Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971)

Director: Dario Argento

Starring: Michael Bradon, Mimsy Farmer

What’s it about?

Rock drummer Roberto Tobias is being stalked by an unknown man until a bloody confrontation in an archaic theatre leaving his pursuer dead. As Roberto reels from the shock of killing someone, he is photographed from a balcony by a soon-to-be blackmailer who is determined to drive him crazy. And they’re wearing the weird rubber mask you can see on the poster. Grim stuff.

Should I watch it?

If it has a Morricone score, it should automatically be on your “to watch” list. The now-expired legend manages to lift the most banal film with his powerhouse scores. Four Flies is not banal, though it is definitely cheese-baked in parts. American actress Mimsy Farmer, who also stars in the grisly Autopsy and disturbing The Perfume of the Lady In Black, plays Michael Brandon’s neurotic wife, who does absolutely nothing to make her jittery husband feel better. Brandon is fantastic in the lead role and it baffles me how he hasn’t become more well known.

Roberto hires a PI (played by the prolific Jean-Paul Marielle) who begins to investigate why he’s been targeted for blackmail. Arrosio may be offensive for queer viewers, but the character needs to be framed in context. Is he a comicaly-absurd (and strangely hungry) character or positively representating gay men in 70s Italy? It could be discussed in more detail, but whether it needs to be is another thing. There’s some recognition of the anxiety between straight and gay men which is played up for laughs yet still should be recognised as an valuable early queer cinema. The surprise campy stereotype becomes a deeply sympathic character that breaks the plot (and the movie) in half. “84 failures, a fantastic record.” is both hilarious and tragic, you’ll know when you hear it. Don’t let this paragraph distract you from the movie itself. The subway scene amps up the tension to an almost unbearable level.

Unlike other Argento giallo and horror films, Four Flies has some odd comic scenes in it, such as the inexplicable friendship between Roberto and God, a shack-dwelling fisherman with a parrot called Jerkoff. Plus there’s the black humour of the funeral convention which may raise a few eyebrows. It’s a strange shift when you consider this is a follow-up to the peerless Bird With The Crystal Plumage, however the interesting stylistic devices, such as the shot of the “four flies”, give a hint of some of techniques Argento would employ in Deep Red only a few years later. The shot from the inside of the crappy fake guitar is inexcusable though.

The 40th Anniversary Shameless bluray restores a few of the previously damaged inserts as well as cut frames. I disagree with the categorisation of this, Bird and Cat as an “animal trilogy”: the lazy critic who came up with that doesn’t seem to realise a fly is not actually an animal. There’s not as much brutality as there is from Deep Red onwards, but the climax is definitely unforgettable.

Moonage Daydream (2022)

It was hard to know whether I would go into this and come out the other side unscathed, but there you go. I thought the BBC did a great job with their “Years” trilogy a while back, where a lot of unseen material was unearthed, but I was (and remain) irritated by the voxpops in the first film by people just offering a bland opinion like it’s Come Dine With Me. We know Bowie is good, that’s why we’re watching a bloody documentary about him, you muppets. Filler. Waste of time. Don’t even burn your production budget recording these interviews, ever. Nobody wants to see them.

So, Brett Morgen immediately got on my right side by only letting the man himself, David Jones, do all the talking and keep floating acolytes who love “Tonight” well and truly away from the proceedings. Is this a film worth seeing at an IMAX? Yes. It’s a sensory experience not just on screen but in your ears too. The music is absolutely essential, and even if you only know a fraction of Bowie’s music, the way it is laid out for you, remixed, and reimagined is profound. For people like me who know the 70s albums back to front (with the except of ‘Young Americans’ and ‘David Live’ which are very bad cocaine albums sans soul), there are plenty of interesting mixes and alternate versions of well known songs that are transformed with the on-screen images.

Take ‘Word on a Wing’ from the 1975 album ‘Station to Station’ (also composed under a snowhill of drugs and black magic, but thats by-the-by)… a stripped down version of the song is juxtaposed with photographs of Bowie and his new wife Iman, which really hit me hard knowing that he’s now gone, leaving his wife and daughter Lexi. It’s a very powerful moment and nearly had me on the floor. Nice work, Brett.

Brute force can only do so much before you end up desentitised and bored by the 2h14 running time. Like Bowie’s stolen cut-up techniques, the film follows a similar method using concert, found, and documentary footage mixed in with photography, other movies (A Clockwork Orange, Metropolis, etc.) and for me, a true example of ingenuity, using low-quality QuickTime footage from the early-00s but blown up to 4k. FINALLY someone has embraced the media we recorded on our pre-smart phones and used it in a meaningful way. Everything… EVERYTHING has some value given the right context. My only criticism of the footage is in its reuse without what seems to be intent, such as Dave going up and down some lifts in the Glass Spider documentary footage (which has been cleaned up very nicely).

For nerds like me, the best moment was the unseen Earl’s Court footage, which has been vaulted since 1978 and looks like it was filmed last week. Now we just need the full show, and maybe Brett is the man to do it, if he’s not completely burned out from looking at Dave for the past few years without a break.

What the film doesn’t cover, which is understandable given Bowie’s length of time working in entertainment, are his bad 80s years (two unlistenable albums back to back), no Jagger/Mercury, sadly no Reznor, and definitely no ‘Heathen’/’Hours’-era stuff. His later years have been overlooked by nearly everybody because music mags are so fixated on ‘Ziggy’ and ‘Hunky’, which I like to be contrarian about and admit I prefer ‘Diamond Dogs’. I used to say my favorite album after that was ‘Low’ but in my advanced years I’ve changed to ‘”Heroes”‘ because side 2 is so great. Brett doesn’t demystify this era at all, sadly for me, but likely because it would alienate the casual viewer or the Let’s Dance fans. It’s a very tough tightrope too navigate as everyone has their favourite era of Bowie, including many who just like Labyrinth and couldn’t care less about his music. It’s also worth adding this is the first time I’ve seen his paintings before, which could either be untrained outsider work or I’m just not getting it. Art experts, please weigh in.

Moonage Daydream, thankfully, has enough surprises that warrants seeing on a huge screen and over and over again. It’s a double album. It’s a documentary. It’s a concert film. It’s an art movie. It’s a video game. It’s a club remix. It’s a gallery. It’s a trailer. It’s NOT entry-level Bowie but it is a museum guide through his winding life and ends on a glorious high, not the heartbreak of 2016 when I found out what had happened moments after buying a copy of an album on LP that I needed to fill in my collection.

My Dear Killer (1972)

Where to start? The bluray covers all focus on the woodcutter blade murder (which is as gore-as-gore-can-be for an early giallo as this) but the most disturbing and overlooked theme of this ROTM investigative drama is pedophilia.

In a scene that surprisingly not been cut, the uncle of a murdered child has lured another into his “artist’s studio” at the same time as being questioned by investigator Inspector Peretti (George Clinton). The shot in question requires no description other than LZ’s ‘Houses of the Holy’. A bizarre and queasy moment.

The film sets itself apart from the post-Bava trend with slow-panned, atmospherically-lit shots and an oppressive Ennio Morricone score (reminiscent of the previous year’s superb ‘Short Night of Glass Dolls’). This lifts it out of the realm of the subpar, but only slightly. There are too many similarities with Argento’s Crystal Plumage and Cat O’Nine Tails to make it a top contender for best giallo. 1972 is a packed year for the genre with stiff competition. Hilton gives it credence with his stern performance as the driven inspector pursuing the victim’s killer, but his path rarely strays from the linear, which leads to a plodding, rather than shocking, conclusion.