Review Date: April 20, 2006
Released by: Blue Underground
Release date: 3/28/2006
Region 0, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
Although Dario Argento has no doubt made a name for himself as one of horror’s greatest directors, his success does not come without influence. Thematically, he owes most to Michelangelo Antonioni in the way his characters (often artists themselves) sift through pieces and sanity in search for a complex truth. Visually though, he owes much to his first time cinematographer, Vittorio Storaro. Storaro worked with Argento on The Bird With the Crystal Plumage
, and his work has consistently been overshadowed by Argento’s success as a visual stylist. The impact of Storaro though, is evident when Plumage
is compared with the more workmanlike follow-ups, The Cat O’ Nine Tails
and Four Flies on Grey Velvet
. Both are visually lackluster, and as a result some of Argento’s weakest films. Without the professional wing of Storaro, who would move on to Oscars and acclaim working for Bernardo Bertolucci and Francis Ford Coppola, Argento’s penache for framing meant little amidst muddy visuals.
It was only after Argento sought the cinematographic eye of Luciano Tovoli on Suspiria
that Argento would own up to the visual promise he first displayed along with Vittorio Storaro. It is no coincidence that Tovoli was a frequent cinematographer for Antonioni, since Argento was still pulling from the masters as he cemented his style throughout the seventies. It would be Storaro’s colorful cosmetic lighting, the always-moving camera and dependence on shadows that Argento would eventually return to as he found his footing as a true master of horror later on in his career. So as much as Argento has always had his own clear directorial vision, Vittorio Storaro is responsible for first making that vision a colorful, dark and beautiful reality, helping Argento to articulate himself in film from Plumage
onward. Storaro never worked with Argento again, but he did do another giallo the year following Plumage
with Luigi Bazzoni’s The Fifth Cord
The Fifth Cord
has suffered many a poor video release, and as a result has been perceived by many to be a lesser title in giallo’s history. Blue Underground though, has finally dusted off this little-seen film and have given it yet another characteristically spotless transfer. So now, in all its widescreen glory, The Fifth Cord
, and Vittorio Storaro’s cinematography, can finally be appraised. So was Storaro just as good without Argento, or are the visuals a few feathers short of Plumage
. Let’s put on those black gloves and examine the evidence.
The movie begins in a swingin’ nightclub not dissimilar from the one featured at the centerpiece of Blow-up
. Andrea Bild (Franco Nero
) has had one too many, and mooches a ride with an old flame, Helene (Silvia Monti
). She left him awhile back because of his drinking problem, and he’s been shacking up casually with Lu Auer (Pamela Tiffin
) ever since. Things get complicated though, when one of the women from the bar turn up dead…and Andrea was the last man seen with her. The police start to ask him questions, but they have little to pin on him. When another woman he was close to dies though, Andrea begins to look more and more like a suspect.
Four women die in total, and the only similarity of the crimes is a glove left behind. Each time a single glove is left, but with each kill an additional finger is cut from the glove. With only one finger remaining to be cut, Andrea looks to be the next victim. He puts his journalistic skills to good use in trying to get to the bottom of the mystery, but the clues prove too complex to weave together. Money, love and jealousy of course all factor into the mix, but Andrea won’t uncover the secret until the masking of the killer before the final credits.
If one were to rank The Fifth Cord
in the form of a checklist, it wouldn’t do so well. Franco Nero delivers far from the “terrific performance” boasted on the back DVD artwork. Always stoic and mostly inanimate, Nero remains one of the dullest leading men in all European cult cinema. He doesn’t get much help from the rest of the cast either, and every performance is immediately forgettable. Surprisingly forgettable as well is Ennio Morricone’s safe and formulaic score. More a rehash of Psycho
than the ethereal, fast paced stuff he’s remembered for, this ranks up there as one of his worst scores to be sure. The story too is a letdown, poorly developed, misogynistic and laced with a homophobic twist, it is regressive in a time when cinema was supposed to be the opposite. Add in a total absence of gore and on paper it seems like one big dry bore.
Only the cinematography is worth mentioning in The Fifth Cord
, and combined with the poor music, story, performances and gore, the film is batting at a measly .200 on paper. What such an analysis fails to reveal though, is just how amazing and beautiful Vittorio Storaro’s work here really is. Every shot is a new work of art. With The Fifth Cord
, Storaro has in effect created a 93 minute art gallery, with each shot a new composition with a new theme and new visual splendor. Notable is his amazing delineation of objects, how a background can register so perfectly in color and exposure, but his characters seem trapped entirely in black shadow. Then there are his dolly shots, which never seem to end as they sweep around staircases, through Italian streets and around buildings. He gives life to a story very much without it. The framing, where no object seems unconsciously placed and no angle seems without meaning, means that every image resonates with a prepared beauty that demands multiple viewings. Each frame is a new landmark, and this is a rare film that succeeds entirely in spite of itself.
