Defining the Giallo Film

This essay is by our guest writer, Toni Stanger.

I first watched Suspiria (1977) and Tenebre (1982) before I ever knew what “giallo” was. These two films–both directed by Italian filmmaker Dario Argento–are some of the more defined classics of the giallo genre. I also remember watching Don’t Look Now (1973) at university around the same time, which–although not typically cited as a one–does carry some of the key characteristics of the giallo film. A few years ago, I started to get more into this mysterious Italian genre, and set out to broaden my viewing and understanding: Blood and Black Lace (1964), Deep Red (1975) and Five Dolls for an August Moon (1970) are definitely some of my favourites. I researched giallo films online and, amongst all the £30-£40 specialist books, I found some people discussing on various blogs what a giallo film is to them–along with explanations of why it’s such an underrated genre. With that in mind, I want to continue to add to the conversation by outlining what a giallo film, in my eyes, actually is.

What is “giallo”?

The word “giallo” (plural: gialli) means “yellow” in Italian. It’s used in reference to the cheap paperback novels that were published by Mondadori from 1929. They were known for their outlandish yellow covers and were part of the “Il Giallo Mondadori” series, which features novels from the likes of Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler and Edgar Wallace. The series was mainly written by British and American writers and then translated into Italian. It eventually became so popular that other publishing houses began to mimic their yellow trademark covers in order to sell their own mystery and crime novels. After this, the word “giallo” became synonymous for “mystery,” which brings us to the giallo film. A giallo is often cited as a 20th-century Italian murder-mystery film which contains elements of both horror and thriller. However, some would argue that this simple description isn’t the only trait that makes a film a giallo. Some say the height of giallo film occurred between 1968 and 1978 even though there are many key films that came in the early ’60s. The years 1971–1973 were particularly successful with sixty-five giallo films being produced in this two year time period, mostly from the prominent directors of the genre (including Argento and Mario Bava). Giallo did continue into the ’80s where it eventually died out.

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The lavish and vivid set design in Blood and Black Lace (1964)

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Coming of Age to Coming Full Circle: An Essay

This essay is by our guest writer, Maddy Lovelace. 

Amira Casar and Timothée Chalamet in Call Me by Your Name (2017) © Sony Pictures Classics

It is evident in the way Elio Perlman’s entire psyche is altered by mature graduate student Oliver within the summer of 1983 that there is a new funk hidden in this archetype we’ve seen before, possibly a homage to film in previous times that mirrored life and love and sensuality. Director of 2017’s Call me by your name Luca Guadagnino’s direct view of these themes can be attributed to similar work such as James Ivory’s 1987 film Maurice, revealing just how impactful an insightful reception of a cinematic journey can be upon a wandering eye. There is a direct link between the lovers in the two films, how they carry their heavy consciousness regarding love around like a summer coat. Coming of age continues to carry this magnified burden of life through the generations, consequently allowing itself to unfold through emerging artist’s diverse and retrospective lenses. In Guadagnino’s usage of Elio’s ambiguous yet direct understanding of his sexuality, he plays to this new medium that audiences of cinema have come to love because they parallel the undertones of the self that linger within the events at hand. Elio is not shocked by the way his love for Oliver takes place so hauntingly because he knew, as audiences come to feel in the film’s soft essence, Elio knows of his truth long before Oliver arrives. Oliver in this sense serves as the catalyst for Elio’s subconscious desires that have been there since the beginning yet remained dormant. Guadagnino captures the fire and flame of Coming of age cinema in his perceptive parallelism to reality. Could this be the new standard for films based on
a shifting point in life?

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The Florida Project: Don’t Let Moonee’s Fortress Deceive You

This essay is by our guest writer, Nina Liang.

As a dweller of this hellhole state, I can assure you that The Florida Project is the only saving grace to come out of Florida since Publix’s BOGO deals. This film truly sets you up for a party-of-one crying fest and leaves you feeling so frustrated, heartbroken, and helpless. At least for me, those were the three most profound emotions I felt during the movie, which is one of the reasons why this film stood out to me. As filmmakers and storytellers like to say, there’s always a truth in every story; however, in a much deeper sense, The Florida Project is more real than you could say about most films because of the subject the film tackles. Many of us can’t say we know what it’s like to really empathize with Moonee’s childhood and yet, somehow it feels as if we’ve lived through it; the struggles of  poverty, an unstable home life, young motherhood – themes that are strongly prevalent in today’s society.

Willem Dafoe and Brooklynn Prince in The Florida Project (2017) © A24

Moonee (Brooklyn Prince), a precocious six-year-old, is a court jester disguised as the princess of the Magic Castle Motel. During her summer break, she and her little groupie go out of their way to cause mayhem for the residents and even manage to light an entire house on fire. However, while Moonee and her friends are off on their crazy adventures, the adults are left to pick up the pieces. At first glance, Moonee seems to only be a force of destruction but we soon realize that she’s learned to mirror this behavior from her young troubled mother, Halley (Bria Vinaite). Bobby (Willem Dafoe) the overseer and protector of his royal pink castle acts as a faux guardian to Moonee. He tries to keep everyone in check, but more importantly plays the main father figure role not only to Moonee but to Halley as well. While Moonee seems to be oblivious of the hardships around her, we see the adults dealing with unstable finances, implied drug use, and prostitution.

