The youngest female director in Italy, Asia Argento is better known as the daughter of famed Giallo director Dario Argento, though she's managed to gradually carve out a successful acting career, with "xXx" propelling her to a wider audience. Daughter of a famed horror director (and killed and assaulted in some of his films), the younger Argento knows what it's like to be hounded by the media and fanboys, and the struggle for personal identity under her father's shadow.
According to Argento, "Scarlet Diva" is a product of her anger and revenge - anger from unrequited love by a musician named Kirk, and revenge for getting dumped - although the film's autobiographical elements (and there are several) make it clear the film is more a personal project to work out a few nasty demons. She also insinuates her movie's an effort to regain creative control, after being worn down by director Abel Ferrara in his 1998 incoherent sci-fi quickie, "New Rose Hotel."
"Scarlet Diva" is pretty polished, with the director taking advantage of various locations throughout the world from a one-week international shoot after six weeks of principal photography. Italy, Holland, England and America are the key countries that she efficiently uses, including her own apartment and childhood bedroom (with her doomed mum portrayed by real-life mother Daria Nicolodi).
Where critics had a field day with the movie at film festivals (including the Toronto International Film Festival), the DVD realm gives "Diva" not only a new life, but the perfect venue for its creator to defend some of her artistic choices, including the use of graphic sexual imagery and drug use. Media Blasters have produced a thoughtful release, offering a crisp transfer form the digital materials, which combined mini DV footage from in-car, interior plane and airport locations (grainy, but adding an appropriate documentary feel); and Digital Betacam for the rest. The basic surround mix offers clean dialogue and sound effects, and the original music score by John Hughes (yup, son of the director) fluidly ties together the various locales, emotional spikes, and myriad source tunes that Argento assembled to underscore her character's self-destructive lifestyle, and bottoming out.
A snappy montage (0:46) apparently from the film's premiere precedes the Main Menu, and features the writer/director posing before the film's poster, and with several actors as they arrive in limos.
The real bonus is Asia Argento's commentary, which combines personal observations with her replies for a nearby, and mostly silent host. Given she's often physically vulnerable in the film, there's little reason to hold back anger towards ex-boyfriend Kirk, touchy-feelie Italian fanboys, and friends and colleagues who bowed out of the production shortly before filming (including actor Vincent Gallo). She balances candid personal details with some omissions - keeping Kirk's identity a secret, and revealing nothing about the film's European-flavored finale - and addresses the film's raunchy sex scenes (one real), including her own nude appearances.
A brief video intro (0:29) that precedes the film also reveals Argento's honesty, and naïveté; the delivery evokes a kind of desperate Sally Field, although really what the director is saying is 'screw the critics: watch it, and judge for yourselves.'
The movie was written during an emotional low point, but as she admits in the supplemental video interview that acts as a coda, the demands of publicizing a personal film and putting on a confident smile while fending off vicious press attacks (citing native Italian paparazzi as the most vile) inadvertently made things worse for the fledgling director. Argento's interviewer is well-prepared to guide the session as a supplement to the commentary, and there's compelling and just plain weird material regarding the film's production; the partially aborted bestiality moment, "killing" her mother onscreen, and the after-effects of portraying a victimized woman in some of her father's violent thrillers.
Also included are a very basic stills gallery, and trailers from several upcoming entries in the Shriek DVD line - a short video promo (subtitled in English) for the seriously warped "Visitor Q" from Japanese director Takashi Miike, a nearly 8-minute trailer for "Versus," and a clean trailer for the big city shocker " House on the Edge of the Park."
Note: The language track is a singular combination of English, Italian and some French.
© 2002 Mark R. Hasan