Aldo Bufi Landi
Trivia Deep Purple was originally considered for the soundtrack.
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Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971)
12th Feb 12
A “far out” rock drummer’s hedonistic life is turned upside down by blackmail and murder because he’s the protagonist in a Dario Argento movie.
Review Four Flies On Grey Velvet, Dario Argento’s 1971 closer to his debut “Animal Trilogy” of thrillers, was long thought of as the lost Argento due to decades of rights fights and missing footage. When cobbled together bootlegs began surfacing, salivating fans who’d ran out of classic Dario were left a little disappointed, saying it was too slow and distancing. It’s easy to see why but the movie does have its strong points. This is definitely the same man that brought us Bird With The Crystal Plumage and Deep Red but this one rocks to a slightly different beat.
Beautiful idiot Roberto (Michael Brandon, looking eerily like the director at the time) plays drums in a funky rock band. You should hate him. He has a model beautiful wife (Mimsy Farmer), a stylish flat which just screams those ashtrays that hold 200 cigarettes and swinging chicks falling at his sandals. You should really hate him. And indeed, even after the hippie haired flirt is harassed by a stalker who photographed him accidently kill ANOTHER stalker, he’s still an unlikeable distant character, but the strange thing is Argento doesn’t seem to want you to like his main protagonist.
To get the most out of Four Flies it’s best not to expect a character driven narrative. Sure, story has never been at the forefront of any Argento flick, but in most of them an innocent witness acts as our puzzled guide providing a centre to events. Instead here things flit around following different characters and the films themes of deceit and guilt become the thread holding everything together. It’s an odd approach to a mystery thriller and Argento mostly pulls it off despite a second act that feels as lost and confused as Roberto. Deep Red is where the great man perfected his melding of dream like narrative and giallo plot clichés, but Four Flies comes damn close.
This being made at the time of the director’s divorce, it’s interesting he would focus on such a selfish and unfaithful artistic type without trying to sugar coat him. It’s a brave and possibly fool hardy move making your “hero” so flaky and distant, but the final act, while thoroughly bleak, does make sense of this approach. While Brandon’s is nominally the central role, his self-involved sticksman plays second drum to Argento’s most eccentric gang of supporting characters and they’re the films strongest hand. Jean-Pierre Marielle’s gay detective is shockingly mincy but he’s no coward and it’s the character’s blind faith in his 80 plus failing streak that is milked for laughs rather than his sexuality. Though there is one scene between Marielle and a fellow camper that makes one wonder if Dario has ever even met a homosexual. Bud Spencer and Orneste Lionello as God and The Professor are a bonkers but uber resourceful pair of philosophical bums while Stefano Satta Flores plays the kind of perverse 70’s intellectual that used to get a fair ribbing in classic Woody Allen flicks – “Darling! Come listen to this story, it’s called The Rape of Frankenstein”. If you’re really into the Italian slapstick thing then lucky you as Dario even throws in a hapless moustachioed postman who keeps getting hit on the head.
It’s odd these colourful characters populate what would be the writer director’s most sombre film until The Stendhal Syndrome in ‘96. The muted but gorgeous colour palette reflects the cold, cynical nature of the story so those expecting Suspiria-like red and green washes might want to wear 3D glasses. Don’t fret if you’re after the prankster’s signature flourishes; the first half is a little light on the murder set pieces but the remainder features two of his best kills and the most slow motion car crash you will ever see.
The score is one of the strongest Morricone ever contributed to an Argento film, and aside from some unconvincing roll n funk from Roberto’s band (‘in the style of’ Deep Purple at Argento’s insistence) it is so haunting, beautiful and off-kilter as to rank amongst his greatest work. And the main theme will be in your head for days. The composer and director had a major falling out over this film and wouldn’t work together for another 25 years (on The Stendhal Syndrome, oddly enough) but they’ve made up now so all’s good.
Those fine warriors at Shameless Entertainment have brought Four Flies legitimately to DVD and Bluray for the first time in a very nice package. The most complete version that’s ever been made available, the image won’t test your HDTV to breaking point but it’s the best the film has looked since it first screened and both the Italian and English audio tracks come through crystal clear which’ll be fantastic news to all the fans who’ve forked out for inferior unofficial releases over the years. Also included is an in depth interview with Argento’s buddy and friend to the special feature Luigi Cozzi plus a photo gallery and a couple of trailers.
Four Flies is an entertaining, odd and unfairly maligned film in the Argento cannon and it definitely warrants a watch. This new release is the best way to view this fascinating movie so if you’ve never seen it, now’s the time. It also just recently got a sweet visual reference in awesome US comedy series Children’s Hospital so the stars are clearly aligned.