Designer Spotlight: Nanda Vigo

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Nanda Vigo is arguably one of the most prolific Italian designers of the post war period. Known for her exceptional use of light and colour, Vigo was on the forefront of 1960s and 1970s design working with such esteemed names as Gio Ponti whilst simultaneously forging a successful name for herself and her Milanese studio. Vigo has worked across a number of artistic disciplines including architecture, interior design, sculpture and furniture design and continues to work and exhibit to the present day dividing her time between Milan and East Africa. Vigo's work challenges perception fully embracing the avant garde and our assumptions of what design is and can be. Vigo's unique approach to design was a natural fit in the 1970s for the Italian genre film in which directors showcased the very best in Italian design through interiors and fashions. Vigo's monochromatic interiors are perhaps some of the most memorable in Italian genre cinema and although Italian film fans may be unfamiliar with her name, they're such to recognise her striking interiors that have been prominently featured in key films of the giallo and poliziotteschi.

During her prolific interior design period Vigo designed six monochromatic interiors; Zero House (1959-1962), Lo scarabeo sotto la foglia (1965-1968), Casa Remo Brindisi Museum (1967-1971), Casa Blu (1967-1972), Casa Gialla (1970) and Casa Nera (1970). This series of interiors embraced a pop art sensibility that seamlessly integrated art, architecture and the interior. Vigo's interiors were showcased in seminal Italian design magazine, Domus and quickly became key examples of Italian interior design of the period. The visceral nature of her designs were a natural fit for the big screen and three of her key interiors; Lo scarabeo sotto la foglia, Casa Blu and Casa Gialla were featured in Italian genre cinema of the time. In this article I'm going to examine these interiors in relation to the films they feature in and shine a light on why Vigo's interiors were so integral to the distinct visual look of Italian genre cinema of the early to mid 1970s.



In 2016, I contributed an essay to Arrow Video's Killer Dames release which contained Emilio P. Miraglia's Gothic gialli; The Night Evelyn Came out of the Grave (1971) and The Red Queen Kills Seven Times (1972). My essay examined the production design in Miraglia's films and the various ways in which production designer Lorenzo Baraldi conveyed key themes and ideas through costuming and interiors. In particular, I touched upon an interior featured in the final scenes of The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave which takes place at a Northern Italian residence known as Lo scarabeo sotto la foglia (The Beetle Under the Leaf named due to the building's beetle like shape). Lo scarabeo sotto la foglia was conceived in 1964 by renowned Italian architect, Gio Ponti. Ponti designed the house for art collector, Giobatta Meneguzzo and entrusted the interior design to Nanda Vigo, a artist/designer involved in the radical art scene of the 1960s. Ponti agreed to work on Meneguzzo's house plans for free providing that he invested in the house's experimental design, resulting in a mesmerising array of art and innovative design features that make Lo scarabeo sotto la foglia one of the great Italian interiors of the latter half of the twentieth century. It's wonderful, innovative design made the residence an ideal film location and in 1971, three years after its completion, Lo scarabeo sotto la foglia was chosen as a filming location for Emilio P. Miraglia's The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave.



The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave predominantly takes place at an English country house (despite the exteriors clear Italian location - they were shot at Villa Da Porto Colleoni in Thiene, Vicenza) and as such; the interiors have an old fashioned, Gothic sensibility that's more in line with the settings of Antonio Margheriti's work than Dario Argento's. Miraglia's two forays in the giallo genre have earned his films the reputation of Gothic Gialli primarily due to their distinctive Gothic elements that are perhaps considered at odds with the genre's fascination with modernity. Although there's certainly an early 1970s element to the film, it's decidedly far more muted than your typical giallo with the more contemporary elements of design taking a back seat to the classical paintings and ornate stone work of Lord Alan Cunningham's castle. The Gothic nature of the film is played up in the film's storyline with Lord Alan torturing beautiful women in his dungeon filled with strange torture devices that appear to be relics from a bygone age. For the majority of the film's running time, the action takes place inside Lord Cunningham's castle until the film's final scenes at Lo scarabeo sotto la foglia. The thoroughly modern interior of Lo scarabeo sotto la foglia is a vast contrast to the dark, Gothic design of Lord Cunningham's castle emphasising the tonal shift of the film's climax. It also makes for an effective murder scene with its shiny white surfaces acting as the perfect contrast against the bright red blood of the film's victims.  



Vigo's interiors are famed for their use of artwork and demonstrate how art and interiors can work symbiotically to create a vivid, stylised cohesive environment in the avant-garde style. There are many artworks on display throughout Lo scarabeo sotto la foglia by renowned artists of the period, many of whom are affiliated with the post-war Zero group movement. Enrico Castellani's Superficie Bianca (1963) was specifically created for the house and features prominently alongside his mentor Lucio Fontana's Teatrina (1965). Other artwork includes the Édouard Manet inspired Déjeuner sur l’herbs by Alain Jacquet (1964) as well as work by Julio Le Parc, Agostina Bonalumi and Turi Simeti and other artists affiliated with the pop art movement. The majority of the art featured in Lo scarabeo sotto la foglia has a 3D quality to it playing with perception, texture and material to create a living, breathing artistic space.

Miraglia certainly revels in the house's elaborate interior with inventive camerawork that showcases the design intricacies of Lo scarabeo sotto la foglia's interior from its art to its faux grey fur spiral staircase to its mirrored wall panels that emphasise the fractured identity of the film's characters. In one scene Marina Malfatti's Gladys and Erika Blanc's Susie lounge across a chrome and fur chair and sofa before meeting their untimely deaths showcasing Vigo's revolutionary furniture design whilst simultaneously acting as a beautiful late sixties background to an intense death scene. Miraglia and Baraldi clearly understood the importance of interior design in creating a cohesive cinematic look and the attention to detail in regards to how costume design mirrors interior design is admirable - Gladys' peach dress with ribboned arms matches the aforementioned fractured mirrored panels she stands in front of and her dress and Susie's yellow maxi perfectly reflect the select colours on display through the house's interior. Miraglia and Baraldi understood the aesthetical expression of an artist manifested in a physical space and were able to utilise this in cinematic terms.



It's a refreshing change to talk about a poliziotteschi on this blog and Umberto Lenzi's Gang War in Milan (1973) is a fantastic example of what the genre has to offer. Without digressing too much from this blog post's remit, it's often difficult for me to discuss poliziotteschi from a design point of view as they're less likely to celebrate/depict the ostentatious jet setter lifestyle that's typically associated with the giallo. That's not to say that the poliziotteschi is without its share of glamorous interiors - the homes of wealthy victims, hip nightclubs and the dwellings of flushed criminal masterminds and drug barons inevitably make for palatial homes. However, I'd argue that these films are far more concerned with depicting the political and social upheaval of Italy during the Years of Lead which tends to involve a far more realistic portrayal of the criminal underbelly of Italian cities. Inevitably, you'll see far more abandoned warehouses, run down hideouts and sparse government buildings in the poliziotteschi than in your typical giallo. However, as previously mentioned, it's imperative to show ostentatious wealth in the genre in order to highlight Italian economic and class disparity as well as to underline the affluent lifestyle afforded to those that pursue the dangerous lifestyle that criminality offers for the select few. This affluent lifestyle of criminality is beautifully depicted in Gang War in Milan through the criminal bases of the two warring criminal factions at the centre of the film. One of the most memorable interiors from the film and arguably the poliziotteschi is the base of kingpin pimp, Tito; a mesmerising apartment in a monochromatic palette of cobalt blue. This interior is another one of Vigo's works and is known as Casa Blu following a tradition of naming her interiors after the colour they're inspired by. Casa Blu, located in the film's setting of Milan, was designed by Vigo between 1967 and 1972. Following on from my lengthy discussion of the interiors on display in Lo scarabeo sotto la foglia you can see the same design sensibility applied to Casa Blu; the synergy between interior, art and architecture runs throughout the space with Vigo's signature approach to the esoteric elements of design on display.






