***You can find Part 1 Here
ALL THE COLOURS OF EDWIGE: PART 2
How Giallo’s quintessential starlet subverted her pin-up status.
The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh was the beginning of a very prolific period for Sergio Martino in the Giallo genre – over the next couple of years he would go on to direct The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail, Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key, All the Colors of the Dark, Torso and The Suspicious Death of a Minor.
Edwige Fenech (by now married to Sergio’s brother, producer Luciano) would remain Martino’s muse – starring in two more of his Gialli and a number of the director’s other productions. As with the character of Julie Wardh, Fenech’s finest performances seemed to happen when working with Martino, and there is perhaps no role more captivating than her turn as Jane Harrison in:
ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK (1972, dir Sergio Martino)
The film marks one of Giallo’s many diversions, as different elements of the genre’s rich cinematic lexicon came to the fore. Very much a surrealist thriller with gothic overtones, ‘Colors’ tells the story of Jane, who recently suffered a miscarriage in a car crash and now lives in isolation with her husband in a London apartment building. The film charts what appears to be Jane’s descent into insanity (though we are kept guessing as to what is real and what is imagined right up until the closing moments), and Fenech is on fine form as she and the audience dive into Martino’s existential rabbit hole.
The film opens with an absurd and grotesque depiction, a Freudian exploration of female madness; an oversaturated vision of pregnancy; of aging and of diminished beauty, followed by death. The scenario ends with the violent murder of a young woman (Jane’s mother), gives way to a vision of a car crash, and we suddenly awaken, along with Jane, from this visceral nightmare.
From the outset, Fenech presents us with a vulnerable, troubled heroine: a terrible sadness lies behind her eyes. When she steps into the shower, it is not for our titillation – she remains in her nightdress as the water pours over her, and appears to be trying to wash the darkness from her very mind.
In these opening scenes, Fenech teaches the audience that we, like her, cannot trust what we see and hear. Her relationship with her husband Richard seems a little off, despite his attempts to care for her. It appears that he was responsible for the car crash that killed their unborn child, and his efforts at helping his tormented wife consist of keeping her isolated, forbidding her from undergoing any form of psychoanalysis. The relationship therefore appears to be a manipulative and abusive one, with Fenech’s Jane subjugated. Should she trust Richard? Or is he only adding to her torment? Like Fenech, we are never sure, and it is her performance as much as Martino’s storytelling that lends us this nervous uncertainty.
“Day after day, it is like I’m falling into a pit.”
A seemingly meaningless jumble of words, but these are the thoughts, emotions and feelings experienced by a woman following miscarriage – often simultaneously and for an extended period of time. It is perhaps the most traumatic experience a person could ever endure. To have nurtured a life within you only to have it cruelly rejected – by your own body – and perish inside of you is a pain unparalleled, and to expect an actor to be able to convey all of this in a single performance is asking the impossible.
Fenech manages angst and trauma incredibly well. She has the most expressive eyes in all of Italian cinema, and can do more with a single look than many actors can with a page of dialogue. Her talents are put to much better use when the role requires a level of emotional depth, as it does here.
Contrast Jane with Marie in Mario Bava’s ‘Five Dolls for an August Moon’ - a decent enough genre entry, if not his best – where Fenech is presented as beautiful, incredibly stylish, a strong sexual creature, but ultimately plays no more than a siren. Her character has little to do and seems bored, and one cannot help but wonder if Fenech too was bored in such a limiting role. Here, with Martino, she shows us so much more than just the bare flesh we have become accustomed to.
In ‘Colors’, a short, silent subway ride during which Jane becomes paralyzed by fear is more captivating than Fenech’s entire performance in ‘Dolls’. A walk along the Thames, autumn leaves crushed underfoot, becomes an exercise in anguish and terror. Aided by Martino’s lensing and Bruno Nicolai’s startling score (a sensory overload of psychedelic pop, discombobulating free jazz and terrifying lullabies), Fenech ensures we believe every moment of her anxious torment with the greatest of ease. As she screams at her pursuer (genre regular Ivan Rassimov) to stop following her, we simultaneously empathise with Jane and suspect she might be hysterical
Fenech’s performance of Jane’s mental state carries more nuance than is sometimes appreciated. The stages of grief are present in Jane as the narrative progresses, combined with a sense of loss that is palpable – look into Fenech’s eyes and you can feel the dark void in her heart. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder fuels her paranoia and despair, and the sense that her mind could be indulging in an act of treachery against her is understandable, given that her body has essentially done the same thing – allowing the tiny life she had nurtured to perish within her.
Sex reminds Jane of the loss of her baby. While sex conflated with death is a common trope in Giallo, here it is presented differently. Following a miscarriage, sex can be very traumatic for women – physically, mentally and emotionally. Thus, Fenech’s performance in the film’s sexual scenes is markedly different from other movies in the canon, further informing us of her fragility. That Martino uses abrupt, jarring cuts from Jane’s molestation at the hands of the cult leader to her marital bed is the director’s skill, but it is Fenech’s performance that really connects with the viewer.
“I don’t feel real, Richard. I don’t feel real!”
In another film, the above line of dialogue would seem melodramatic and on the nose – here it serves a higher purpose. A common complaint post-miscarriage is a dehumanizing effect, as the woman comes to terms with what has happened and succumbs to guilt and an emotional numbness. The idea that she has failed at what she was supposedly put on earth to do brings with it feelings of worthlessness and a detachment from feeling ‘human’. Could it be that Fenech’s performance and the screenplay by Ernesto Gastaldi and Sauro Scavolini was hinting at this? Very possibly, in an expressionist kind of way. As Jane’s grip on reality loosens, she grows physically and mentally weary, unable to function as a ‘normal’ human being. She is alone – at odds with life and deserted by reality.
