Iwas recently in Kuala Lumpur for Malaysian International Fashion Week where one of my self-appointed assignments was to report on contemporary Muslim fashion in a country where Islam is the state religion. Of course, Malaysia is more liberal than many Muslim countries, so here women are not required to cover their faces (only their hair--the catwalk look above is meant to reference a broader aspect of Islamic attire).
So I was delighted to find out that the Islamic Fashion Festival, founded in KL in 2006, was being presented at fashion week. The festival, whose slogan is "Discover the Beauty of Modesty", has a website which provides some intriguing analysis of Islamic fashion: "When she covers herself, she puts herself on a higher level and respect for her intellect, her faith, and personality will take precedence over her beauty."
Sounds a bit like what American feminists wanted in the '70s and '80s, minus the covering-up and faith parts. And then there was the advent of "intellectual fashion" from Japan and elsewhere in the '80s--the decidely sexless yet beautiful designs of Yohji Yamamoto, Rei Kawakubo and others. But the philosophy of the Islamic Fashion Festival--whose goal is to create a forum for intercultural and interreligious exchange--combines a pre-pro-sex feminist attitude with unwavering religious commitment and political discourse.
"The myth of the conquering sword must be laid to rest; a new iconic narrative must carry the story of Islam. The black hijab itself is emblematically decried as a symbol of oppression instead of being accepted as a cultural and personal expression of modesty....The terrorist's mask overshadowed the real face of Islam."
Back in 2001, Spanish designer Miguel Adrover was pilloried by half-baked feminists and misguided Zionists in the New York fashion establishment for both his Egyptian collection (Hal Rubenstein denounced it as "anti-Semitic") and a subsquent collection inspired by Islamic clothing. The latter had the misfortune of being shown on the day before the 9/11 attacks.
In a surreal moment that I'll never forget, I had an argument about Miguel's Islamic-themed collections with Hilary Alexander, who pens fashion for the right-wing rag The Daily Telegraph. We were at the Marc Jacobs party near the foot of the World Trade Center on the eve of the attacks and Hilary was denouncing Miguel's vision with the usual Western-centric argument about "women's oppression."
"When Hussein Chalayan did Islamic fashion he made it modern and sexy by pairing the chador with mini skirts," she opined. I told her it was unrealistic to think that an ironic gesture shown on a runway in Paris or London would "liberate" Muslim women from their countries' dress codes. When I pointed out that what Chalayan had done was really postmodern and not "modern" she retorted, "Well, Miguel Adrover's collection was PRE-MODERN!" and then she turned on her Louboutin heels and stormed away. And there you have it: a prevelant Western attitude. Islam is "pre-modern" and primitive. But fashion will "liberate" us all. (A dubious assertion that "Sex and the City 2" tried to make.)
Immediately after 9/11, people in the U.S. press began referring to Miguel's beautiful but ill-fated clothing as "the Taliban collection", demonstrating how very little Americans knew about Islamic culture before 9/11. Miguel essentially became a lightning rod for benighted fashionistas' fear and anxiety about Islam. I was one of the first journalists to leap to Miguel's defense.
In an article for DUTCH magazine, I interviewed a bunch of designers about how they were dealing with 9/11 (which happened right in the middle of fashion week). In defense of Islamic clothing, Miguel told me, "There is so much pressure for women to be sexy in America. I think a Baywatch bikini is more oppressive than a galabieh." I've always been struck by how much truth there is in that statement.
Of course, it now must be reiterated that Malaysia is one of the most liberal Muslim countries in regards to women's human rights. I'm not endorsing the repressive controls imposed on women in Saudi Arabia (or, for that matter, the anti-Semitism that is preached by some of the imams there) and I am still haunted by video footage of women rendered inhuman by burqas and viciously beaten by members of the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Women's image and identity in Islam differs from country to country. And I do not approve of the meddling by condescending and imperialistic Western feminists and politicians on the issues of women in Islam. Therefore, I am pleased by the discussions launched by the Islamic Fashion Festival in Malaysia and hope they will broaden people's perceptions in and outside of the Muslim world.