Casa Blu underlines the differences between the warring drug factions at the centre of the film. Philippe Leroy's Roger Daverty is a French drug baron who exhibits a thoroughly French sensibility; he appears traditional and refined compared to Italian pimp, Tito who is very much the stylish hot headed Italian. Roger Daverty aka Il Capitane resides in a palatial Italian residence filled with classical oil paintings, ornate wooden furniture and floor to ceiling length windows that flood the apartment with light. In comparison, Tito's Milanese apartment is covered in strange modern art, avant-garde furniture and appears almost windowless. This vast contrast between the two men presented by visual indicators such as fashion and interior design are evidence of their vast differences from their mode operatus to their national identity and character traits. Vigo's extravagantly stylish interior exaggerates the stereotypical idea of the Italian that Tito embodies in the film.

Like Lo scarabeo sotto la foglia, Casa Blu plays with perception. The apartment's mirrored ceiling reflects the surrounding art around the room making the main space appear much larger than it is, once again amplifying visual and tactile perception through art. Vigo's incredible use of light is on display in Casa Blu; its effect is heightened as it refracts around the apartment's glossy surfaces. The low level lighting appears to be amplified by the reflective nature of the room. Mirrored shimmering tiles and artwork that appears to shift and change contribute to the changing space made up of a variety of textures that make for such a fascinating space. 



Unfortunately, there's a real lack of information available on Casa Blu although I do believe the original interior no longer exists. The art and furniture from the interior has inevitably been divided up and it's difficult to identity individual pieces. However, it's evident that the majority of the artwork from the apartment is from artists from the pop art movement as is the case with Vigo's other interiors from this time period. Lo scarabeo sotto la foglia's art was on a much larger scale than the art presented in Casa Blu but as always, the pieces featured on the apartment's walls and glossy surfaces contribute to the cohesive look of the interior as a whole and make the apartment appear to be part home, part gallery. Umberto Lenzi and his production crew were clearly enamoured by the look of Vigo's interior and showcase it throughout the film. The character of Il Capitane is introduced in one of Vigo's incredible wooden curved back chairs, whereas other characters lounge on the apartment's deep blue plush sofa which could be rearranged in various combinations. In one scene Tito sits at a glass desk in a yellow and black lined silk bathrobe which perfectly mirrors the colour palette and lines of the painting directly behind him. Characters interact with the artwork surrounding them and are always framed by the psychedelic art that adorns every wall and surface. By using Casa Blu as a filming location, Lenzi's film is injected with a sense of style that reflects the character of Tito and his gang as well as presenting the affluent, designer lifestyle that crime can afford - a stark contrast to the squalor that the prostitutes they work with are confined to. 



In the criminally underrated, The Killer Must Kill Again (1975), another of Vigo's interiors is present; this time prominently featured. Vigo's aptly named La Casa Gialla was used as the marital home of Giorgio and Norma Mainardi; a wealthy couple living in palatial surroundings but suffering from marital woes due to Giorgio's philandering ways. Greedy adulterer Giorgio, unsatisfied with his shrill wife, hires a contract killer to murder her in order to get his hands on her riches. Inevitably, things don't quite go to plan when a pair of teens take a joyride in the killer's car with Norma's body in the trunk. Giorgio must subdue the police as the killer attempts to retrieve the body before its discovered by the joy riders. The film's premise is fairly straight forward and deviates from the typical giallo blueprint but it works fairly well as a thriller on its own terms. Due to the fairly low budget of the film, The Killer Must Kill Again could easily feel cheap and uninspired but Luigi Cozzi's choice to shoot at La Casa Gialla was an inspired choice elevating the film stylistically above other gialli of the mid 1970s.



La Casa Gialla was designed by Vigo in 1970 and was one of the final interiors in her monochromatic series alongside Casa Nera which sadly, to my knowledge, was never featured as a filming location. La Casa Gialla feels in many ways like the opposite of the aforementioned Casa Blu acting at opposing ends of the colour spectrum. The decision to give the apartment a yellow monochromatic colour palette was at the request of the client, a Southern Italian who wanted to be reminded of home. Unlike Casa Nera which, at the request of the client, was dark with subdued atmospheric lighting, Casa Gialla celebrated light and the warmer climbs of Southern Italy with its warm bright lighting and shiny reflective surfaces. The expressive nature of the colour yellow and Vigo's astute lighting choices makes Casa Gialla feel like an experimental yet highly polished space. It amplifies the perceptions of those that inhabit it making it the perfect space for a giallo that features a flushed, educated married woman.

The decision to film at La Casa Gialla is a wonderfully astute choice, referencing the genre's literary origins and association with the colour yellow. The colour yellow plays a prominent role in the film and is utilised in several scenes outside La Casa Gialla linking back nicely to Norma and Giorgio's marital home; the colour is used in ice rink seats, initials on a lighter, the police station's walls, the clothes of Giorgio's friends, the nighttime exterior lighting and the seaside villa's furnishing. You'll find that many later period gialli utilise the colour yellow to reference the genre's literary roots as well as to provide a clue to the culprit's identity, for example Midnight Ripper, but The Killer Must Kill Again is perhaps one of the first gialli to feature this self aware visual clue to the Italian thriller's origins before it became more commonplace in later period thrillers. 



Outside of Casa Gialla's obvious connection to the giallo itself, it fundamentally highlights Norma's wealth and her gauche approach to money. Norma wants to fill her home with the finest art and furniture and to be a showcase for her avant-garde taste but she is oblivious to her husband's misery who feels locked inside her gilded cage desperate to break out and use her money for his own nefarious desires. Like Lo scarabeo sotto la foglia and Casa Blu, the apartment is filled with pop art from vivid paintings in a yellow and blue colour scheme to strange sculptures in polished metal. The  apartment features some eye catching furniture including a striking perspex desk and chair that feel somewhat reminiscent of Shiro Kuramata's work in the 1970s as well as yellow and blue oversized couches covered in teddy bear like fabric. 

Despite the film's somewhat limited budget, Luigi Cozzi injects a real sense of glamour and Italian style into his film via the use of Casa Gialla as a filming location but alongside highlighting the Mainardi's extravagant lifestyle, the apartment acts as a visual focus for a film that would otherwise be fairly aesthetically dull. Furthermore, Casa Gialla acts as the perfect contrast to the films's final scenes that take place at a dilapidated seaside villa. Arguably Casa Gialla is a fantasy style apartment where theatrical events take place bordering on the comical but the film's brutal finale and unrelenting rape scene feels hyper real acting as a stark contrast to the fantastical setting of Casa Gialla at the film's beginning. By contrasting Casa Gialla with the seaside villa, Cozzi bookends his film subverting your expectations by turning a comical, fantastical thriller into something dark and throughly unpleasant. 



