Tuesday, January 27, 2009

"Opera": a little horror film from 1987 is another self-reflection on "performing arts"


I found a curious indie film from 1987 and a little distributor called Westlake that again combines performed or written fiction with “reality” (a theme that I took up recently on the “drama” blog with a review of "Pagliacci", as well as “Inkheart”). The title is, prosaically enough, “Opera.”

It’s a film by Italian Dario Argento, and looks Italian enough but is in tacky Queen’s English. It looks gaudy for a indie film, in the full 2.35:1 aspect ratio (not as common for small films in the 80s as today).

The heroine Betty (Cristina Marsillach), and understudy for the (Lady) lead role in Verdi’s Macbeth, gets the part (bad luck) after the star gets crushed by a car. Pretty soon, all the other cast members are getting knocked off by a psychopath, and she has to watch. There are some gruesome effects (one of which is a comb of needles to keep her eyes open) that anticipate the Saw and Hostel movies. I’m not sure of the matchup with the events in Shakespeare, but the movie mentions “the curse of Macbeth” frequently.

Toward the end of the movie, Argento recalls Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” with a harrowing attack at a performance of “Macbeth”. Maybe the idea was also to recall a scene from “The Man Who Knew Too Much.”

Then there is a scene where Betty runs through the Alps, in a scene recalling Julie Andrews in “Sound of Music.”

The music score has some of the most characteristic orchestral passages from Verdi’s early opera, however, emphasizing the passage work and progressive harmonies.

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