Tuesday, July 18, 2017

For the Love of Art: THE STENDHAL SYNDROME (Review)

Director: Dario Argento

Cast: Asia Argento, Thomas Kretschmann, Marco Leonardi

Blue Underground / All Region / Unrated / 1.85:1 widescreen (1080p) / Italian and English 7.1 DTS-HD, 5.1 Dolby and 2.0 DTS-HD audio / English, French and Spanish subtitles / 119 minutes

Extras: NEW Audio Commentary with Troy Howarth, author of So Deadly, So Perverse / Three Shades Of Asia - NEW Interview with Star Asia Argento / Prisoner Of Art - NEW Interview with Co-Writer Franco Ferrini / Sharp As A Razor - NEW Interview with Special Makeup Artist Franco Casagni / Theatrical Trailer / Poster & Still Gallery / Inspiration: Psychological Consultant Graziella Magherini / Special Effects: Sergio Stivaletti, Assistant Director: Luigi Cozzi, Production Designer: Massimo Antonello Geleng / BONUS Collectable Booklet with new essay by author Michael Gingold



Stendhal Syndrome is a real psychosomatic disorder that causes "rapid heartbeat, dizziness, fainting, confusion and even hallucinations when an individual is exposed to an experience of great personal significance, particularly viewing art". The illness is named after the 19th-century French author Marie-Henri Beyle (pen name "Stendhal"), who described his experience with the phenomenon during his 1817 visit to Florence in his book Naples and Florence: A Journey from Milan to Reggio. Filmmaker Dario Argento has said that he experienced the phenomenon as a child while on a family visit to the Parthenon. That incident was so powerful that he recalled it as an adult after reading the book by Beyle and decided to return to the giallo genre with his underrated, aptly named horror thriller, The Stendhal Syndrome.

The story begins with Anna (the sublimely sexy Asia Argento) walking through Florence, Italy's famous Uffizi Gallery and being overcome by the power of the art. She loses consciousness and hallucinates about being underwater and kissing a grotesquely anthropomorphized fish. She awakens with a bloody mouth and is approached by Alfredo who seems concerned. It turns out that he is a serial rapist and murderer who kidnaps and sexually brutalizes her. She is able to escape, only to be nabbed a second time by Alfredo, but this time she turns the tables on him; beating, stabbing and kicking him into a rushing river, leaving him for dead. Time passes and Anna is obviously very affected by the trauma and believes that Alfredo did not die because people around her are turning up dead and she sees her abductor around every corner. Is Alfredo back from the dead or is someone else all too familiar with Anna and her sickness?

When Dario Argento conceived of The Stendhal Syndrome screenplay, he was initially going to shoot in the United States since he had just collaborated with George Romero (R.I.P.) on Two Evil Eyes and finished his Americanized giallo-esque slasher Trauma. The lead of "Anna" was going to be Bridget Fonda after her portrayal of "Allie" in 1992's Single White Female but after falling through, her co-star Jennifer Jason Leigh was considered, but to no avail. So Dario decided to take the production back to Italy and cast his lovely and talented daughter Asia in the main role. The casting definitely worked out as she is perfect in her role opposite of Thomas Kretschmann who plays the completely psychotic "Alfredo" with unreal believability. The two have some terribly intense scenes together and Asia asked that Thomas be cast because she worked with him on Queen Margot and was very comfortable with him. The pair were nothing short of brilliant together.

Screencap Courtesy of Mondo-Digital.com
The Stendhal Syndrome is undeniably Dario Argento. He revisits themes of his past movies like nightmarish underwater terror from Phenomena and the slow-motion gun blast from Opera. His use of the color red is utterly brilliant as he contrasts it by dripping and splashing in on stark white in numerous scenes. His Hitchcockian use of light really made an impression on me, especially one particular scene where Anna is going from a pitch black alley to a well lit bedroom. The light from the room slices through the darkness and gives the impression that she is walking into another dimension. In essence, I guess she kinda is as Anna goes through three distinct changes in the movie, each time following the attacks on her. She starts as a normal, middle class woman and after the first attack she cuts off her hair and dons more masculine clothing. Following the second attack, she wears a blonde wig and becomes a Veronica Lake-like femme fatale.

The film's journey on home video in the United States has been a strange one. It's debut was on DVD in 1999 from none other than Troma Video who ported it over from the Japanese laserdisc with a 1.66:1 aspect ratio. Though not bad for a Troma release, it left a lot to be desired. So in 2007 Blue Underground would up the game with their single disk blu-ray release with the same letterboxed format. But this time the transfer restored the film's original grain and gorgeous colors adding detail and vibrance. The only problem was that in the darker scenes, the over abundance of grain and the "digital noise" was a huge distraction. Now, a decade and new technology later, Blue Underground has gotten it nearly perfect.

Gone are the swarms of grain and the new transfer from the camera negative is actually 1.85:1 which gives you a lot more info on the outer edges of the picture. I read a social media post about how the new picture quality is better but now suffers from compression problems, "artifacting" and "blockiness". That post is from someone in the business, a professional who has an eye for things like that. I have also read articles from professional critics/authorities I trust who don't mention that at all. As someone with little technical knowledge and just a consumer who has seen badly compressed discs, I couldn't see it even after looking specifically for it. The Stendhal Syndrome is a masterpiece that isn't given enough credit for its brilliance and now it has a fantastic new 3-disc blu-ray loaded with extra features and beautiful packaging that features a raised slipcover that jumps out at you. If you enjoy brutal yet gorgeous gialli, you should definitely pick this up.

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