The Killer Must Kill Again is arguably best known for its elaborate yellow interior and Casa Gialla demonstrates that with the right setting, a giallo can be given a much needed bolster stylistically which can set it apart from similar films in the genre. Although La Casa Gialla is not as effectively used as Lo scarabeo sotto la foglia in The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave, it still anchors the film's visuals and serves as a centrepiece to the film's production design.

What is perhaps so inspiring and enjoyable about Vigo's work is the sense of theatre and participation that she brings to her creations, they are truly living, breathing works of art that capture the imagination of those that view them even from the screen. Vigo's interiors are undoubtedly not for everyone with many viewing them as excessive and set like but in my opinion, the radical playfulness of her work is what truly brings an immense amount of joy to those that view it. As an avid watcher of Italian genre cinema, I can recall with great fondness the first time I saw Vigo's interiors, La Casa Gialla in particular left me spellbound and has probably elevated The Killer Must Kill Again considerably in my mind. Vigo's place in the Italian cinematic landscape has been truly earned and it's important to recognise her contribution to the films she gave visual life to through her art. Alongside her obvious mark on the design world in relation to Italian cinema, it's also perhaps important to realise how Vigo's designs and her contemporaries impacted on later period Italian design as I'll go on to briefly discuss now.

I've recently discussed the use of postmodern design in the Italian horrors and thrillers of the 1980s and how many genre fans take issue with this supposedly radical design departure from the gialli of the sixties and seventies. Granted, postmodern design can sometimes feel at odds with the aesthetic of the gialli of the prior decade. However, despite their initially jarring differences, you'll find that there's a lot of similarities between the two design movements. Many designers and architects who were prominent in the 1960s and 1970s went on to shape the Italian design landscape of the eighties as part of the New Italian Design movement that included the Memphis Milano design collective. Vigo herself would go on to reject the monochromatic colour palettes of her earlier work, embracing a more colourful aesthetic that was indicative of the new Italian design scene of the eighties and her work during this period arguably has more in common with the likes of the Memphis Milano collective than the work of her early 1970s contemporaries. In many ways the later style of Italian design was a reinterpretation of the pop art aesthetics of Vigo and her ilk; fusing an avant grade experimental sensibility with images of popular culture and consumerism, utilising block monochromatic colours and pattern and unconventional forms. Although Vigo's interiors of the 1980s did not feature in Italian genre cinema (at least to my knowledge), you can look at her work from the decade such as Abitazione privata a Verona (1988-1989) to see the parallels between her work from the period and key interiors of 1980s Italian genre cinema like Obsession: A Taste for Fear (1988) and Too Beautiful to Die (1988).Vigo's progressive style extended far beyond the interiors she was initially famed for and the continuation of her work up until present day demonstrates her talent as a taste maker and artistic visionary.

Abitazione privata a Verona (1988-1989)

Vigo's incredible interiors demonstrate that set and production design are an integral component in the giallo and Italian genre cinema's aesthetic appeal and legacy. Whilst we tend to praise the fantastic cinematography, set pieces and fashions of the Italian genre film, it's also important to acknowledge and praise the contribution of set design and interiors to the unique, visually arresting look of these films. Nanda Vigo and her contemporaries perfectly encapsulate this cinematic period of Italian design, demonstrating why the giallo is deserving of its reputation as the most stylish subgenre of horror and thriller cinema.

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Design & Italian Horror: Fair Game (1988)

Thursday, 19 October 2017


Fair Game (also known as Mamba) is a 1988 Italian horror-thriller film directed by Mario Orfini  starring Trudie Styler and Gregg Henry. It's a typical example of an Italian horror film from this period - it's fairly low budget and feels not to dissimilar to the televisual thrillers of the era. As par the course in Italian genre cinema, it features a fairly well known American actor (Gregg Henry of Body Double fame) but as always, savings to the production have been made elsewhere i.e. the small cast and limited locales. The premise of the film is fairly straightforward, Artist Eva (Trudie Styler) has separated from her clever but unhinged video game designer husband Gene, (Gregg Henry)  Enraged by his wife's actions, Gene seeks out an exotic animal dealer and procures a deadly mamba  (pumped full of hormones!!!) to enact revenge on his wife. Utilising technology from his job as a video game designer, Gene puts a tracker on both his wife and the snake and watches the ensuing game of cat and mouse through a computer simulation. The majority of the film's action hinges on Eva trying to evade the deadly snake in her labyrinthian apartment as Gene watches on from nearby.

Fair Game is a fairly lacklustre affair. Even in terms of Italian creature features from this period it's pretty bad and worse still, it makes for a pretty tedious watch. For a film categorised as a horror, there's little in the way of terror in the film's hour and 21 minute run time. The film's suspense is built around the threat of imminent danger to Eva but as the film's cast consists of three characters we know that our protagonist isn't going to come to any real harm which deadens any sense of danger - even the film's climax feels achingly predictable. There's a few "menacing" shots of the mamba snaking round Eva's apartment and Trudie Styler acting suitably histrionic but this does little to ramp up any sort of suspense/danger. Despite the film's many flaws there is one saving grace to Fair Game and thats the film's production design by Academy Award winning Italian art director, Ferdinando Scarfiotti. 

Scarfiotti's Magritte influenced Toys (1992)

Fair Game's sets were designed by renowned Italian art director, Ferdinando Scarfiotti. Scarfiotti is perhaps best known for his work on the 1987 Bertolucci film The Last Emperor (1987) for which he received an Academy Award for Best Art Design. Scarfiotti also served as the production designer for Bertolucci's The Sheltering Sky (1990) and The Conformist (1970) as well as acting as a supervising set designer for Last Tango in Paris (1972). Outside of his work with Bertolucci, Scarfiotti acted as visual consultant for seminal eighties films such as Brian De Palma's Scarface (1983) and Paul Schrader's American Gigolo (1980) and Cat People (1982). I'd argue that Scarfiotti's most identifiable work as a production designer is the 1992 Robin Williams film Toys. Heavily influenced by the work of surrealist artist, René Magritte, Scarfiotti combined elements of the artist's paintings with components of artistic movements such as Futurism and Modernism filtering them through a late eighties/early nineties postmodern aesthetic that included references to Ettore Sottsass's Memphis Milano collective. The Last Emperor may be responsible for Scarfiotti's Oscar but Toys is the film that cemented his reputation as a titan of production design. Scarfiotti's mark on cinema and art design is undeniable, he was a true visionary who had an incredible ability to create distinctive cinematic worlds with an eye for detail unrivalled by many of his contemporaries. Although Fair Game is not the best example of Scarfiotti's work (hampered by a smaller budget and limited premise) it's still a showcase of the art director's approach to set design and his interpretation of 1980s styles of the time. In honour of Scarfiotti's work, I'm going to examine some of the set design on display in Fair Game and how the film represents key trends of the era. 