I won't pretend to be an expert on Muslim punk rock (I haven't seen any of the bands play yet), but this all reminds me of the time I attended a marathon punk rock concert in northern China, back in November 2003. I was living in Hong Kong and working as a guest-editor and writer for the China-based fashion & culture magazine WestEast. Here is the piece, which appeared in the Spring 2004 issue of the magazine:
Glenn Belverio falls into the Manchurian mosh pit at Harbin’s Chinese rock festival
“How will despotism change us from inside?/How will moralism change us from inside?/When there is an oppression, there is a revolution…” – Miserable Faith
The email from my friend Tomoko in Beijing was barely legible through my Moet-blurred eyes. “You must come to Harbin tomorrow, there’s gonna be a big underground punk party this weekend!!!” After an entire day of quaffing gallons of complimentary champagne in Hong Kong, the idea of getting on a plane – after enduring six back-to-back flights on a recent trip to New Zealand – and jetting off to bitterly cold Manchuria seemed, at first, untenable. However, since I had spent weeks in punk rock-deprived Hong Kong – with the exception of a Halloween performance by Japanese metal-heads, Electric Eel Shock – I decided I was ready for some rebellious Chinese noise. And after recalling what I had heard about the Manchu male eye candy in Harbin from a rock groupie-cum-fashion editor friend of mine, I didn’t need any more convincing. I leave sub-tropical Hong Kong for sub-zero Harbin the next evening.
The city’s blanket of newly fallen snow adds to its Siberian-like mystique: the onion-topped Russian Orthodox St. Sofia Church illuminated by eerie green lights, the arctic winds, the fur-swaddled pedestrians. After a whirlwind tour of Harbin the next morning (see “Sino-Soviet Chic” in this issue), we take a cab to the forlorn outskirts of town where an old Communist cultural center operated by a State-owned electric factory is located. Considering the Party-sanctioned events that must have taken place here in the '60s, the center seems an ironic venue for something so potentially subversive as a punk-metal marathon. Inside the auditorium, one of the bands is in the middle of a sound check as many of the other musicians begin to arrive. The high ceiling of the theater is adorned with an enormous Red star – circa 1966 – and banners bearing old Cultural Revolution slogans hang from the walls.
Harbin, 1966 (From the book "Red-color News Soldier")
Because Harbin did fairly well under Maoism – but is now filled with factories that cannot compete in the modern age of China’s “economic miracle” – the city’s Marxist-Leninist time warp can seem more like hopeful nostalgia than vilified anachronism. Wandering through the stage wings, I find a large, metallic hammer and sickle amongst a stockpile of various theatrical props. With the giddy abandon of a ten-year old, I hoist the Communist talisman in my arms and dash around the backstage area, convincing various band members to pose with it for Tomoko’s camera. When the lead singer of the Beijing band Miserable Faith expresses political concern over my frivolous actions, I deposit the converted chunk of scrap metal behind a pile of old paint cans, as if unloading a symbol so fraught with historical turmoil could ever be so easy.
“A new Utopia is putting its shadow on me/Circling, then fading….Fade into the swamp of tomorrow.” - “Pretense”, Miserable Faith
The four-hour concert, featuring a fifteen-band lineup, is scheduled to start at 6pm. Over a thousand local teenagers and early 20-somethings have already filed quietly into the room and taken their seats. “Am I at an opera or a rock concert?” I wonder. Based on stories I have heard of the wild Beijing underground scene, I expect surreptitious boozing and pill popping aplenty. There is none of that in evidence here, even though the rocker chic crowd certainly looks capable of it – the room is peppered with brightly colored mohawks, Korn and Marilyn Manson t-shirts and multiple piercings. One young man has been accompanied by his mother, who insisted on tagging along in case the event turned dangerous – a remote possibility at best. Even the girl groupies lack the sexual recklessness of their western counterparts and most are already spoken for.
“My boyfriend is into rock music, so that’s why I like it,” explains Liu Xin, a flirtatious, pink pig-tailed Harbin student. With her fur coat, beret, quilted Chanel knock-off bag, near-perfect English and cosmopolitan demeanor, she has the air of a young, punk Barbra Streisand i.e. one could imagine her belting “Gotta move, gotta get out, gonna leave this town” at any moment. Other girls are lucky enough to have already scored actual band members such as the pretty pixie on the arm of Wang Ning – a 21-year heartthrob with bleached blonde hair and a pierced eyebrow who has traveled from Liaoning province to perform with the punk-metal band he fronts.
The show – which begins precisely at 6 – starts out with a bang with a growling nu-metal band featuring a synthesizer player sporting a gas mask. Since the concert is only a special yearly event, the excitement amongst the kids is acutely palpable. They sing or shout along with virtually every word of every song (all in Mandarin except for one punk rock Xmas song which is sung in English), and small mosh pits form in front of the stage and in various parts of the theater. Most of the bands hail from Harbin and its suburbs, but some have traveled from neighboring provinces and even as far as Beijing which has been a hot bed of underground rock for nearly ten years. Unlike some of the earlier, raw punk acts of the Beijing scene, the Harbin acts are tighter and more professional, impressively blending rap, punk, metal and the occasional western pop culture reference, such as a “South Park” sample. It’s a sound that would be ripe for international marketing/exploitation if it weren’t for the fact that most of the bands are not able or interested in singing in English.
