Monday, February 05, 2007

La Terza Madre

During idle internet time I’ve been following the production of an Italian film called “The Third Mother.” It’s a horror movie that rounds out a trilogy begun in 1977 with “Suspiria” and continued in 1980 with “Inferno,” only to remain incomplete until later this year. Aside from the fact that I enjoyed the previous two films, however, I’m not sure why I’ve been so fixed on this third movie.

In “Suspiria,” an American ballerina attends a dance school in Germany that turns out to be a front for witches. We watched it in my Italian film class during my last few months in college, and I liked it for being both a gorgeously gory, color-bleeding slasher film but also a kind of modern fairy tale, what with the maiden running from the evil old women and all.

The movie is probably the most famous film by giallo king Dario Argento. Its biggest pop culture impact — for the audience reading this blog, at least — would probably be its opening murder sequence, in which one coed can't decide whether or not there's a man hiding outside her bedroom window. (Spoiler: There is.) The scene is profoundly violent and includes such directorial flourishes as close-ups of a knife entering a beating heart. Still, for the ballsy, it's worth a look, as the end of the opening murder is the primary visual influence on the Drew Barrymore jiffy pop scene at the beginning of "Scream." Thus, I'm being sensible and including a link to the YouTube video if not the clip itself.

The sequel, "Inferno," contains none of the characters from the first and instead details a man search for his sister, who vanished while living in a New York apartment building that, of course, is inhabited by a witch. Whereas “Suspiria” featured a lot of psychedelic imagery, the plot in “Inferno” is downright surreal to the point that if you asked me to explain the ending, I doubt I could.

While reading about “The Third Mother,” I found that the trilogy has a basis in Thomas de Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium Eater, which I had to read for an English class the same quarter I took the Italian film class. In the text, de Quincey — clearly not letting his profound intoxication deter him from writing — conjectures that in the manner the three Graces governed the different facets of human loveliness, the three Sorrows are feminine representations of the worst of what people must endure. He names the Sorrows Mater Suspiriorum (Mother of Sighs), Mater Tenebrarum (Mother of Darkness) and Mater Lachrymarum (Mother of Tears).

Correspondingly, Argento designed the “Three Mothers” trilogy to confront these evil women, one-by-one. In the final scenes of “Suspiria,” the heroine kills the heretofore unseen headmistress of the dance school, a wizened corpse of a woman named Helena Markos. She, Argento posits, represents Mater Suspiriorum. And in the end of “Inferno,” an otherwise unsuspected character reveals herself to be Mater Tenebrarum. (Confusingly, a different Argento horror film — one of many — is titled “Tenebrae,” which concerns an axe murderer and no witches whatsoever.) Wikipedia states that “Inferno” also features an appearance by the third Sorrow, in a strange scene in which the main character makes eye contact with another student during a lecture in a crowded auditorium. That scene — which I didn’t understand until now — was to be Mater Lachrymarum’s only appearance until Argento finally got around to making “The Third Mother,” which will bring the story back to his native Italy.

I’m not sure what about this I find quite so interesting. The notion that a work could exist in an incomplete state for so long, I suppose, is worth noting, especially since Argento wasn’t in a coma at any point since 1980 and has found time to make dozens of other horror films. Still, the fact that I learned about these films and the literature that inspired them during the same period of study — and in such disparate classes, no less — makes me think this fascination is more about me than the director.

Hmm.

This is one of those exercises in which I aim to figure out how I feel about something by writing the situation out, yet now I haven’t got anything else to say on the matter and don’t feel I’ve reached a point.

This usually works.

Damn.

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