As the majority of the Fair Game's action is contained to Eva's home, set design is integral in maintaining visual interest and variation. The architectural design of the apartment is the film's focal point and much of Fair Game's narrative hinges on Eva moving through the various spaces in her apartment in an attempt to evade the mamba. The apartment must act as a maze as well as a place of visual interest and the intricacies of Scarfiotti's design allows for the audience to discover new areas of the apartment that initially appear hidden. In order to achieve this, Scarfiotti breaks up a large almost warehouse like space with various partitions and architectural features. Considering the film's simplistic narrative this is particularly clever as Scafiotti's design creates various different spaces for Eva to explore, progressing the film's plot as she slowly moves through her labyrinthian home. The lack of obstructions i.e. doors makes for a more believable premise - Eva can't shut herself off from the creature, essentially finding herself trapped in a large open space. The strange architectural and interior design features create places for Eva to hide and for the mamba to lurk. I particularly like the wooden and steel rafters that the mamba slithers along creating danger from above. 


There's plenty of architectural and interior design elements that cement Fair Game as an example of late 1980s design in film. One of my favourite qualities of postmodern design is its playful nature and humorous and referential self awareness. Postmodernism typically associated with the late 1980s to early 1990s is often regarded as having a fake quality - it's almost set like and artificial in nature. You can attribute this to the simplification of classical design elements and the way in which they're combined with the simplicities of modernist principles. There's something almost jarring about classical elements of architecture simplified and replicated in more modern materials and styles i.e. the very fake looking marble columns. A particular example of postmodernist design in Fair Game is the kitchen partition consisting of a grid design that is typical of the works of postmodernists like Aldo Rossi (see the San Cataldo cemetery for reference) and the works of Maltese architect, Richard England. England in particular would construct buildings that would consist of different structures, often fusing classical elements like an ornate pediment with modernist qualities like functional square windows. You can see this idea on an interior design level above; a grid like screen contains the apartment's kitchen whereas on the other side of the room, two neoclassical columns stand for ornamental purposes, industrial rafters combine these two elements together and draw the eye from one end of the warehouse to the other. The screen cap above perhaps best represents the production design of the film as it shows the almost funhouse like quality of Eva's apartment. It's easy to see how the design of the apartment would lend itself to the cat and mouse game played between Eva and the mamba whilst showcasing some of the more overt elements of late 1980s interior design. 


Scarfiotti continues this funhouse element to production design in Eva's apartment with his use of side stepped stairs in contrasting colours. The exposed staircase evokes M C Escher's Relativity - a structure that seemingly leads nowhere. The screen grab above makes it look like the stairs continue on to the ceiling as opposed to a room or landing. This strange Escher like quality is emphasised by the platform at the top of the stairs that hangs over Eva's bed, a feature that has no real purpose other than to highlight the apartment's funhouse like feel. Further on in the film's narrative, it's revealed that these stairs lead to Eva's bathroom but as this is not obvious from the set design it creates a sort of spatial discrepancy. Things to do not appear as they seem in Eva's home - initially her apartment looks to be an open space but features like columns and screens hide and obscure areas or make them appear different from various angles. Again, Scarfiotti conceals and reveals through set design. Another scene shows Eva climbing two sets of ladders in order to reach the apartment's rafters again this creates a jarring feel to the film as we've been previously shown a staircase that reaches up to one level and is significantly smaller. Examining Scarfiotti's other work on a larger scale like Toys, this seems deliberate, he likes to play with perception and scale in order to create surreal worlds that feel at odds with reality. 


Interior design wise, Scarfiotti's work on Fair Game is partly reflective of a prominent design trend in the 1980s known as Southwestern. Southwestern design was heavily influenced by Native American, colonial Spanish and Texmex styles and influences. Typical design motifs that are associated with the style are Navajo/Ikat textile patterns (as evidenced in the couch throw in the picture above), tromp d'oil scenes of Southwestern locales, mixed wood architectural features, tiling, Native American artwork and the use of colours such as peach, apricot, red, orange, green and turquoise. Several of these design elements are apparent in Scarfiotti's design but the kitschiness of the design movement is paired back by combining it with elements of other 1980s design styles such as Memphis Milano. What's perhaps interesting about this choice of design style is that it echoes the film's opening scenes in the Mojave desert and emphasises the exotic nature of the creature at the heart of the film. It also feels fitting for a film that takes place in LA - perfectly melding west coast desert style with California cool. Unusually the film's set features a set of stairs leading to what appears to be a garden but is in actual fact a high walled courtyard full of oversized greenery. Again, this plays with your perception of the building's layout but it also frames the living area with a jungle like exterior again, evoking the exotic nature of the mamba's indigenous home. Of course, overblown greenery is another trend of 1980s design and typically utilised in Southwestern design schemes with an emphasis on bringing the outside in i.e. southern tromp d'oils, cattle motifs, horseshoes etc. Another film that embodies this Southwestern aesthetic is Donald Cammell's Arizona set White of the Eye (1987) which exhibits some of these interior design qualities although perhaps in a more overt fashion due to its desert setting. 


Fair Game's poster features Trudie Styler cowering on a black and white checkerboard floor. The checkerboard flooring is an inspired design choice and works particularly well with the Fair Game title as opposed to Mamba. I like how Scarfiotti and the film's poster art play up the game like element with a floor resembling a chess board. Obvious perhaps, but it works at driving home the film's central premise and Gene's job as a video game designer. It's unfortunate that nowadays black and white checkerboard floors have a certain connotation, every film that features one seems to be automatically tied to the masons, the illuminati and all of these dubious cultural conspiracy websites. There's so many examples of checkerboard floors in films from this period and although some would argue there's something sinister afoot, I'm more inclined to believe it's purely due to a design trend of the era. Look at the artwork of someone like Japanese artist, Yukio Kitta and you'll see this motif reflected time and time again. In fact, two films I associate with 1980s/1990s postmodern design sensibilities both have this design feature in them - Domino (1988) and Scissors (1991). There's also several examples of this sort of flooring peppered throughout television series, Miami Vice. The checkerboard floor is perhaps more reflective of 80s deco but as I mentioned above, different design elements of the era downplay the potential kitschiness/theme like nature of Southwestern design. The sleek marble checkerboard flooring contrasts nicely against Eva's  canary yellow table set and Ikat runner. Note the brightly coloured sculptures dotted around the table and kitchen which reflect Eva's postmodern sculptures. 


As previously mentioned, much of Fair Game's suspense and tension arises from Eva navigating her labyrinthian apartment as she attempts to evade a hormonal, aggressive mamba. Eva is trapped inside her apartment and this is humorously alluded to through the film's production design. In one scene, Eva covers her kitchen floor in flour before jumping on top of her fridge out of the mamba's way. As she cowers on the fridge, we see Eva framed by a large mint green window positioned at a slanted angle. Again the film's funhouse like feel is accentuated by an off kilter childish architectural feature. The windowpane looks out onto the apartment's brick exterior wall - a silly visual nod to Eva's imprisonment in her own home. Another sly wink to the audience in a typically postmodern way.
What's nice visually about this scene is that set design and costume design have worked in tandem  -the mint green window frame perfectly mirrors Eva's sweatshirt. 


