fanzines and internet discussion groups.

One significant factor in Argento's lack of recognition in the United States is the generic boundaries which do not recognize the 'giallo' form - his films are often marketed as "slasher trash" or simply "horror", only occasionally making the art house or college cinema circuits.de:Dario Argento fr:Dario Argento it:Dario Argento ja:ダリオ・アルジェント


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