A few thoughts on the French TRAUMA-EDITION PRESTIGE disc
Once you’ve worked out a way to disable the forced French subtitles (basically you have to rip the disc to the hard drive of your PC and strip the unwanted subs that way – a bit of an inconvenience but worth the trouble), this is a pretty nice presentation – a 16x9 enhanced 2.35:1 image, with a fair degree of sharpness and detail, but somewhat on the desaturated side. Can anyone shed any light on how this film is supposed to look, incidentally? The Italian disc is full of eye-popping colours (at times looking as if the film were shot using orange filters) but both the Tartan UK disc and this French variant (which may actually be the same print with a far superior transfer) exhibit a very subdued colour scheme; there’s mention in the supplements about Dario’s desire to capture a particular quality of light “unique” to the Minnesota locations, and much use of diffuse lighting throughout the film, so I’m wondering if the punched-up colour palette of the Italian DVD correctly represents Argento’s intentions or is another instance of a telecine operator making his/her own artistic choices… Regardless, the French DVD is a fine presentation and currently seems to be the only option if you want to hear the English soundtrack in 5.1 surround.
Several supplements are offered (in a mixture of French and English language) which will be of interest to the dedicated Argentophile: firstly, there’s a ten-minute featurette which purports to be a behind-the-scenes piece on TRAUMA but actually follows Argento and daughter as they tour the Minnesota locations before shooting has even begun. Still, it’s a fun piece (although Argento converses in French throughout, Asia responds to the interviewer in English), in which Dario discusses, amongst other things, his lasting fascination with the mystery of staircases (is it connected with sex, he wonders?) and the importance of finding a house with the right one. Asia seems like a normal, shy 16-year-old – but supplies surprisingly confident answers when quizzed about the anorexia theme. (Contrast this, and her even more fresh-faced 14-year-old “guest appearance” in the Making Of docu which accompanies BU’s TWO EVIL EYES disc, with the cynical and jaded star in the French disc’s present-day Asia interview segment: chain-smoking, gravel-voiced and hair a shocking peroxide blonde, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Asia had really been through the wringer in the intervening years. Alternating between French and English, she revealingly admits that her father put her in a difficult position when casting her, essentially, in the role of her late sister Anna, with Piper Laurie essaying the role of her “evil mother” [Daria Nicolodi] – her “happy to work with my father” responses in the archival docu footage clearly show that she had already become adept at constructing a professional façade, even at 16.) She also remarks upon her replacement of Bridget Fonda on STENDHAL SYNDROME in surprisingly deprecatory terms – she thinks she was too young (at 19) to convincingly play a police inspector, but I have to admit I found her more than believable as a tough, driven cop – her relative youth never really bothered me, but there you go. :-)
There are also a few bonus features devoted to THE CARD PLAYER, a few interviews with Dario and Claudio Argento (Dario seen on the set directing Stefania Rocca in the scene where she’s menaced in her house by the killer), an intriguing aside with Fiore Argento (in English) in which she reveals that her father wanted her role in the film to be as a “ray of light” amidst the darkness, her blonde locks contrasting with the mostly brunette women in the cast. Fiore also seems relieved that Argento has revised his conception of women since those notorious early/middle-period gialli, now content to represent them in a much more positive light and no longer the embodiment of evil (did she know at the time that Dario was planning THE THREE MOTHERS as his next outing?), and last but not least a highly entertaining interview with the endearingly barmy Vera Gemma (daughter of Giuliano Gemma and supporting cast member of Asia’s SCARLET DIVA – where she was tied naked to a bed for a fair portion of the film if memory serves – and THE CARD PLAYER, as the third victim) who elevates Argento idolatry to dizzying new heights (just check out the borderline-loony Argento collage she has framed on her wall, which she delightedly explains in great detail – fragments of newspaper ad mats, photos, paintings she associates with Dario, patches of silver material, the word “GENIUS” in large capital letters above a picture of the director…there’s enough here for Argento to have a restraining order issued).
Also on hand is Claudio Simonetti, who briefly discusses his history with Dario (apparently THE CARD PLAYER marks a turning point in his working practices, in that he collaborated directly with the editor to tailor his cues to the on-screen action as the film was being cut together, as opposed to being presented with the completed film and supplying his score afterwards) AND revealed that he has just been commissioned to provide a modern new score for Murnau’s NOSFERATU, returning to his classical roots by employing a combination of full orchestra and electronic keyboards. There’s a brief excerpt from his successful premiere of the piece in Paris (performing his score live in front of an appreciative audience, with Dario on the front row to provide moral support). Simonetti also mentions that Daemonia are compiling material for their third (all-new) album, which follows on the heels of their two previous releases (and the Japanese-only “Live in Japan” CD).
But what about TRAUMA itself? (Deep breath…) Small portion of humble pie, table four! It’s much, much better than I remembered it – full of Argento’s trademark, effortless camera fluidity, and intriguing little touches (the opening French revolution cut-out diorama, ending with the fall of the guillotine, which anticipates the eerie CG nursery-rhyme sequence in NONHOSONNO) which really mark this out as an Argento film, quite different in fact from the rather insipid and anonymous piece I had in my mind’s eye before this revisiting. The big problems (overripe performances from Piper Laurie and Frederic Forrest…and talking severed heads?*) are still very much in evidence, but the US locations are less grating than my memory would have it, and there are even one or two funny lines courtesy of T.E.D. Klein…although I do think the film suffers for its restrained attitude towards violence (an approach which kind of ties TRAUMA in with THE CARD PLAYER) and I’m not convinced that the killer’s contrived weaponry quite has the flamboyance required to make each killing a highly-anticipated event…but it’s a film I’ll be returning to now with much less trepidation. (I’m glad to see it also vindicates – if only in my own mind! – my theory regarding the coda to OPERA, as TRAUMA’s killer proudly keeps the same pet lizard seen escaping into the grass at the close of that film. In fact, there’s quite a bit of signature insect/lizard iconography on display here, tying TRAUMA in very nicely with the films that preceded it – not to mention that closing death which recalls PROFONDO ROSSO's elevator finale.)
What a relief. Just as Asia Argento has recently “forgiven” Dario all his many injustices, so I, too, can join her in granting my all-important belated seal of (qualified) approval to her dad’s TRAUMA. Now let’s all have a group hug.
* Note that I have no problem at all with telepathic insects, vengeful intelligent chimpanzees or vigilante crows – but for some inexplicable reason I have BIG issues with severed heads that continue to talk. Maybe with modern CG technology Argento could’ve got the idea to work, but here…hmmm.