Alongside the film's interior design there's some interesting furniture/design pieces on display. Eva's television cabinet is clearly influenced by Memphis Milano design with its triangular and circular lacquered shapes and use of the primary colour yellow echoing the playful nature of the design movement. Eva's desk lamp is also somewhat influenced by Memphis Milano design baring similarities to Robert Sonneman for George Kovacs desk lamp that paid homage to Ettore Sotsass and co. It's reminiscent of the work of collective member, Andrea Branzi with its use of the material lucite and its aqua tinged translucent light. The desk lamp also has elements of another eighties design style - 1980s deco which is reflected in its curved shape and column with stacked base. Finally, Eva's kettle feels somewhat postmodern in design - typically I associate postmodern appliances with Michael Grave for Alessi's conical kettle but there's several examples of unusual forms of kettle from this period. The squashed nature of the appliance with its industrial spout has a passing resemblance to Richard Sapper's 1982 9091 kettle for Alessi. The handle is evocative of a kettle bell which feels in keeping with the humorous, pun like nature of postmodernism. 


This blog entry perhaps suggests that Fair Game's production design is passe and a relic of an era that has long since passed but I'd personally argue that the film's art direction has similarities with interior design trends that we're seeing in 2017. Eighties postmodernism is slowly but surely gaining reappraisal and is now reaching a new level of appreciation with audiences. The resurgence of Memphis designs such as the Bacterio print, the listing of notorious British PoMo buildings like no1 Poultry and a tumblr fascination with "ugly house" design has stoked the fires for a full blown revival of design from this period. The contrasting colour palette and colour blocking in Eva's house wouldn't look out of place in the homes of hip twenty-somethings (see the millennial pink wall in the screen grab above contrasted with a cobalt blue steel rivet door and white walls and ceilings). Unusual forms like the appliances and fixtures above are becoming more common place - perhaps a reaction against stiff minimalism and Southwestern design pieces sit in Urban Outfitters alongside 80s marble and hexagonal jewellery boxes and Memphis notebooks. Truly, we are entering a PoMo, 1980s revival and Scarfiotti's production design is a perfect throwback to where some of these trends originated from.


Fair Game is by no means a great film but for those with an interest in Ferdinando Scarfiotti's career and approach to visual design it's well worth a watch. Fair Game is a surprisingly good example of Italian design of this era and dare I say reflective of some of the trends that have influenced interior design in 2017.

If you like what I do here at Hypnotic Crescendos and want to show a bit of support, you can always drop me a few pennies via my PayPal - Rachaelnisbet@yahoo.co.uk 

My Italian Horror/Gialli Themed Wedding

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

I got married a year ago on Sunday so I thought it was only fitting to write a blog post about the design aspects of the day as the look of my wedding was heavily influenced by the production design in gialli and Italian horror cinema from the sixties and seventies. In particular, there was a strong aesthetical influence from Dario Argento's Suspiria alongside style cues from the likes of Mario Bava's Blood & Black Lace and Black Sabbath. I thought I'd share with you the thought processes behind various elements of the big day alongside images of how those ideas came together. Hopefully fans of the genre will appreciate the stylistic nods to the films we all so dearly love represented through traditional wedding fare.


So I guess the big question is why did I theme my wedding around Italian thrillers of the sixties and seventies? Gialli is obviously a major passion of mine that I wanted to incorporate into my day on some level, however, the choice of theme extended far beyond my love of old Italian thrillers. I'm heavily into design whether it be in fashion, film, interiors or architecture so getting the right feel to my wedding day aesthetically was really important. To me, the gialli of yore embodies a design sensibility that really resonates with my own tastes. It's a grandiose style that meshes modernist design with a classical Italian penchant for ornate elegance. Although cinematic offerings like The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh might have been a little too zany to incorporate into the overall look of the wedding, earlier gialli like Bava's Blood & Black Lace were the perfect inspiration for a day that needed to be classy but stylised. By choosing these films as the basis for my wedding's look, I was paying homage to the cinema I love but I was also choosing a style that resonated with my aesthetical leanings. Ultimately, a wedding isn't primarily for yourself so this look allowed me to express my interests, passions and style but in a way that other people could appreciate and enjoy on a surface level without necessarily understanding the references. I wanted people to attend my wedding and view it as something different to the usual Scottish weddings in country houses and hotels. Most of all I hoped that people would enjoy all the effort that went into creating those different elements - something that didn't seem worth it when everything had to be painstakingly designed and created.



The Venue

Funnily enough, Edinburgh isn't exactly a hotbed for Italian design and although it has its fair share of Gothic venues, I wanted something a little more ornate and on theme for my big day. After tearing my hair out for about a year trying to find a venue, it dawned on me that an old bar haunt of mine, The Voodoo Rooms in Edinburgh, was the perfect fit for a wedding heavily influenced by the elaborate production design of the Italian thriller. The Voodoo Rooms is a fantastic bar/restaurant located on the upper floor of an 19th century building tucked away behind Princes Street. The venue has some wonderful original features that give it a really distinctive feel and it features a lot of ornate detailing such as elaborate ceilings and cornices. It feels very theatrical as a setting with a heavy use of gold throughout its rooms - perfect for a wedding inspired by the production design of 1960s Bava films. I particularly love the arched windows that run along the outside of the bar which are uplit in red - very Argento.



Like anyone with a passion for Italian genre cinema, the beautiful lighting of Bava and Argento's work is something that feels so integral to one's appreciation of the aesthetics of these films. 
From the day I started planning, I knew coloured lighting was an integral element for the day. A bonus of The Voodoo Rooms is that it has a great lighting deck in its ballroom as well as twinkling lights embedded into the fabric walls. This spectacular lighting was key in achieving the Bavaesque look I was going for. Most weddings have very bright lighting/daylight for their wedding breakfast but the dark windowless ballroom illuminated with coloured lights, twinkling wall lights and candle light really achieved a dramatic, different look that was bang on theme.

The wedding meal and reception took place in the venue's ballroom which is a fantastic space - not only for the great lighting as mentioned above but also for its stage, ornate ceilings, draping and amazing DJ booth. Very little had to be done to the space; the chairs were gold so perfectly matched the theme and the tables were draped in black tablecloths echoing the black draping on the walls. The black and gold look of the room worked incredibly well with the gold table centrepieces which I go into detail about down below.



The Stationery

I knew that I wasn't going to find the sort of wedding stationery I was looking for online and a cursory glance on Etsy seemed to confirm this so I decided to get some designed. I talked to a few people who were ridiculously expensive before putting a call out on twitter for help. Luckily an amazing graphic designer called Jaci answered my call. I told her the kind of thing I was looking for and she got to work setting up a pinterest board in which I pinned a load of images that I liked from Italian genre cinema. Jaci gave me really good advice and told me to pin images that had shapes and motifs that I liked and would like included in the invites as well as potential typographies. You'll notice most of the ones that made it to the final board are from Suspiria but you'll also see Inferno, Five Dolls for an August Moon, A Lizard in a Woman's Skin, Seven Blood Stained Orchids, The Frightened Woman, The Strange Colour of Your Body's Tears and Kubrick's 2001 (!!!) represented. After discussion about text, layout and other features, Jaci went away and designed 3 designs that matched the brief. I don't want to share Jaci's other designs here as they're obviously not my work to share but her original designs included a beautiful recreation of Suspiria's art nouveau doorways with the invite text inside the door. Ultimately, I rejected it due to the kaleidoscopic look feeling a little much for a wedding invite but they were really beautiful designs - sadly I felt that they weren't soft enough for the day so we went back to the drawing board. At this stage I had more of an idea of what I wanted and decided I wanted to use Pat's apartment lobby from Suspiria and her M C Escher walls as the major design elements for the wedding stationery. Jaci absolutely nailed this concept as you can see in the beautiful invites down below. Alongside wedding invites, Jaci designed RSVP cards, place cards, order of services and evening invites. 