The long-haired members of the next band to take the stage are all dressed in identical pleather raincoats and start out with an ethereal Goth ballad that soon gives way to speed metal riffs punctuated by throaty, guttural howls and sampled sound effects. Heads bang, propelling long tangles of black hair lashing through the air. The audience responds in frenzied tandem. One group of kids from Beijing shout “Tai niubi le!” – ‘totally cow-pussy!’ which is Beijing gutter slang for “You’re awesome!” Each band plays for about 10 or 15 minutes, with a one-minute lag time between sets. The time slots are more tightly regulated than acceptance speeches at the Academy Awards, except here no one ignores the rules and tries to play longer – everyone is respectful of each other’s opportunity to perform.
The last band to take the stage is Beijing rap-metal outfit Miserable Faith. Stripped to the waist, tattooed lead singer Gao Hu paces the stage like a restless cougar, his rapid-fire raps meshing flawlessly with the band’s groove-heavy bass riffs, violent guitar chords and precise drum beats. “Gloss over the flourishing age,” Gao growls in Mandarin. “Sell on, like a real bitch!” At exactly 9:59pm, an event organizer who works at the electrical factory takes the mic. “The show is over, thank you for coming.” I turn around from my spot on stage where I have been taking snapshots, to face what I expect to be an unruly mob screaming “More! More!! Cow-pussy! Cow-pussy!!” Instead, 80% of the crowd has already silently and obediently filed out of the auditorium, the lights have gone up, the stage is being cleared. Only in Communist China kids, only in Communist China.
“So have you ever had an evolvement? Through these thousands of years’ life as slaves and servants?” – “This’s a Problem”, Miserable Faith
“Chinese are very smart, but they think too much with not enough action," Gao Hu tells me after the show over a bucket of KFC in the band’s Harbin hotel room. “Because all the intellectuals have been swept away by the Cultural Revolution, Chinese are unmotivated. The biggest problem is coming from the inside.” The rest of the band and a girl named Nuan, who has been traveling with the band for two months, are gnawing on fried chicken parts and watching Taiwanese boy band F4’s TV series on the hotel’s satellite TV hookup. (The Taiwanese TV series has been banned by the Chinese government from being broadcast to mainland homes.)
“We don’t want to be commercial, but without commercial success it’s hard to keep going,” the 29-year old, Jiang Su province-born singer continues. “But we want to keep making music that is more characteristically Chinese. We don’t care if Americans hear our music.” Miserable Faith formed five years ago in Beijing and their name refers to “something I have inside. It was a period in my life of feelings that I had to face,” explains Gao. And like many angst-ridden youth around the world, music helped him get through that period. “The rock movement came about in China because of society and the government. Punk is like a weapon to make people aware of many things. North Korea needs a punk movement too,” Gao says emphatically. “But every country has a limitation of freedom, not just China.”
“Make good use of your ideology, make good use of your finesse/We gotta combat and take the might to the grave/We gotta combat when gifted with the rage.” – “Hooray”, Miserable Faith
Later that night, Tomoko and I join another performer from the evening’s concert at a 24-hour Sichuan restaurant for spicy skewered mutton washed down with jumbo bottles of Harbin brand beer. 22-yr old Wu Di sings for a Harbin-based rap-metal band whose name translated into English is roughly ‘Double Happiness’. To say that Wu is a formidable presence would be selling him short. Dressed in an enormous Boston Celtics jacket, Wu is tall, chubby, covered with piercings and tattoos and wears a perpetual, intimidating scowl. He can easily discuss and justify both his passion for Marxist dialectical materialism and Tibetan Buddhism before getting to the finer points of Beijing Opera and rap music, all while guzzling several bottles of Harbin beer. He began playing the piano at age 4 and went on to attend the Central Academy of Drama in Beijing at age 12 where he studied Chinese Opera.
“When I was 15, the government gave me a job working at a Harbin cultural theater performing opera,” Wu explains as he reaches for another mutton shish kabob. “By the time I was 16, I had joined the Communist Party.” Single-handedly proving that China has indeed made attempts – token or otherwise – at atoning for the missteps of the Cultural Revolution, Wu went to Tibet at age 17 to study Buddhism. His trip was paid for by the government. “My tattoos are all about Chinese culture,” Wu says as he rolls up the sleeves of his jacket, revealing ink work inspired by Tibetan painting. “I think old Chinese culture is the greatest culture.” After his stint in Tibet, Wu became a punk while listening to albums by the Rolling Stones and Cui Jian, the godfather of Chinese rock. At 18, he formed his band. “Because I’m working with the government and sometimes can’t talk too much, I use the music to express myself,” he says, and then to explain how and why one can be both a punk and a Party member he adds with Eastern succinctness: “People have two sides.”
