Thursday, 2 July 2009

Lamberto Bava & Michele Soavi : Dario Argento's Two Proteges

From the opening half-hour-or-so of Demoni (Demons), one is apt to suspect that its director, Lamberto Bava, had inherited his mentor, Dario Argento's bloodlust but little of his subtlety. Just a cheap and tawdry pretender, gore-mongering schlock merchant who supplements Goblin keyboardist, Claudio Simonetti's electronic score with Saxon and Motley Crue. More Herschell Gordon Lewis than the Hitchock of horror. But Demoni is best understood as a comic satire on censorship and the 'Video Nasty' list which, the previous year, had resulted in two Argento films (on which Bava had worked as assistant director) being banned in the UK. In one scene a group of the protagonists stand around, trying to make sense of what is going on, "All this is the movie's fault," they're saying, "We've got to stop the movie!" It is a perfect parody of tabloid scapegoating of violent or horrific films. But the characters soon realise that destroying the movie wont do any good. "It's not the movie," say the blind man in the stalls, "It's the theatre." The blame for 'real life' violence should not lie with some imaginary identification-cum-repetition of screen violence, but in the contradictions in the symbolic order, the theatre of life.
Michele Soavi's La Chiesa (The Church, sometimes called Demons 3), from four years later, is a far more stylish film, a much slicker production all round. Peppered with interesting bits of montage and nice camera moves soundtracked by a sophisticated electronic score, written by Philip Glass and performed by Goblin. However, politically, La Chiesa is far more dubious; it's twin messages being that the pursuit of knowledge is dangerous, and that the Teutonic knights, favoured military order amongst Nazis and Dan Brown fans, were in fact absolutely right to slaughter countless peasants because they really were demons. At one point a character even prays for assistance and his prayer is 'answered' when he immediately discovers a clue as to how to proceed. This sort of thing would never happen in an Argento or Fulci film.