                                   

Jaci's website can be found here.

The Tables

Contrary to what you might think, I was conscious of including my husband in the wedding planning and I thought it was important to have his personality and interests represented too. Originally, I wanted to have each table named after a different giallo director but as my husband is such a fan of cinema in general, it didn't seem fair to exclude his passions from the table planning. Instead, we decided that we'd name each table after a director we liked so although I managed to get a few gialli directors in there, there's also a fair few non Italian directors. We decided to name our tables after; Dario Argento, Mario Bava, Fritz Lang, Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma, Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch, Francis Ford Coppola and Nicolas Windin Refn.


I bought nine golden baroque style frames to put the table names into. The look of the frames was important as they had to compliment the venue's setting as well as have that Italian film look. It's typical to see golden baroque style fixtures in the Italian films of the sixties and seventies so I took Bava's The Telephone segment from Black Sabbath and Blood & Black Lace as inspiration and looked for frames with a similar look to the ornamental bed frame and mirror from The Telephone as well as the picture frames from B&BL. I then tried to find artistic posters online to my liking that would fit a director's name. I looked for fonts that would fit each poster and inserted each director's name into the appropriate poster.

I worked with my florist on the the table centrepieces. I wanted the tables to be a real focal point of the room that mirrored the cinematic theme so we dressed the tables with various items such as gold candelabras and birdcages. The candelabras were a homage to Inferno and the birdcages were a reference to The Bird with the Crystal Plumage.


Favours & Table Place Cards

People did suggest J&B bottles as favours but I felt this would have been a little obvious and wouldn't have fitted so well with the theming of the wedding. I got engaged in Canada and Montreal is one of our favourite places so we went for maple candies as favours - something my husband really appreciated when he was scoffing them all beforehand. I wanted the favour boxes to fit with the theme so we looked once again to Suspiria for inspiration. We made a template on cardboard in the wedding colours which when cut out and folded made a triangular box. The triangular favour box was supposed to resemble the giant triangular lift light in the foyer of Pat's apartment in Suspira. The table's place cards were a simplified version of the wedding stationery's design with the rhombus and circle design from Pat's foyer. My dad is talented at calligraphy so he conducted the pain staking task of writing each name in gold ornate lettering that mirrored the lift's gold curved shapes in the film.


Music

For the wedding breakfast I decided on a playlist filled with music from Italian soundtracks. I went for pieces that had a Bossa Nova, lounge music feel which really complimented the mood of the meal and the relaxed setting. I thought it would be best to stay away from the more bombastic, experimental and sinister pieces of genre music and go for tracks that felt for the most part, leisurely and fun. I can't tell you how much the music added to the atmosphere of the meal and it just felt very cool and chilled sitting eating a meal to the sounds of The Five Dolls for an August Moon soundtrack.

You can listen to my wedding breakfast soundtrack here on Spotify featuring music from Bruno Nicolai, Stelvio Cipriani, Piero Umiliani and Riz Ortolani.


The Cake

Continuing on from the Suspiria production design themed wedding stationery, I decided upon a similar design for the cake. I took the invitations Jaci designed for me to local cake shop, Liggys and worked with the lovely staff on a design. We decided to repeat the M S Escher wallpaper from Suspiria on each cake tier and then added the circle and diamond pattern onto the edges of the cake tiers. My florist then finished off the look topping the cake with flowers from the centrepiece and my bouquet. For anyone that's interested, we had three cake flavours; lemon and poppyseed, chocolate and toffee. Note the art nouveau cake serving knife which again mirrors the art nouveau elements in Suspiria's production design.


Guestbook

I found an incredible French seller on Etsy who creates wedding guestbooks from antique French books. I settled on this cover as it feels very much in keeping with the wedding's theming evoking the feel of Suspiria with its red and gold art nouveau style cover. It's also a bit of an odd to the famous little red book in Blood & Black Lace. I also liked that the gold lines intersected in a familiar patten to the Three Mothers Varelli book in Argento's Inferno. As I'm Scottish, it felt fitting to have a cover that incorporates our country's national flower, the thistle, into its design. 



Flowers

Again, the flowers were inspired by Mario Bava's Blood & Black Lace. One of the most striking aspects of the film is the opening credits sequence which features the various actors posed with colourful blooms bathed in jewel lighting (see the picture in the venue section above for reference). Multicoloured blooms look fantastic in this scene but for a wedding with a colour scheme of coral red and dove grey, this colour palette for our flowers would have been a bit overwhelming especially held against dresses. Instead, working with my amazing florist (The Enchanted Florist) we decided on red, white and magenta flowers in various shades. I wanted to replicate the full bloom look of the Blood & Black Lace scene so my florist picked flowers in season that mirrored the hydrangeas and roses from the film. I also showed my florist other examples of flowers featured in gialli i.e. the flowers from Short Night of Glass Dolls, The Red Queen Kills Seven Times and Death Walks on High Heels and we looked for flowers that mimicked these shapes. As you can see in the various pictures on this post, there's some really interesting floral shapes that really add to the theatrical vibe of the day. I can't praise the girls at The Enchanted Florist highly enough, a lot of the florists I looked at were traditional wedding florists and tended to offer arrangements that came straight out of wedding magazines and pinterest boards, which obviously there's a huge demand for, but what I love about the Enchanted Florist is that they were really into doing theatrical displays that were different and unique to the couple. In fact before my wedding, they did a Tim Burton themed wedding for another couple.



Bridesmaids Dresses

As evidenced in my blog, I've always loved the seventies style fashions featured throughout Italian genre films and I wanted to reflect this in my bridesmaids dresses. I didn't want to put my poor bridesmaids in something too outlandish so it was quite the task settling on dresses that matched the brief and matched up to what the girls felt comfortable wearing. I took inspiration from Suspiria once again and looked for dresses similar to the ones worn by the ballet school's students in the scene that takes place in the room with the blue iris. I noted that these dresses were typically maxi in length and featured fluttered sleeves and v-necks. I looked for dresses that matched this look but in the wedding's colours of coral and dove grey/blue. I settled on coral dresses from ASOS that we did minor alterations to. These dresses are similar in style to the lilac number Sara wears in the aforementioned scene. My sister as maid of honour was dressed in a dove grey/blue dress with embellishment on the bodice that mirrored some of the ornate detailing seen in these films. For shoes, I went with classic gold t-bar heels as worn by Suzy Banyon in Suspiria. 



Pat's dress second to right


Films

I originally had planned to continually project a piece I edited together featuring some of our favourite movies however, this proved to be difficult and I ran out of time which left me with an incomplete film. Instead, I opted for playing a couple of films and trailers that inspired the wedding's look to show guests the theme and to add a bit of Italian film magic to the wedding reception. The biggest problem was the violence so I had the joyous task of editing the violent content out of Blood & Black Lace, Suspiria and Inferno the day before the wedding. It wasn't too difficult but I forgot about the violence/nudity in the trailers so below you have the slightly hilarious image of my guests looking at the nudity in Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion. The trailers I included were for; Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion, Le orme, Etoile, Red Rings of Fear, Short Night of Glass Dolls, The Heroin Busters, The Sweet Body of Deborah, Colt 38 Special Squad, Rome Armed to the Teeth and Suspicious Death of a Minor.