As Sebastian Venable might say, "Romans are on the menu" as I prepare for my trip to Rome to cover Alta Roma Alta Moda for A Shaded View on Fashion. The 4-day fashion event (July 12-15) will open with the 5th edition of a designer contest called "Who is On Next?" which is co-branded with one of my favorite magazines, Italian Vogue. Not to be a snob but as this is a fashion competition in Europe, don't expect the kind of low-brow bitchiness found on Project Runway and The Fashion Show. (But if we're lucky, we may see something on par with Diana Ross's fashion show in Rome from the film "Mahogany.")
Above: Italian Vogue creative director, Anna Piaggi at the Life Ball in Vienna, 2007. Photo by Glenn Belverio
Above: Adrien Brody and director Dario Argento on the set of Argento's 2009 film "Giallo."
The last time I was in Rome, back in 2005, I interviewed one of my favorite directors of all time, Dario Argento, at the invitation of the Turin Film Commission. For those who haven't heard, the Italian horror meister is releasing his new film, "Giallo," later this year and it stars American actor Adrien Brody. The title, literally "yellow" in Italian, refers to the tradition of Italian crime-fiction pulp novels with trademark yellow covers. Many of Argento's past films are classified as "giallos" because of their adherence to the genre's formula--a whodunit where the killer has a penchant for wearing sinister leather gloves and a black trench coat.
The female lead of "Giallo" is Brody's girlfriend, Spanish actress Elsa Pataky. Rumor has it that the reason Brody scored the lead role is because after Pataky was cast, Brody insisted on being on set with her at all times. Why? Allegedly he was concerned about Argento's reputation as a "misogynist director" who puts his actresses through grueling ordeals in his films. (Sound familiar? Remember the unconfirmed stories of Hitchcock ghoulishly chanting "faster!" while crews members hurled live birds at Tippi Hedren during the climactic attic scene in "The Birds"?)
So, since Brody would be hanging around the set of "Giallo" so much, it probably made sense for Argento to simply cast him as the male lead--bumping Vincent Gallo, Argento's original choice, off the film's marquee! (As much as I enjoy the handsome Adrien Brody, I can only imagine the kind of cineaste boner I would have gotten from watching Gallo in an Argento film!)
Interviewing Argento was one of the biggest thrills of my life. The feature I wrote, which was published in ZOO and WestEast magazines in fall/winter 2005, can be read below.
The Deep Red Menace
Italian horror maestro Dario Argento finally pays tribute to fellow Catholic, Alfred Hitchcock, and discusses his love of Turin, cats and sex
By Glenn Belverio
On the Via Veneto in Rome there is a rather unconventional chapel, known as the Cemetery of the Capuchins, whose interior is decorated in a meticulous, manic fashion: thousands of bones belonging to Catholic monks have been arranged in a diabolical manner that suggests a speed freak arts-and-crafts fair staged in Hell. This outré display of Roman-style macabre is similar in effect to a typical film by Dario Argento. His films’ notorious set pieces, almost too numerous to mention – Jennifer Connelly sliding into a pit of decaying bodies and maggots, a young woman being shredded in a tangle of barbed-wire, a raven gouging out the eye of a killer with its beak at the Regio Opera Theatre – have garnered him a fanatical following worldwide since his debut film, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, was released in 1970. For years, lazy American journalists have pegged Argento “the Italian Hitchcock”, a label that he has vehemently resented. Until now. “I really love Hitchcock, even though I’m not as manneristic as he was”, says Argento. “I don’t imitate him, but sure, he has had an influence on me.”
Scene from "The Bird with the Crystal Plumage"
My friend Rinaldo Rocco, a handsome actor/playboy who coincidentally has portrayed the killer in many giallos, or Italian murder mysteries, has driven me to my appointment with Argento on the back of his Vespa. After the nerve-rattling ride over bumpy cobble-stoned streets, we are sitting in Argento’s Opera Film headquarters in Rome hearing about the maestro’s new TV film, Ti Piace Hitchcock? (Do You Like Hitchcock?). Argento, now a youthful 65, is friendly and robust while still possessing his signature ghoulish carriage that has caused more than a few to comment: “He looks like something out of one of his own horror films.” And while he seems to cultivate this physical image – he famously eats little or nothing while working on his films – he is a true Roman in many other ways: warm, demonstrative and with a fondness for anecdotes. His famous father Salvatore Argento was a key player in the Italian cinema world but what is less known is that his mother, who was a celebrity photographer in the 40s and 50s, is Brazilian.
