We explore Dario Argento’s Suspiria, his 1977 horror classic, and its loose remake by Luca Guadagnino, from 2018. We’ve never seen either, although Argento’s film casts a long shadow – those who’ve seen it never forget it, and it’s easy to see why. Its visual design is bold, imaginative and beautiful, the images it creates extraordinary, its violence heightened and wild. José loves it, literally wowed by it, captivated by its cinematic flair and interesting casting. But, Mike argues, it’s a film that offers nothing beyond the aesthetic, uninterested in its own characters or story, which leaves him cold.
Our responses to Guadagnino’s remake are reversed entirely. For Mike, it’s superior: ambitious, keen to mine the threadbare original for thematic depth, and laudably attempting to weave together generational guilt, dance, institutional corruption and women’s bodies into a complex tapestry, although one which requires too much audience participation to complete. José thinks he’s giving a pretentious work of ego far too much credit, is turned off by the dance scenes, annoyed at the lack of connection he finds between its wider themes and central coven, angered by its grey, wintry colour palette and dry cinematography… in fact, he’s angered by all of it! Now he knows how his friends felt as he valiantly tried to argue them into appreciating Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name, which he loved, but which many of them greeted with similar hostility.
The original a cult classic, its remake a very different take on the core premise – both are worth watching. But if our responses are anything to go by, your mileage may vary considerably.
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Scott (Robert Ryan) is a coastguard who’s boat was torpedoed during the war and is suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. He’s got a beautiful girlfriend, Eve (Nan Leslie), and they’re planning to marry. But he´s not quite well and they decide to wait. Big mistake. One day he meets a woman on the beach, Peggy (Joan Bennett). She’s no good. She’s married to a blind painter, Tod (Charles Bickford) and has already cheated on him once before. For Scott, meeting Peggy is like coming out of a fog and into a compulsion, and is beautifully visualised for us by Renoir (see below).
For Peggy meeting Scott is… well who knows for sure. The film leaves it deliciously ambiguous. Sometimes the film indicates that he’s just some bit of juicy meat to her. Other times, a means out of an increasingly self destructive and interdependent relationship with her husband. As you can see below, she admits to cheating on her husband before: ‘I’m a tramp, say it. ‘And whilst she admits to being a tramp she certainly makes no apologies for it. Watching Bennett, perhaps the surliest female presence in all of American cinema, is a pleasure all film noir lovers will recognise.
In Jean Renoir: A Biography, Pascal Mérigeau writes that, ´Renoir knew that he wouldn´t be able, as he´d confirm after the project, to attempt something that I´d wanted to do for a long time: a film about what you´d call sex today..but envisioned from the point of view of the purely physical,¨and that it would be impossible ¨to tell a story about love in which the reasons for attraction between the different parties were purely physical, a story in which sentiment would play no part at all¨ (location 11636, Kindle edition).
The film has a discourse on art by someone who should know: Renoir fils learned a thing or two about it from his father and his friends: the painter who can no longer see, who’s vision is entirely encapsulated in paintings increasingly gaining in value because he can no longer make them, who’s tied to the past in those works and thus also imprisons she whom he loves most, a woman who might only be staying with him for what those paintings are worth…it’s almost too much as a plot though Bickford is wonderful as the blind but still controlling husband, his gaze almost always in the right place so it rouses suspicions as to whether he really is blind.
The nightmare sequences at the beginning and end are wonderfully modernist. The first one, which starts the film is below:
…and useful to compare to the one near the end:
Renoir is extraordinary in creating a mood, a sense of physical compulsion in which questions of morality are over-ridden by desires that can’t be fully comprehended. Mérigeau writes, ‘there´s nothing to please a viewer who may have been attracted to the idea of seeing a film noir. Although it truly is a film noir, it contains no crime other than those that might exist in the minds of the characters, who need to get rid of their traumas, obsessions, and fantasies if they are ever to escape their deep, adherent isolation’ (location 11738)
The ending makes no sense to me. It is perhaps arrived at too quickly and I plan on looking into the production history of the film at a later point (and due to the wonders of social media Adrian Martin has kindly pointed out to me that Janet Bergstrom has written a dossier on the troubled production, Janet Bergstrom, ‘Oneiric Cinema: The Woman on the Beach,¨Film History 11 (1) (1999) 114-125) ..But I loved it in spite of that and plan to see it again.
The Woman on the Beach was Renoir’s last American film, one in which he says, ‘I wanted to proceed more by suggestion than by demonstration: a film of acts never carried out..This gives the film an ambiguity that well-complements its intensity: strong feelings not quite understood but carried on into actions, many of them later regretted.
It´s a film Renoir tried to forget, without ever quite disowning. It´s certainly imperfect. But it´s also a very beautiful film, a hypnotic presentation of a lulling into sexual desire and physical compulsion that deserves to be seen again and again in spite of its faults
The Greta Gerwig Little Women needs to be great because the Cukor-Hepburn one is perfect. Plus having the additional bonus of being, along with King Kong and Mae West, the sociological phenomenon of 1933. It´s a pity it´s not more seen:
Watching the ´49 version of Little Women only made me appreciate the 1933 Cukor-Hepburn version more. The 1933 version roots it in the Civil War, privation, self-sacrifice, kindness, family, sisterhood, complicated interpersonal relationships, and with a kind of yankee fierceness that is completely lacking in the sop of the ´49,. To see June Allyson after Hepburn is merely to see lack, where Hepburn was romantic, tomboyish, determined, longing to be an artist and a free woman, Allyson simply lowers her voice and juts her jaw. And even with that she´s better than Peter Lawford. A starry cast almost entirely wasted, Mary Astor certainly is, though Elizabeth Taylor and Margaret O´Brian have their moments (if only a few). Comparing the two is like comparing the illustrated comic of the novel to the novel itself. Same plot, more gloss, more shine, less depth and way less charm. I´d forgotten how important the Christmas setting is to all versions