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Sculpting in Time with Andrei Tarkovsky

This essay is by our guest writer, Vikram Zutshi.

When people first encounter the cinema of Andrei Tarkovsky, it can feel akin to a religious experience. Time seems to stand still and one beholds the world as if through new eyes. “My discovery of Tarkovsky’s first film was like a miracle. Suddenly, I found myself standing at the door of a room the keys of which had until then, never been given to me. It was a room I had always wanted to enter and where he was moving freely and fully at ease“ rhapsodized Swedish auteur Ingmar Bergman. “I felt encountered and stimulated: someone was expressing what I had always wanted to say without knowing how” he said, adding that “Tarkovsky is for me the greatest, the one who invented a new language, true to the nature of film, as it captures life as a reflection, life as a dream.”

Andrei Tarkovsky on the set of ‘Stalker’ © Sergey Bessmertniy

Born on April 4th, 1932 in the Yuryevetsky district of Russia, Tarkovsky made only seven films over the course of his career, cut short by terminal cancer on 29th December, 1986. Tarkovsky’s works Andrei Rublev, Solaris, Mirror, and Stalker are regularly listed among the greatest films of all time. After his death, some former KGB agents testified that the director did not die of natural causes but was poisoned to curtail what the Soviet authorities saw as production of anti-Soviet propaganda. The allegations were backed up his doctor.

Tarkovsky came of age as a filmmaker in 1950’s Russia, during a period referred to as the Khrushchev Thaw, during which Soviet society grew more accepting of foreign films, literature and music. He was able to see films of European, American and Japanese directors, an experience which influenced his own ouevre. He soaked up the films of the Italian neo-realists, French New Wave, and of directors such as Kurosawa, Buñuel, Bergman, Bresson, Andrzej Wajda and Mizoguchi.

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SXSW Film Festival ’18: ‘American Animals’ is a crime drama that echoes the struggles of discovering one’s identity

This review is by our guest writer, Christina Huang.
Ever since we were young, most of us were led to believe that we are something special, and that one day we’ll have a moment that can totally change our lives. Unfortunately, that’s not true for almost everyone. ‘American Animals’ tells the somewhat-true story of the desire to be different and to find our defining moment, and how this hunger can lead people down a path of self-destruction.

Evan Peters, Bart Layton, Jared Abrahamson, Blake Jenner, and Barry Keoghan in American Animals (2018). © Sundance Institute

While I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, the film focuses on a group of young men, led by Warren Lipka (Evan Peters) and Spencer Reinhard (Barry Keoghan), who want to steal extremely valuable books from their school library. Their motivation behind the robbery is to finally have that moment that will change their lives forever. They believe that in order to not be ordinary, they must take matters into their own hands, instead of waiting for a life-changing opportunity to come along. Warren and Spencer’s identity crisis slowly leads them into a downward spiral as they ascend deeper and deeper into their scheme. They end up dragging Chas Allen (Blake Jenner) and Eric Borsuk (Jared Abrahamson) into the conspiracy, bringing them down as well. Although the boys are aware that the robbery that they have planned is wrong, they believe that if they continue living their mundane lives in Kentucky, they will never live up to the image of success that has been embedded into their minds.

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Is Gone Girl’s Amy Dunne a villain?

Gone Girl is one of those films you wish you could watch for the first time again.

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Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl (2014) © 20th Century Fox

Masked as a typical murder-mystery, Fincher manipulates the audience into sympathising with Amy Dunne and despising her husband; Nick Dunne, thus shocking us when the screen cuts to black and the words: “I’m so much happier now that I’m dead”, are uttered. In a few seconds Amy’s ‘helpless victim’ persona is left behind, replaced by the reality of who she truly is; a villain. In one sentence our whole perception of her is changed and that’s how you do a plot twist.

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The Dark, Wild, Feminist Liberation of “The Witch”

This essay is by our guest writer Cassidy Olsen. 

© A24

The phrase “Satanic feminist art film” will get you laughed out most rooms that aren’t a liberal arts classroom or the Hot Topic in your hometown mall, so it should come as no surprise that A24 struggled to brand The Witch for audiences upon its wide release in 2016. Written and directed by first-time feature filmmaker Robert Eggers, The Witch is a horror movie by almost any standard, riddled with the genre’s usual tropes of supernatural possession, exorcism and things that go bump in the night, but it has little regard for audience expectations. By relying on period-appropriate language (“Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?”) and opting for meditation in place of jump scares, The Witch left hardcore horror fans wanting and others asking, “What did I just watch?”

The answer? Well, a Satanic feminist art film.

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