When I meet Argento, I present him with a Portuguese-language version of Camille Paglia’s book on Hitchcock’s film The Birds and he is flattered that I’ve recognized the other side of his Latin heritage. During the interview, Argento rolls along energetically in Italian – like a runaway Vespa careening through the Villa Borghese gardens – as Rinaldo struggles to keep up with him as my English-language interpreter. “For my new movie, I really wanted to imitate the style of Hitchcock, especially the long, drawn-out scenes he used for suspense”, Argento tells me. “But for my film, I really exaggerate the Hitchcock style of suspense by portraying long, long scenes that are much longer than his scenes. This is my way of commenting on Hitchcock’s main device for suspense.”
The story of Do You Like Hitchcock? concerns a 23 year-old film student and Hitchcock fan named Giulio who meets two women in a video store, all of them set on renting Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train. Giulio surrenders the DVD to the ladies who – in a gesture to Rear Window – live in the building opposite Giulio’s. When Giulio spies the two women making out, it becomes apparent that Do You Like Hitchcock? conspires to break through the sex-less, Catholic guilt-ridden barriers erected by the repressed Anglo director. “There are a lot of sex scenes in my Hitchcock homage, this is the only aspect that is different from his films”, explains Argento. “Hitchcock was very moralistic, he had this British way of behaving and directing, a British decorum. But I love sex and showing naked bodies in my films.” While this obvious Latin affectation is at odds with Hitch’s infamously timid attitude toward women’s sexuality, the fact that the British Master and Argento have a Catholic upbringing in common begs examination.
The role of Catholic guilt in the horror genre cannot be underestimated. Argento believes that horror films from Catholic countries serve the function of “releasing some kind of evil you have in your inner self…this is a good thing.” But despite his overt Italian baroque tendencies, Argento claims the reason his films are popular in Japan is because “my mind is very similar to the Japanese mind. I have a lot in common with manga artists.” He feels the prevalence of moralism in cinema is more of a problem in non-Catholic, Western countries. “My films are not moralistic but American films are, especially the big ones like War of the Worlds with Tom Cruise”, he says. “There is a fixation with family values in that film.” And while the calculating Hitchcock seemed concerned with specific psychological conflicts--Norman Bates and his smothering albeit dead mother, Marnie’s pathological frigidity, marauding birds as primitive force vs. civilization--Argento’s work is frequently visceral. He is often so caught up with high visual style, lighting and mise-en-scene, there is a constant feeling that Argento is too distracted to notice the axe-wielding specter of Catholic guilt sneaking up behind him. Viewing Argento’s films is a bit like having sex with a stranger in a Catholic country--there is a nagging concern that you’re doing something terribly wrong but it feels way too good to stop.
In addition to the Catholic connection, there are also the inevitable rumours concerning the cruelty of both directors. During a scene toward the end of The Birds, where Tippi Hedren is being brutally pecked by the film’s feathered stars in an attic, live birds were thrown at the blonde heroine. Hitch, who was not entirely fond of Hedren, allegedly egged on crew members by sadistically chanting, “Faster, faster!” In a similar scene in Argento’s 1980 supernatural experiment, Inferno, live cats were hurled at actress Daria Nicolodi, who was Argento’s then-lover and mother of their daughter Asia, and whose combative relationship with the director is the stuff of eternal Italian gossip. “Yes, Hitchcock hated Tippi”, Argento grins when I bring up both stories. Without denying the frenetic feline-tossing on the set of Inferno, he adds, “Hitchcock was afraid of birds, but I love cats. Some feel that cats are close to the devil and for this reason, priests rarely own them. But I don’t believe that.”
David Hemmings and Argento on the set of "Deep Red"
Produced by RAI Trade, DoYou Like Hitchcock? – which was screened at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival – is the first in a series of Hitchcock-themed feature length programs and marks Argento’s return to the television format. When he was in his early thirties, Argento sported a modish mop-top hairdo that perfectly complimented his rock star-like status after his 1972 TV series, Door Into Darkness, catapulted him into the Italian pop culture stratosphere. Similar to the TV serial Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Argento’s series featured the horror auteur introducing hour-long murder mysteries from a variety of directors, including Argento himself. “When Door Into Darkness was shown on TV it caused a revolution. Many people called the station and also the newspapers to complain about the excessive violence. I met with the people at RAI and many scenes had to be cut”, Argento recalls. “Now, with the Hitchcock homage the complaints from RAI have been about the sex scenes rather than violence.”
