Four Flies on Grey Velvet (Dario Argento / Italy-France, 1971):
(Quattro Mosche di Velluto Grigio; The Four Velvet Flies)

Two shots give you Dario Argento's wicked dazzle: The encircling iris in the psychedelic jam session is revealed as a vision from within a guitar, Marisa Fabbri's terror at the park pivots on a jump-cut that, in the moment it takes to light a cig, leaves her alone with death. He opens on a divide (the music in the credits suspended between Ennio Morricone's Euro-acid score and the stark beating of a heart) and proceeds through a rich system of identifications, triggered by a stranger in fedora and shades watching drummer Michael Brandon in his studio. Their confrontation takes place in an abandoned theater, where the stalker ends with a switchblade in his belly and a grinning, masked figure takes it all in from the balcony. Brandon escapes accusations only to be besieged by shadowy threats, the hiss of a cat, the public decapitation which, described to him at a party, turns up as a castrating motif in his dreams. "Oh, you heterosexuals," swishy shamus Jean-Pierre Marielle snaps before trying to break his "fantastic record of failure" by sniffing out the source of the hero's distress -- for his troubles he's pricked with a venomous syringe, left to transcend "faggot" stereotype while expiring against the lavatory's tiled wall. Humorously offering itself as one of the ornate coffins from the "International Funeral Art" expo, Argento's film discloses its complexity through such strains of poesy as the rapid panning across telephone wires when the maid calls the murderer from a booth; the beguiling retina gag (as seen in The Spiral Staircase) elucidates the title, and exposes a reality made increasingly opaque by mania, technology, sexual tumult. "God" (Bud Spencer) tags the rocker "a victim of consumerist society," but it's Brandon's wife (Mimsy Farmer) who must shoulder strangulating gender grids, her transgressive hysteria straitjacketed until unleashed and dissolved, with a hint of Fellini's Toby Dammit, into the template for Deep Red. With Francine Racette, Aldo Bufi Landi, Calisto Calisti, Oreste Lionello, and Fabrizio Moroni.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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