The Fifth Cord
by all means is not a good giallo. It would make a terrible radio play, and I am surprised to see in the credits that it is based from a book. The story as written here is weak, but through the power of film as a visual medium, cinematographer Vittorio Storaro has transformed the film into something fresh and exciting. I’d dare call it one of the most beautiful gialli ever made, and considering the company that is high praise. Storaro would leave the horror genre for good after this, but no doubt he left his mark between The Fifth Cord
and The Bird With the Crystal Plumage
. He certainly didn’t let his talents go to waste working in other genres, but horror has always been one in symbiosis with visuals, and one can’t help but wonder how he could have shaped the horror aesthetic had he stayed with the genre longer. Even still though, with those two gialli to his credit, Vittorio Storaro has forever left a profound mark on the look of horror, and never has it been so satisfying to look into the shadows than it has been to watch him paint his black canvass with The Fifth Cord
If ever there was a film that would benefit from a quality transfer, it is The Fifth Cord
. Thankfully, Blue Underground has done the bang up job they always do and have given Vittorio Storaro’s visuals the polished respect they deserve. Storaro was always a cinematographer so confident in his overabundance of blacks, and they are deep and solid here the entire film. There are a few little bits of dirt and scratches, a bit more than other Blue Underground gialli, but it is still incredibly minimal. The luscious colors, from the blue tinted car scenes to the gold-hued mansion interiors, register with perfect saturation and a vivacious burst of life. Considering the vividness of the colors, this looks nothing at all like it has aged the thirty five years it has. There are a few moments in the picture where it almost looks like a frame or two is missing, where the frame jumps a second in the gate, but I only spotted this twice and it was almost unnoticeable. What remains noticeable is the clear, deep and colorful image. With this transfer, one of the best looking gialli looks even better.
All that is included is a mono English mix, and it is pretty lackluster on the whole. The dubbing is particularly distracting here, as everything comes through incredibly stilted and each character’s voice just doesn’t seem to match at all the personalities of their characters. The mix itself is fine, no hissing or distortion, and Morricone’s forgettable music is without any noticeable problems (making it even more forgettable, I guess). Points docked for leaving off the Italian language track that can be found on overseas DVDs of the film.
The standard package of featurette and trailer again accompanies this Blue Ungerground giallo, although the featurette is without a doubt one of the best of their giallo releases. “Giornata Nera (Black Days)” is a 16-minute featurette with Franco Nero and Vittorio Storaro, and although it seems an unlikely pair, the interviews are edited in such a blended fashion that they totally work. Nero gives anecdotes about his friendship with the director and Storaro well before the film, and how his brief interloping with Vanessa Redgrave gave him access to the influential words of British acting greats like Lawrence Olivier. While Nero is good to listen to, it is Storaro’s show, and he talks fascinatingly about the motivations of his photography.
More than just trying to light for exposure or style, Storaro approaches the art as if it were his thesis, trying to see the connection between light and dark and the masculine and feminine. He talks about lighting in such a provoking manner that is unlike almost all other cinematographers in the industry. He also has some great back story about his debt to Luigi Bazzoni, and how he committed to do The Fifth Cord
even after Antonioni had called him asking him to work as his DOP. Turning down Antonioni is like denying pocket change as a homeless person – you just don’t do it! Storaro’s interview was recorded at the same time as his one for The Bird With the Crystal Plumage
, but in this featurette he is even better.
The disc is rounded off with a peculiar trailer that is entirely instrumental, and composed of mostly a single static shot of Franco Nero’s eyes. It dissolves into clips from the film, but the eyes remain the constant, and it does become a little disturbing after awhile.
With stilted acting, a weak script, a lack of gore and a mediocre Morricone score, there doesn’t initially seem to be a lot going for The Fifth Cord
. It is the cinematography though, by the legendary Vittorio Storaro, that elevates this film into the upper echelons of the giallo genre. Every image is a painting, both a visual feast for the eyes and one with themes that resonate in the mind. Rarely have images been as powerful in horror as they are here. The video transfer does justice to the great cinematography in the film, while the audio is about as routine as the musical score. The included featurette with Storaro is a great little short, and helps put the powerful imagery in the film in context. The Fifth Cord
proves that Storaro could make beautiful images without Argento (while the reverse could not be said for some time) and that in rare cases a cinematographer’s vision can trump even a director’s. For those who like their gialli stylish and visual, there is little better.
Movie - A-
Image Quality - A-
Sound - B-
Supplements - B
- Running time - 1 hour 33 minutes
- Not Rated
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English Mono
- "Giornata Nera (Black Days)" - Interviews with Star Franco Nero and Cinematographer Vittorio Storaro
- Theatrical trailer