Palimpsest, Pasolini, Poe and Poetics, or the phantoms haunting Dario Argento’s Opera (1987)
Argento’s gialli – i.e. Italian-style thrillers – from The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970) onwards present a succession of protagonists who find themselves haunted by some vital fragment of sound or image that they cannot quite recall, going up against antagonists whose inability to overcome the haunting legacy of some incident in their past compels them to kill again and again. Unsurprisingly this has encouraged many commentators to take a psychoanalytic approach to Argento’s gialli and those of his imitators.
However, there is the haunting trace of something else here in that the Argento giallo is distinguished by its excessiveness, as Maitland McDonagh argues. In this paper, I wish to undertake such a reading of one specific but in certain respects exemplary Argento giallo, Opera (1987). Beginning with an outline of the film’s narrative for those unfamiliar with it, I will proceed by interrogating some of its most striking images, seeking to bring out an alternative ‘hauntology’ of their possible meanings based on the notion of the palimpsest and the aesthetic ideas of Pier Paolo Pasolini (1965) and Edgar Allan Poe (1845).
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