Suspiria: It Ain’t Broke

Despite my Arts Degree (with a Major in Would You Like Fries With That?) I only became familiar with the original Suspiria relatively recently. The shame, oh the hideous shame.

A close, personal friend of mine insisted we watch it “together” connected via some sort of instant messaging platform to battle the tyranny of distance. Our sort of friendship is rare and absurd, and should be kept alive with greater protective measures than our nation has in place for our endangered fauna. We were both adamant that the 920-something kilometres between Sydney and Brisbane would not prevent us from drinking too much cheap wine and watching cult horror content together. We, we mused, would reinvigorate the glory days of squealing at The Shining – in its various iterations, while consuming goon, holed up in a college room.

With a more than apt sigh, my friend said to me “Suspiria; how is it that you’ve not seen it?”

I had no viable response, apart from ignorance, and a date was set for the viewing. Wine was purchased; clocks were synchronised. With that, the love affair began.

Now, bear with me as we slowly trundle back in time. Roughly ten years worth of time ago (sweet Mary), and I was in a tutorial, during aforementioned Arts Degree, when I had to stifle cackles. We’d been asked, as is tradition, to describe why we liked a particular film we’d been forced to watch. After a poor, tortured soul went to describe her favourite parts of the picture as the “colour, and the movement,” I could barely contain my schadenfreude.  In her words, it was just a masterwork in “colour, and movement.” It was the terror in her eyes that really tickled me. To be honest, it was funnier too because the poor dear was unable to correctly pronounce either word (see: karhlar, moovemont).

Imagine then, how much my self-loathing gurgled away when after watching Suspiria, I thought to myself that I particularly enjoyed the… karhlar, and the moovement. I must admit, much to the delight of the karmic gods conspiring against me, that a highlight of Suspiria is its use of colour. Perhaps even better than Hitchcock’s Vertigo in its dramatic use of stark and disarming colour.

The reds! My word. The lipsticks, the filters, the walls, the lead-lighting, the wine – and the blood, glory be, it’s just so red.

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Before getting in to that though, what the hell is the movie about? Honestly, not a lot. In short, some Yankee bird (Suzy) packs up her pointes and toddles off to what seems to be a prestigious German ballet academy. As you might expect however, sinister shit is going down. Like, heavy nasty business. If that as plot line isn’t representative of post-war America coming to terms with rebuilding relationships with Germany in the wake of Hitler’s reign, then, what is the point of even being a cinema wanker? I just don’t know. For a more nuanced and intellectual critique, you can send through a cheque or money order to my place of residence. I accept cash, but can’t vouch for its safety while it travels through the post.

The narrative is a touch ridiculous; I don’t think there are any imaginable allegories that can help us manoeuvre out of that little nugget. The best I’ve done – after my attempt at referencing fear of the fatherland, of course, is that, the villainy of the dance school is somehow representative of the perceived evils of feminism. Now, is that a construct I’ve banged together because of the lack of available sensible parallels? Quite possibly. Is it a paradigm I’ve developed on account of my own vagina ownership and as a result all things have a tendency to sneak under the lens of girl power? Probably. So, while the plot is an exercise in absurdity (and not in the Beckett-esque sense of the word, more in the ‘gee whiz, that’s kind of dumb’ sense) it is awfully pretty.

The sets and mise-en-scene, are pure design porn. If Apartment Therapy had a section devoted to ‘Horror Movie Chic’ you’d definitely be able to take a virtual tour of Suspiria’s dance academy. The ‘unreality’ is heightened at breakneck speed thanks in large part to the decor. Saturated Escher paintings and head-bobbing nods to garish deco create a sense of otherworldliness with ruthless efficiency.

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It sounds incredible too. The theme tune is the height of campy, 70s horror, but it’s an earworm.  The lyrics consist almost solely of the word ‘la’ – which I think would probably be within my cinema studies colleague’s reach. There’s also an odd spattering of the word ‘witch’. A not so subtle hint to what may lay in wait for our protagonist, Suzy, as she enters the prestigious dance school. The soundtrack borders on deafening, and I’d probably be better able to comment on that if I weren’t already a fence post. Be prepared to walk into walls of sound. I’d say cacophonies, but I wouldn’t want to hurt the feelings of all the good people that played the jingly-jangly percussive instruments for the film. The disquieting sections are cinematic tinnitus.

Oh, and the movement (moovemont), well, this is easy to make beautiful with a cast of ballerina-like actresses. It’s all very deliberate. There’s a fair whack of counting, and leaping, and it’s all perfectly foreign to me. It’s placed in stark comparison with how the school’s blind pianist gets about.

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Speaking of, that’s the genius of the film, really, the binaries, the dichotomies, and the high contrast. Which, if you want to bet your high-stakes Monopoly monies on it, is probably the best part of German expressionistic filmmaking, on which this movie draws widely.

Now, I’m a little bit of a cynic, a stickler, and it probably wouldn’t be unfair to label me a pedant. They’re not necessarily always attractive qualities, but the descriptions aren’t inaccurate. So, when my Suspiria viewing buddy sent me a link to let me know that some folk have the intention of remaking the movie, I was less than impressed. There was a lot of senseless vitriol that came spewing from me. Once I’d calmed down, I best articulated my grievances by repeating the word ‘no’ ad infinitum. If you wish to follow my lead in film criticism, thus far the key words in your vocabulary are to be ‘colour,’ ‘movement,’ and ‘no’ – it’s not a wide vernacular. I dare say you’ll get to grips with it pretty quickly.

A comment appeared on the story that my friend forwarded me. It reads simply ‘stop remaking old films’ and was authored by Herr E Legs. I wanted to stand up on my own hairy legs and applaud the sentiment. I went searching to justify my opinion (“no, no, no, no, no…”) with something greater than fuddy-duddery.

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Quite quickly, I came across an interview with Suspiria (the original) director Dario Argento, and my smugness was combustible. In the article, he says to Indiewire’s writer “Well, the film has a specific mood. Either you do it exactly the same way — in which case, it’s not a remake, it’s a copy, which is pointless — or, you change things and make another movie. In that case, why call it “Suspiria”?”

The guy is a cinema legend, let’s not shit on his smarts, hey?