He’s been called Italy’s answer to Alfred Hitchcock, but horror master Dario Argento exists in a baroque and brutal world entirely his own. This weekend, the seventh Los Angeles Italia — Film, Fashion and Art Fest will pay tribute to the 71-year-old writer-director famous for his surreal, graphic Grand Guignol aesthetic with a retrospective of some of his best-known films at the Chinese 6 Theatres in Hollywood.
“He’s a master; he’s one of the Italian kings of contemporary movies,” said festival producer Pascal Vicedomini of Argento. “He’s definitely one of the most beloved Italian directors worldwide. He’s been an important inspiration for Quentin Tarantino, for anybody who does movies connected to horror or thrillers. Argento, it’s a brand. It’s a brand of horror. It’s a brand of quality. It’s a brand of Italy.”
On Sunday, Argento will be on hand for a late-afternoon screening of his 1977 film “Suspiria,” followed by a 25-minute preview of his project “Dracula 3D” starring Rutger Hauer. Additionally, his 1971 feature “The Cat O’ Nine Tails” and his 1996 film, “The Stendhal Syndrome,” will screen during the festival’s weeklong run, and the filmmaker is scheduled to lecture at USC on Tuesday.
That night, he will receive the festival’s lifetime achievement award at the Italian Cultural Institute of Los Angeles. Born in Rome to a filmmaker father and photographer mother, Argento was a film critic until, at age 20, he co-wrote his first screenplay with Bernardo Bertolucci, 1968’s “Once Upon a Time in the West.” He transitioned to directing with “The Bird with the Crystal Plumage” and went on to build a reputation for his violent, masterful Giallo films, pulpy horror mysteries that depicted their grim subject matter with unflinching flair.
It was his work in the mid- to late ’70s, though, that cemented his reputation as one of the horror greats of the era. “Suspiria,” a lurid Technicolor nightmare in which a young dancer begins to suspect an evil presence lurking in the boardinghouse where she resides, is widely considered to be his most accomplished feature from the era.
Speaking by phone from Italy, Argento said he enjoys revisiting his earlier work and appreciates the opportunity to show his films to younger generations of moviegoers. After more than 50 years, he still finds filmmaking creatively exciting.
“It’s marvelous to do films, to tell stories, to put my dreams, my nightmares to the people and introduce my soul,” Argento said. “I like to do that. It’s something incredible for me, unbelievable.”
Designed to promote all aspects of Italian culture, the festival also will honor production designer Dante Ferretti and set decorator Francesca Lo Schiavo on Saturday. The Oscar-winning husband and wife team, nominated for Academy Awards this year for their work on Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo,” will attend a screening of the director’s Howard Hughes biopic, “The Aviator.” The Los Angeles Italia event will screen 60 films from Sunday through Feb. 25. Admission is free.
– Gina McIntyre
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