Screenplay : Dario Argento and Franco Ferrini (original story by Dario Argento))
MPAA Rating : NR
Year of Release : 1987
Stars : Cristina Marsillach (Betty), Ian Charleson (Marco), Urbano Barberini (Inspector Alan Santini), Daria Nicolodi (Mira), Coralina Cataldi Tassoni (Giulia), Antonella Vitale (Marion), William McNamara (Urbano), Barbara Cupisti (Signora Albertini)
Dario Argento, one of the most influential and creative horror directors of the last 25 years, often complained that viewers would shut their eyes during the goriest parts of his films. As most of his stories revolve around psychopathic masked killers, there are plenty of gory sights to close out with one's eyelids in such Argento classics as Deep Red (Profondo Rosso) (1975), Suspiria (1977), and Inferno (1980).
Thus, for Opera (1987), his tenth film, Argento devised what is perhaps the most disturbing and inherently self-reflexive image of his entire oeuvre: a woman tied to a pole with her mouth taped shut and her eyes forced open by a row of straight pins taped just beneath her eyes. In Argento's own words, Opera is the most ferocious movie he's ever done, and this single image of the inability to close one's eyes and shut out the horror before them is an apt metaphor for the terrible pleasures of horror movies themselves--they're unwatchable, yet we watch anyway. It is the captive audiencehorrifically literalized.
As Argento's films have often been described as operatic--each one increasing in baroque stylistic theatrics and emotional excess--it is only logical that he would eventually set one of his horror-thrillers in the opera world. With its grand scale and brooding themes, the art of opera fits neatly with Argento's lavish stylistics and dark preoccuptations as a filmmaker. He gets at this connection rather amusingly by having the central opera in his film--Giuseppe Verdi's Macbeth--helmed by a horror movie director who turns the performance into an elaborate avant-garde excursion into the darkest realms of humanity, with the set turned into a war-torn battlefield packed with dozens of squawking black ravens and overlooked by a giant skull. Argento inserts even more self-reflexive commentary by having the director be accused of being a sadist (something Argento has been called on more than one occasion by those who cannot distinguish a person's art from the person himself). He also gives the director a great line that plays as a none-too-subtle jab at all those who try to link violent movies with violence in real-life: "I think it is unwise to use movies as a guide for reality." The response to this line--"Depends on whose reality"--says just as much.
Conveniently for the plot, legend has it that Verdi's Macbeth is a cursed opera, and it brings bad luck to whoever performs it. This appears to be the case, as, within the opening moments of the film, the egotistical diva playing the role of Lady Macbeth is struck by a car, and her young, but extremely talented understudy, Betty (Cristina Marsillach), is given the role. Betty worries about the opera's curse, but, as the old saying goes, the show must go on.
Betty quickly finds out firsthand that the curse is indeed true, as it is she who is tied up with pins taped beneath her eyes, forcing her to watch a man in a black hood and black leather gloves murder those around her one by one. A hardened police inspector (Urbano Barberini) doesn't seem to be of much help, and although Betty grows close to Marco (Ian Charleson), the opera director, she may only be putting him in added danger. Not to mention that the black-hooded slasher is reminiscent of a specter that haunts Betty's dreams, which may be repressed memories of past events.
As with most of Argento's work, the narrative is somewhat convoluted, although not nearly as much as some of his other films. Argento does devise several cunning situations, including one in which Betty and her friend Mira (Daria Nicolodi) are in Betty's apartment with one man inside and one man outside, either one of which may be the killer. Yet, in the end, the mystery of the killer's identity is really secondary to the lavish style and gory details that have long been Argento's directorial signature--openly emulated, but never equaled by scores of other would-be horror maestros.
Whether it be a shot of feather pillow exploding on the pavement after being dropped from the top of a building, or an extreme close-up of a bullet ripping through the peephole of a door in slow motion, Argento knows how to squeeze every bit of excitement out of his imagery, no matter how banal. By staging his story in the world of opera, Argento skillfully uses the excesses of stage design, costumes, and the enormous, golden-hued Teatro Regio di Parma to give his film added scope and grandeur. With an $8 million budget, the largest with which he had ever worked, he and cinematographer Ronnie Taylor (who worked with Richard Attenborough on Gandhi, A Chorus Line, and Cry Freedom) devise elaborate and exhilarating camera movements, from tense chase sequences shot from extreme low angles to the stunning climatic scene that spins around the Parma theater from a raven's point of view as the bird swoops about looking for the murderer.
It is too bad that Argento felt the need to tack on a second climax at the end of the film, moving the action to the Swiss Alps in a sequence that plays like some kind of deranged parody of The Sound of Music (1965). It's an unfortunate move on his part, as it puts a silly conclusion on what was otherwise a solid shocker, a gory thriller of operatic intensity worthy of its title.
|This disc contains the full, uncut 107-minute version of Opera as Dario Argento intended it to be seen. It is also available in a two-disc special edition from Anchor Bay that includes a second disc with the film's original soundtrack and has an SRP of $34.98.|
|Audio|| Dolby Digital EX 6.1 surround |
DTS ES 6.1 surround
Dolby Digital 2.0 surround
|Supplements|| Conducting Dario Argento's Opera 36-minute making-of documentary|
International theatrical trailer
U.S. theatrical trailer
Daemonia music video
Dario Argento biography
|Distributor||Anchor Bay Entertainment|
|Release Date||October 30, 2001|
|The full, uncensored 107-minute director's cut of Opera is presented a gorgeous new THX-certified anamorphic transfer in the film's original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. While not nearly as gaudy in terms of color as some of Argento's previous films (especially Suspiria), Opera is a lavish spectacle to behold, and this transfer does it justice. The image is generally sharp and clean, with good color saturation. There is a strong presence of grain in some of the darkest sequences, but it is nothing distracting.|
|Anchor Bay has gone all out here, giving Opera is aural due with both Dolby Digital EX and DTS ES 6.1-channel surround mixes. Both are excellent, as they open up the impressive musical arrangements used in the film, which vary from Verdi's opera to shrieking heavy metal. Sound effects are also well incorporated via imaging and directionality, especially the ravens' cawing in Chapter 7 that gives a truly enveloping sensation.|
| Opera is available in two DVD sets, with the main difference being that the two-disc set (priced $10 higher) comes with a bonus disc that contains the film's soundtrack. |
Both versions include Conducting Dario Argento's Opera, a newly produced 36-minute documentary presented in anamorphic widescreen. The documentary consists primarily of interviews with Argento (who speaks in Italian with optional English subtitles), although several key individuals were also rounded up for their input, including cinematographer Ronnie Taylor, composer Claudio Simmoneti, and actors Urbano Barberini and Daria Nicolodi (who has starred in six of Argento's films, Opera being her last for reasons she makes quite clear). Quite a bit is packed into just over half and hour, including the movie's casting, extensive discussions about the legend of the Macbeth curse, and a quick look at some of the film's special effects with animatronics expert Stergio Stivaletti.
Also included on the disc is a music video for Daemonia's "Opera," a biography for Dario Argento, and two theatrical trailers, one international and one for the U.S. market, both in anamorphic widescreen.
Copyright © 2001 James Kendrick