The Villa Scott in Turin
Do You Like Hitchcock? was shot in Argento’s second favorite shooting locale after Rome, the city of Turin in the Piemonte region of northern Italy. Besides its arguably inflated reputation as the Italian capital of black magic, Turin is also the birthplace of Italian cinema – the first Italian film, Cabiria, was shot there in 1914. “I love shooting in Turin because there are many small neighborhoods that not many people have seen – it’s a rarely filmed city”, enthuses Argento. “I especially love Turin’s architecture as it is different from other Italian cities – it is between baroque and art nouveau.” As a friend and admirer of Michelangelo Antonioni, Argento has always appreciated the director’s use of architecture in his stories – particularly in the 1962 film The Eclipse where Monica Vitti wanders past modern buildings in a forlorn Roman suburb – and sees architectural structures as actual characters in many of his own films.
Perhaps the most famous example of this in the Argento oeuvre is the flamboyant and decrepit art nouveau mansion in his 1975 giallo masterpiece, Profondo Rosso (Deep Red). Built in 1901, the Villa Scott--nestled in the hills of Turin--is featured in several key scenes in which actor David Hemmings is attempting to solve a series of murders. “A group of nuns and wayward girls lived in this house when I discovered it during a location shoot”, Argento says of the villa which remained empty for most of the 80s and 90s. “We paid for all of them to go on vacation in Remini, a resort on the Adriatic, so we could shoot there for a month.” The nuns and their girls returned tanned and relaxed to their villa which was henceforth referred to as “the Deep Red horror house.” Another famous Deep Red locale is the Piazza CLN,ontheviaRoma, with its bookend male and female statue-adorned fountains, where David Hemmings is witness to the film’s first murder. Off the tourist beat, this humble piazza will be known to the world when the 2006 Olympics descend on Turin this winter.
Monica Vitti strolls through EUR in Antonioni's "L'Eclisse"
What is also little-known about Argento outside of Italy is that he shares the left-wing tendencies of his Italian cinema colleagues Antonioni, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Bernardo Bertolucci. In 1969, Bertolucci joined the Communist Party and also collaborated with Argento on the script for Sergio Leone’s classic Spaghetti Western, Once Upon a Time in the West. “I was a member of the Italian Communist Party”, says Argento proudly. He also worked as the film critic for Party newspaper Paese Sera after he finished Catholic school. In 1973, Argento made a rare departure from the horror genre when he wrote and directed the underrated Le Cinque Giornate (The Five Days), a left-wing political satire about the Italian revolution centered in Milan in 1848. Evoking the comedy of Mel Brooks and Monty Python, Le Cinque Giornate is a savage commentary on the birth of Italy. “I wanted to show how false that birth was”, say Argento. “Because it was a revolution conducted by the rich and by the nobles. That is why six years later there was another revolution, an anarchist revolution.”
"The Five Days"
I mention that recently while re-watching his exquisite first film, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, I freeze-framed and zoomed into a Chairman Mao poster that hung on the American couple’s apartment wall in Rome. This causes Argento to launch into an anecdote from the time of Inferno’s pre-production with 20th Century Fox’s involvement in 1979. An American producer friend from Fox, who was very drunk after a dinner with Dario and Daria, was invited to nap in the Argento bedroom. The man passed out in the dark and when he awoke an hour later, he saw an enormous wooden red star, the symbol of Mao’s Red Brigade, towering over the bed. “He came running into the living room where Daria, me and the man’s wife were drinking and talking and he started screaming at the top of his lungs ‘What the fuck is this?! Are you a terrorist, a member of the Red Brigade?!’” Argento recalls. “And I said ‘no, no, no it is just art, a sculpture’ and he said ‘I’m not so sure about that.’ After he went back to America, I never heard from him again and our friendship ended abruptly.” This story brings to mind the anti-communist soliloquy near the end of the preposterous 1949 American propaganda film The Red Menace: "My flag has three colors, not one that's the color of blood!"
Of course Argento will always be thought of as the creepy yet dignified creator of DeepRed and other blood-soaked sagas rather than as a Red menace – and will continue to forge ahead in the terror terrain. Masters of Horror, a new TV series that will be distributed worldwide, will feature segments directed by fright titans John Carpenter, David Cronenberg, Roger Corman, George Romero (Argento collaborated with Romero on Dawn of the Dead) and others. Argento’s contribution will be a short film based on a comic book called “Jenifer”. The project grew out of a bi-monthly dinner gathering attended by the directors. At a recent one held in a Vancouver restaurant, Argento started arguing with John Landis after Landis opined that the shower scene in Psycho was effective because “you never actually see the gory stabbing." Argento began plunging his knife into the rare steak he ordered, screaming "No! I like to see contact with the victim! Lots and lots of blood! Audiences love it!" Would Hitchcock have liked Argento? We think so.