Photography

I'd like to thank Edinburgh photographer Loraine Ross for taking all of the wonderful photos I've used in this post. I really wanted all of the film elements photographed and Loraine did a fantastic job capturing the mood of the day and the individual elements. All images copyright to Loraine Ross.

I want to say a big thank you to all my wonderful wedding vendors. I know it's not the easiest of themes especially for a wedding but everyone involved in the big day really got on board with the concept and delivered some fantastic results. I was completely overwhelmed when I entered the venue at how well everything had come together and I really feel like I was successful in putting on a wedding that embodied that Italian genre cinema vibe but still felt classy and wedding appropriate. I'd also like to say a big huge thank you to all of my family and friends who attended. There was a lot of bullshit in the run up but the day was a huge success and the love and support that everyone showed me on the big day meant the world to me. I hope you all appreciated the look of the wedding and now understand a bit about the inspiration behind it!


The New York Ripper's "Missing" Scene

Sunday, 8 October 2017

In some copies of The New York Ripper (primarily the old Anchor Bay release as well as the French release) there's an interesting scene near the end of the film in which psychiatrist Dr. Paul Davis (Paolo Malco) is shown standing on a New York street. Davis wears an expression that's almost a smirk which turns to a troubled look before he turns and walks down the street. As Dr Davis turns to walk away, there's a freeze frame lasting roughly 10 seconds before the film cuts to a scene of Peter's daughter crying all alone in her hospital bed. In this version of the film, Davis is the last character we see bar Peter's daughter suggesting there's some significance to the scene's inclusion and Davis' appearance at this point in the film.

However, Davis' costuming is at odds with his outfit in the scene immediately before it and the sequence certainly doesn't play out like a flashback scene. The scene's location is the same as an earlier sequence making it clear that this was filmed at the same time as the aforementioned scene in which Lieutenant Fred Williams and Dr Davies discuss the NY Ripper before Williams gets into a police car and drives off. It's evident that the scene of Davis' with freeze-frame was supposed to have happened at the point Williams drives off leaving Davis standing alone on the street but the reasons for its insertion at the end point in the film is one that has left genre fans baffled.

One could conclude that by inserting the scene at the end of the film, it would cast doubt in the mind of the viewer over the identity of the real culprit. However, the film wraps up its story fairly well and there's no need to cast aspersions over Davis character as the film's story concluded effectively. There would be no real point in including Peter's daughter at the end of the film if Davis was the true culprit. The scene is obviously not supposed to be in this part of the film and I wonder if whoever inserted the scene here did so in order to give the film an ambiguous ending as horror fans love an ending with a bit of a question mark. This is pure speculation on my part but I can't think of another reason as to why the scene would have been muddled up when it's so blatantly in the wrong place in the film's narrative.

The Freeze-frame

It's interesting that the scene was omitted from the film altogether in some releases of The New York Ripper as it alludes to Dr Davis' being involved in the killings. The Another World Entertainment and Blue Underground Blu-Ray releases contains this scene but inserted where it presumably was supposed to be - at the end of the scene in which Williams and Davis discuss the case on a New York street. Examining the scene in its correct place, it does hint at Davis' involvement in the killings and it certainly would help the viewer to draw their own conclusions especially in conjunction with some of Davis' other behaviour i.e. the gay porn magazine scene. To further confuse matters, there's speculation that the freeze-frame was never intended to be in the film and is in fact, a relic of when Italian films were shown in cinemas with a break for intermission - typically a film frame would freeze and fade to black before the lights went up. If you believe this is the reason behind the freeze-frame it makes the supposed red herring of Davis' guilt somewhat irrelevant as his expressions alone would make for a tenuous link to his role as killer. Never the less, it's always fun to speculate on seemingly innocuous scenes. If this scene was never muddled up in the first place I guess genre fans wouldn't have been discussing it so many years after the film's release.

I thought it would also be of interest to discuss another, rather bizarre scene at the film's end which takes place in the back of a police car. The scene is a tight mid shot of Fay Majors in the middle of the back seat of a police car with Dr. Davis and Lt. Williams crammed either side of her. What's always struck me about the scene is the strange behaviour expressed by Lieutenant Williams. His facial expression is one of distain as he glowers at victim, Fay. Williams continuously looks Fay up and down in much the same way one would look at someone they despise/are repulsed by. One could argue that this is down to Hedley's portrayal of a hard boiled New York lieutenant with a jaded attitude to the horrors of his work but in my eyes, the lack of empathy expressed by Williams towards Fay is very telling and feels emblematic of The New York Ripper's themes as whole, demonstrating the lack of compassion felt by its characters. In conjunction with the film's final scenes of Peter's daughter crying out alone followed by a shot of cars driving down a bleak and barren New York road punctuated by skyscrapers in the distance, it gives the film an incredibly nihilistic and bleak film almost comically enhanced by the punchy slap bass driven soundtrack that plays as the credits roll over the scene.


As I've touched upon in my previous piece on the film, Lieutenant Williams is far from your traditional cop. Typically, a character like Williams would be your archetypal hero - saving a victim heroically from the killer in the knick of time however, Williams reluctance earlier on in the film to save the prostitute tells us plenty about his character. I'd describe Williams as someone who is fairly self serving and masquerades somewhat under the veneer of his title as a lieutenant. Yes, Williams wants to catch the killer but does he really care about the killer's victims and saving Fay? Is Williams more concerned with his own ego than that of his victim's wellbeing? It's certainly debatable. Although the New York Ripper doesn't offer the most nuanced look at gender politics, I find it interesting that Williams seems to express such a distain for women. The ending scene with Williams certainly suggests that he feels anything but sympathy for Fay's ordeal which makes for a rather bleak ending. Despite the killer's intentions being revealed as something non sexual altogether, the film exposes the sexual deviancies and questionable behaviour of its characters in such a way that it's hard to feel any great sense of empathy towards any of them and this is perhaps what is most effective about the film - New York is very much a cesspit for the morally corrupt, there is no happy ending to the film.

I'm sure other fans of the film will have their own interpretations of the scene and I'm sure some will say it's Hedley's character's hardened attitude and no indication of ill will towards the character of Fay. Regardless, I certainly think it's a powerful ending and Davis' compassionate attitude towards Fay with comforting gestures certainly makes for a great contrast against Williams despondent behaviour. Let me know your own thoughts about the scene down in the comment box below.

Thanks to Michael MacKenzie for providing me with the scene in question and for sourcing information about the missing scene for me - very much appreciated!

If you like what I do here at Hypnotic Crescendos and want to show a bit of support, you can always drop me a few pennies via my PayPal - Rachaelnisbet@yahoo.co.uk 



The Notturno Giorgio Armani Telephone & The Telephone & The Giallo

Thursday, 28 September 2017

For me, one of the most satisfying aspects of watching an Italian film is the endless display of period fashion, interior design and architecture. I've dabbled a little bit when it comes to writing about some of the distinctive pieces and designs on offer throughout these films but wanted to write this stand alone piece about an item that caught my eye that I recently discovered trawling the web. 