As the plot of All The Colors of The Dark progresses, there are parallels to be drawn between it and Roman Polanski’s 1968 film Rosemary’s Baby. Both deal with isolated women in apartment buildings, with a pregnancy and a building sense of unimaginable danger. Fenech’s Jane compares favourably with that of Mia Farrow’s Rosemary. In terms of the range of emotions on display, the vulnerable yet resourceful young wife fighting against a host of human and supernatural predatory forces, Fenech is every bit Farrow’s equal. There is indeed nuance to how she displays her tormented psyche, her performance forever building with the score to dizzying pinnacles then plummeting into terrible depths of despair.
Both Jane and Rosemary share a common bond – that of motherhood and loss. Farrow’s character is pregnant with her first child, and will do anything to protect it from the external forces hell-bent on claiming it as their own. Rosemary is in a fight to keep control of her body and the tiny life that resides within it. Jane has already fought this battle and lost. Her child is gone, taken from her before she has had an opportunity to know and love it. That her body has failed her leads Fenech’s tragic heroine to renew her resolve and protect what she has left – her mind. This battle to save her sanity has become, by proxy, the battle to save her unborn child. This is a battle she can still win.
Against a backdrop of political unrest, class war and a changing social fabric in Italy at the time, Giallo filmmakers were adept at weaving socio-political context into these popular thrillers. The films would often shine a spotlight upon man’s destructive nature and make a statement on male violence towards women (a subtext of genre film often interpreted as simply exploitation by its detractors, with cries of misogyny and the absence of a moral compass.). In both ‘Colors’ and Rosemary’s Baby, the heroine’s male partner is culpable for her torment, and this is not to be ignored. George Hilton’s Richard was the driver of the car that crashed and caused Jane’s miscarriage. Rosemary’s husband Guy is her chief antagonist, scheming behind her back to see that the birth of her child serves a darker purpose. The male-on-female violence of ‘Colors’ serves one purpose, which is to abstractly illustrate the perpetrated act of violence upon Jane’s unborn child.
As mentioned earlier, ‘Colors’ is perhaps not the most traditional of Gialli. A chase with our customary knife-wielding killer morphs into a religious cult’s blood orgy, then Jane is returned to her bed in the blink of an eye. Not for the first time, Giallo takes a detour into Hammer Horror territory (a road already travelled in Emilio P Miraglia’s ‘The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave’), offering us great helpings of Satanism, surrealism and sacrifice. Director Martino imbues the film with a supernatural style that would be seen again, in Dario Argento’s 1977 terror masterpiece Suspiria. Locations come alive with the deepest reds and greens, adding to the dreamlike quality of the movie and further dissociating the narrative from the rational and the logical. Martino has an eye for expressionism – Jane’s hallucinations take place in a waking nightmare of escher-like staircases, looming tower blocks and discombobulating camera angles taken straight from Fritz Lang or Robert Weine. While Martino, artistic director Cubero Galicia and set designer Giorgio Bertolini can be thanked for the style and colour palette, it is Fenech that acts as our proxy and guide through what is, at times, more surrealist gothic horror than crime thriller. Like her, we are kept guessing right up until the closing moments, and like her we can never fully trust our intuition.
With little else to anchor us, we must take Fenech’s hand and plunge with her into a kaleidoscope of terror, as images stutter, repeat and overlap, further divorcing us from reality. But that’s the thing – it is a leap we are willing to take. Fenech’s performance, Bruno Nicolai’s frenzied score and Martino’s hypnotic visual coda provide the perfect marriage and there are no narrative leaps that detach us from the experience.
Some final thoughts…
In Jane, Edwige Fenech gives us perhaps the most nuanced performance of her career – a woman caught between love and loss, between sanity and madness. That she never loses her resilience even when at her most tormented shows what a powerful character Jane is, and this could not be made believable without Fenech’s extraordinary talents. We are convinced that every dizzying emotion Jane suffers is real, that every nightmarish narrative twist and turn is deadly. This would be difficult for all but a handful of actors to pull off, let alone to do in what is traditionally a very melodramatic genre not always taken as seriously as it perhaps deserves to be. That Fenech is capable of such feats is astounding, and should be recognised.
All hail Edwige Fenech, Queen of Giallo.
NEXT WEEK: All the Colours of the 80s! Three of Italian genre cinema’s heavy hitters bring Giallo back to prominence in the age of the slasher.
REFERENCES AND FURTHER READING:
Ebert, Roger (1968) Rosemary’s Baby
Miscarriage Association (2018) Your Feelings
Nastasi, Alison (2015) The Beyond: All The Colors of the Dark 1972
No Name (2018) Bruno Nicolai – All The Colors of the Dark
Totaro, Donato (2007) All the Colors of the Dark versus They’re Coming to Get You.
Totaro, Donato (2002) Sergio Martino’s All the Colors of the Dark
Welton, Benjamin (2016) Doomsters at the Drive In – All the Colors of the Dark 1972
Check out the newest Beyond The Void Horror Podcast w/ Special Guest Matt Kelly of the Horror Movie Night Podcast. They make up a horror movie from start to finish in the popular plot making segment #graveplots. This one is out of this world. Listen here or on iTunes Here!