Thanks for reading,
P.S. - The trailer for Mario Bava's "Blood and Black Lace"--a giallo set in a Roman fashion house:
I've been following the recent fracas that has erupted concerning Mrs. de la Renta's displeasure over Michael Gross's latest expose of New York's hallowed inhabitants and institutions: Rogues' Gallery: The Secret History of the Moguls and the Money That Made the Metropolitan Museum. Though I've not read it yet, I'm sure it's packed with many meticulously documented, clutch-the-pearls anecdotes like the ones found in some of his previous works, such as 740 Park and Genuine Authentic: The Real Life of Ralph Lauren.
A hilariously written blog post and interview by the mysterious "Madame Arcati" documents de la Renta's attempt to suppress all media coverage of Gross's book. (Make sure you read the equally hilarious reader comments, as well).
I for one am not surprised that someone on The Met's A-list would resort to undemocratic tactics to quash any and all voices who dare to cast their social order in an unfavorable light. I was a victim of the Met Costume Institute's ire when I penned what was deemed an unflattering and irreverent piece about their Jacqueline Kennedy exhibit for DUTCH magazine back in late 2001. After attending a press luncheon with Harold Koda and Hamish Bowles to preview the show, I met with the Costume Institute's publicist (I can't remember the girl's name but I'm sure she's run off and married a once-rich banker and left The Met). She assured me that since I was covering the exhibit for DUTCH (the magazine was at the height of its buzz and influence at the time) that of course I would be invited to the Met Gala for the show's launch. Your invitation is already in the mail, she basically implied. Eight bottles of your favorite champagne have already been reserved. Your hors d'oeuvres? We'll ensure that the varnish on them has dried well before your arrival.
However, when I mentioned that my journalism style was often humorous, she blanched. "H-h-h-humorous?" her voice trembled. As if it was just was not possible to write anything funny or, god forbid, satirical about an exhibit celebrating the holy Mrs. Kennedy. (I'm really no big fan of the Kennedys. Jack was too rabidly anti-Communism for my tastes--how was he any better than Reagan?--and while I do appreciate Jackie on a certain level, I never could abide her ascension to sainthood via the fashion world. Her greatest skill was her opportunistic ability to choose the right men to marry, and her descent into decadence and self-indulgence during her Jackie O years, while entertaining, should somehow disqualify her from sainthood).
Jackie O squeezes out a smile despite the fact that the whale-testicle-covered chairs that she ordered for the luncheon never arrived.
So, after my article on the Jackie exhibit came out in the summer issue of DUTCH, I waited for my Met Gala invite to arrive in the mail. But every day was a Charlie Brown-like mailbox experience. ("What's the matter Charlie Brown? Still no invite to the Met Gala?") Calls and emails to the PR girl, who was a good friend of the club doorman I later wrote a book about, went unreturned. The doorman reached out to her and he was similarly rebuffed. (Despite their friendship, I believe he never heard from her again). Weeks after the gala came and went, I called her again and left a courtesy message (again, unreturned) to see if she had received her copy of the magazine (surely she had) and wanted to know what she thought of the article. At this point I was really just trying to provoke her, and I knew that she had most likely been instructed by her superiors to slash me from the invite list. There's nothing more dreary than institution people who have no sense of humor about their subject matter.
Anyway, here is the article from the Summer 2001 issue of DUTCH:
How Now Jackie
A new exhibit at the Metropolitan Costume Institute shows how Jacqueline Kennedy’s pop princess persona is irreplaceable.
By Glenn Belverio
In 1963, about a week after the publication of Jacqueline Susann’s memoir about her pet poodle, Every Night, Josephine!, John F. Kennedy was assassinated. When Susann stopped by her publisher’s for a meeting, she found everyone gathered around the TV taking in the news. “Why the fuck does this have to happen to me?!” she exploded. “This is gonna ruin my tour!” But like any good writer, Susann was eventually inspired by this pitfall. Her last novel, Dolores, was “the intense, tragic story of Dolores Ryan, the beautiful and fashionable young widow of an assassinated American President”. The most thinly veiled roman-a-clef in history, Dolores examined the psyche--and shopping skills--of an American First Lady. An excerpt: “Their first real argument came when she bought ten pairs of shoes. Jimmy stared at the bill with total disbelief. ‘How can you wear ten pairs of shoes at once?’ ‘They match different clothes,’ replied Dolores. ‘Clothes I intend to buy.’”
