Tuesday, February 08, 2011

The Joy of giallo

Our podcast about Naschy’s BLUE EYES OF THE BROKEN DOLL got me thinking about gialli again and thinking specifically about how I got interested in them. It started, I guess, because I'm a huge fan of mystery thrillers in both book and film form. As a young lad my love of Hitchcock's movies fueled my interest in mysteries and every few years something comes along that re-ignites my love. Often it's a newly discovered writer (James Lee Burke, Max Allan Collins, Michael Connolly, Christina Faust, Pete Hamill, etc.) but lately it's become strange niches in film history. My love of Charlie Chan books and films flowered in 1998 when AMC showed many of the old movies in long marathons that I taped. Until the Chan movies began to be released in great DVD sets I would return to those tapes about once a year for the pure pleasure of Warner Oland unraveling a tangled black & white web. Now I explore the DVDs and the copious extras with a big grin on my face. Well, about 16 years ago (just before the Chan obsession kicked in) I discovered the giallo genre of film. For the uninformed, giallo is the Italian word for 'yellow' and because it was the practice in Italy to publish mystery novels with loud yellow covers the color came to be a slang description of the genre. So when Italian filmmakers started turning out lurid murder mysteries in the late 60's they too became known as giallo or (the plural) gialli. I love these movies not just because they are mysteries but because they are so often completely over the top in their desire to keep ahead of the audience. Bizarre clues, nearly forgotten images, half-heard words, childhood drawings and style over substance were often (always?) the rule of the giallo. And if they occasionally flew out of control there was pleasure to be had in that as well. Often bloody and exploitative, the entire genre is often dismissed because of its violent murder set pieces but there's nothing in them that Hitchcock wouldn't have given his left arm to put on screen in the 50’s or 60's. Indeed, the gloriously inventive scenes of murder are the gialli calling card and without at least one crazed scene of this type fans will question its stature in the genre or even its ability to be named part of the genre. The best know are the works of Dario Argento (TENEBRA, BIRD WITH CRYSTAL PLUMMAGE, OPERA, etc.) but dozens of them were made in the 70's and 80's by a slew of directors.

I started hunting down bootlegs of these amazing films years ago spending way more than I ever should have. One of my great joys was stumbling across one unexpectedly and even if the overpriced 3rd generation tape looked like you were seeing the image through oatmeal, it didn't matter. The thrill was there-- usually with a freaking fantastic soundtrack! Needless to say the advent of DVD's has made a lot of the best gialli available in near perfect video form often for much less than I paid for the damned bootlegs. If you’ve never delved into this mad cinema world let me recommend you give them a try. I learned the other day that one of my favorites of the genre is about to be released on Blu-Ray here in the states and I couldn’t be happier. DEEP RED is always the one film I use to demonstrate the best that a giallo can offer and with Blue Underground’s late April release of it in 1080p sharpness I think it might gain even more fans. I’ve mentioned a few others above and I’ll provide links below as well for the curious film nut. Happy hunting!

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