Embarrassingly, the item in question comes from Ruggero Deodato's 1988 phone based horror, Dial:Help. The reason it's embarrassing is due to my blog now having three posts on the film despite its lack of connection to the blog's focus, gialli, but also because it's renowned for being an awful example of Italian horror and an illustration of where the rot really started to set in in the Italian film industry. Despite all of that, my penchant for late Italian design really shines through in this film - no doubt the blog's number of entries on the film will be brought up to four when I inevitably examine the film's interior design and architecture but for now, let's focus on what I consider to be the stand out piece of design in the film.


Dial:Help's premise is simple. Jenny, a model from London, is trying to make it in the Italian fashion world but personal demons are interfering with her glamorous new life on the continent. Her Italian lover (an architect no less) has ceremoniously dumped Jenny. Inevitably heart broken, the only logical way to cure her heartache is to contact a lonely hearts telephone line. However, the operators mysteriously disappeared long ago and by phoning the lonely hearts line Jenny has unwittingly unleashed their souls. In a twist on the classic haunting trope, Jenny finds herself stalked by ghosts who wreck havoc via the medium of the telephone.

Like many films of the 1980s, Dial:Help has a predilection with rapidly changing technologies and although the film is mostly fluff, it is an example of a cinematic trend that mirrored the societal skepticism/distrust of an ever increasingly technological world which really magnified during the decade of excess and technological advancement. Dial:Help is not a seminal piece of horror social commentary (of course not!) but like many horror films of all eras, it does tap into very real societal fears even if it is executed horribly. Watching the film in present day, it feels hopelessly dated in a world where most people of my generation don't own a landline but the outdated technology (and how its utilised to produce inventive kills) is part of its charm. As phones are an intrinsic part of the film's storyline, the set dressers of Dial:Help prominently feature a variety of telephones that at the time, were cutting edge examples of technological design. One phone in particular that captured my imagination was the Giorgio Armani Notturno telephone which is shown in Jenny's PoMo apartment. The phone may be a source of horror for our protagonist but it's hard to be spooked by this spectacular piece of design that still feels contemporary in 2017.


The phone was produced by the Italian telephone company, Italtel in partnership with Giorgio Armani in the late 1980s. The telephone embodies late 1980s sleek, minimalist design perfectly fitting in with Dial:Help's black and white grid like interiors and use of sickly neon green and yellow. The phone is made of black lucite giving it a glossy appearance and is in a simple rectangular shape with the handset perfectly fitting into its thick base. A LED strip light runs down the centre of the phone's handset and when it rings, a fluorescent green light runs down the middle of the strip visually alerting the owner of an incoming telephone call. Sadly, there's very little information in regards to the year the phone went into production. A Notturno phone currently listed on Etsy shows a 1989 year stamp on the base of the phone but other sources cite the phone's production year as 1987/1988. I'm inclined to believe the phone first went into circulation earlier than 1989 as the film itself was produced in 1988 although it is feasible that the set dressers of Dial:Help had access to a prototype/model before it went to market).


Several other phones are featured prominently throughout the film from pay phones to cordless handsets with massive aerials. It's a fun time capsule of late eighties technological design which is sure to be a trip down memory lane for some. What's perhaps most interesting about the film is to consider the role of the telephone in Italian horror and the giallo. In many ways, the phone feels like an intrinsic part of the Italian horror. From the giallo's cinematic beginnings in Mario Bava's Blood & Black Lace (1964) we see emphasis placed on the image of a woman fearfully answering a telephone. In the example of Blood & Black Lace, Eva Bartok's character, Christina answering her crimson rotary red telephone with a simple "pronto" is synonymous with the genre and has been replicated several times over (see The Red Queen Kills 7 Times and The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh). Numerous examples of the classic rotary phone exist (likely to be in many cases, the Siemens S62 which was the most popular rotary phone in Italy during the 1960s-1980s) throughout the genre (usually in black, cream, green and blue; see Perversion Story, Strip Nude for Your Killer and Death Walks on High Heels for starters) but several other phones of note have appeared in key examples of the giallo. 


The unconventional giallo debut of Luciano Ercoli, Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion (1970) 's iconic visual is of Ercoli's wife, Nieves Navarro (aka Susan Scott) strewn over a bed holding a strikingly futuristic blue telephone. The phone in question is an Ericofon (known as the cobra phone for its snake like shape) designed by Swedish telecommunication company, Ericsson. The phone was brought to market in the 1950s and is considered to be one of the landmark industrial designs of the latter half of the twentieth century for its revolutionary design and the incorporation of dial and handset into a single unit. The Ericofon is undoubtedly a seminal example of modernist design and for this reason, it fits perfectly with the late sixties/early seventies gialli which have elements of futuristic space age design (see the furniture in The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh and nightclub interior in The Case of the Bloody Iris).


Perhaps one of my favourite examples of phone design in a giallo and one the genre introduced me to is the Grillo. The Grillo was designed in 1965 by Marco Zanuso and Richard Sapper for Siemens and was named as such due to its distinctive ring which sounded like a cricket chirping (grillo is the Italian word for cricket). The phone is notable for its clamshell like appearance and revolutionary receiver which activated once its flip mechanism was released. Due to this distinctive flip feature the grillo is considered to be a precursor to the mobile flip phone. The Grillo's revolutionary design led to it being featured in a number of gialli such as The Case of the Scorpion's Tail (1971) and Death Carries a Cane (1973). However, its most notable use is in Luigi Bazzoni's 1975 quasi giallo, Footprints on the Moon (1975). Footprints is an anomaly when it comes to Italian thrillers and design as it features stark, minimalist interiors in a predominantly white colour palette which means its very much at odds with the colourful, busy interiors associated with the genre. The film has nods to 1950s sci fi, psychiatry and urban sprawl and isolation and all of these elements are reflected in the film's set design - a future post examining this in further detail is currently in progress. The Grillo is the perfect technological accessory in Alice's clinical looking apartment complimenting her minimalist modernist Le Corbusier style furniture in chrome and leather. The phone is prominently featured in one shot which has led to many viewers questioning the origin of this strange looking phone.


Finally, to come full circle, another prominent piece of technological design on display in the giallo/Italian horror is the transparent telephone which can be seen in Dial:Help as well as 1970s fare such as Baba Yaga (1973) and The Perfume of the Lady in Black (1974). The transparent (or clear phone) is mostly identical to other models of phones (i.e. the rotary phones mentioned above) with the notable difference being their transparent casing showing the inner workings of the phone. Typically the transparent phone is associated with the late eighties/nineties but examples existed back in the late sixties/seventies and the models on display in the aforementioned films are similar to the British GPO clear 746. Dial:Help featured a more modern example of this style of design incorporating a neon pink trim around the phone's casing.


I intended to focus on the Notturno phone and its prominent role in Dial:Help but I couldn't give up the opportunity to discuss some other notable examples of telephones in Italian horror. What are some of your favourite handsets from the world of Italian horror? Do you like the antique style golden rotary phones of So Sweet...So Dead (1969) or the cordless aerial phones of Delirium? Please leave a comment or drop me a tweet and let me know! If you've enjoyed this slightly different entry and want more posts of this ilk feedback is very much appreciated. One last thing, remember, the killer is on the phone!
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