The clothes bought by the real First Lady of Fashion, Jacqueline Kennedy, will be featured in an exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute titled "Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years." Susann biographer Barbara Seaman writes of the author’s interest in Mrs. Kennedy: “She identified totally with ‘the other Jackie’, with her brunette beauty and elegance, her tragedies with children…her aura of sadness mixed with strength.” Sadly, there will be no juxtapositions of the Valley of the Dolls author’s famous Pucci outfits alongside Mrs. Kennedy’s Givenchy gowns. Also, don’t look for any mention of an experience that the two Jackies shared: both were patients of Max Jacobs aka “Dr. Feelgood,” the notorious quack famous for his vitamin B and amphetamine shots. (Mrs. Kennedy’s visits to Dr. Feelgood's office are documented in Sarah Bradford’s recent bio America’s Queen.)
This would all make for an interesting comparative pop culture study in two American Jackies: Susann, the vulgar, brash broad of trashy letters, and Mrs. Kennedy, the polite, shy lady of historic and aesthetic preservation. Susann swore loudly like a sailor, indulged in Nembutal suppositories, and wrote books about pill-popping starlets and suicidal bisexuals. Mrs. Kennedy whispered demurely (“like Marilyn Monroe playing Ophelia,” Maria Callas famously quipped), smoked cigarettes while hidden from cameras (one would be hard pressed to find a photo of her smoking), and read esoteric French books. Some may argue that Jackie Susann was a precursor to the later, hedonistic Jackie O., wherein her First Lady decorum surrendered to the decadence of the late '60s--a period defined by Susann’s sensationalistic novels.
But being that the Jacqueline Kennedy exhibit is not meant to be viewed as a perverse pop playground (the tone is decidedly reverential), Susann’s sensible absence requires no explanation. However, the impressive show contains many consolations. “Jacqueline Kennedy was taking a look that was very much in common currency in certain fashionable circles but wasn’t by any means an aesthetic that had been embraced by America at large”, explains Hamish Bowles, Vogue editor-at-large and curator for the exhibit. “She took something that came from a very sequestered world and made it nationally and internationally visible.” On display will be many of the elegant gowns Mrs. Kennedy wore for formal functions and public appearances designed by American designer Oleg Cassini: the black satin dress she wore when she met the Pope, the famed Inaugural ball gown, the sleeveless pink shantung dress she wore to India (a trip she reportedly brought sixty suitcases for).
There will also be a few Givenchys -- such as a stunning hot pink ribbon-back dress -- most of which were allegedly bought before she moved into the White House. (With the exception of the ones purchased for her appearances with JFK in Paris). This was in lieu of her suggestion that she would only buy clothes that were made in America. “If she was wearing Paris couture clothes that she already had in her wardrobe, I don’t think she can be criticized for that”, says Bowles. “On the contrary, it showed some level of sobriety and thriftiness, and it also showed that she was drawn to very simple, understated clothes.”
Another way that Mrs. Kennedy satisfied her French fashion fixation was to have some of her clothes made by Chez Ninon, an American company that legitimately copied Paris couture. One such example is the cranberry wool trompe l’oeil dress (a copy of a Marc Bohan design for Dior) she famously wore in the televised tour of her White House restoration project. Even better than the actual dress is the inclusion of video clips of the program in the exhibit. The White House Tour video is a hypnotizing historical artifact. Mrs. Kennedy’s whispery, campy recital of historical factoids, her sometimes stiff, sometimes boyish movements, and her nervous schoolgirl smile suggested a failed attempt at projecting a fully developed pop royal persona. (She allegedly went to bed in tears after viewing the broadcast.)
It perhaps goes without saying that at least one garment will not be included in the show: the infamous blood-splattered Chanel-like pink suit that is stored away in some arcane Washington vault. “The stained suit Jackie refused to change that day documented the polarities of womanhood: the pastel pink of girlhood and romance and the barbaric blood red of birth and death,” wrote Camille Paglia in her essay "Mona Lisa in Motion."
“That garment, like the Shroud of Turin, was a pictogram of her life story, with its failed pregnancies and widowhood.” Some may wonder how an exhibit on the clothes of Jackie Kennedy can be complete without the psychological and historical information displayed on that suit. Many will understand the need for restraint and respect on such an issue. Jackie Susann’s Dolores certainly understood the need for restraint: “Part of the duties of being First Lady was to look perfect. She sure didn’t look perfect now…the wrinkled suit…her hair falling across her face…she mustn’t allow the tears to come. A lady doesn’t show emotion in public.”