Stendhal Syndrome Comparison
Gabe compares Troma and Medusa's releases of the Dario Argento feature...
|Stendhal Syndrome – USA R0 (Troma) vs Italian R2 (Medusa)|
7th March 2006
Rating/Certificate: USA UR
DVD Release Date: 17th August 1999
Run Time: 113 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
Video Signal: NTSC
Disc Type: Single Sided, Dual Layer
Soundtrack: Dolby Digital Stereo English
Extra Features: Lloyd Kaufman's Interview with Director Dario Argento, Ronny Svensson's Interview with Director Argento, Commentary by special effects supervisor Sergio Stivaletti, Ruggero Deodato's commentary on Cannibal Holocaust, Theatrical Trailers, Production Stills, Filmographies, Interactive Tour of Troma Studios, Troma Intelligence Test, Web Links,"Radiation March", Troma Rap starring Julie Strain, Troma Comic Books Special
Easter Egg: No
Director: Dario Argento
Starring: Asia Argento, Thomas Kretschmann
Related Movies: The Stendhal Syndrome
Rating/Certificate: Italy 14
DVD Release Date: 10th December 2003
Run Time: 113 and 114 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Video Signal: PAL
Disc Type: Single Sided, Dual Layer
Soundtrack: Dolby Digital 5.1 Italian, Dolby 2.0 Italian, Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Subtitles: English, Italian
Extra Features: Interview with Asia Argento, Interview with Dario Argento, Film set featurette
Easter Egg: No
Director: Dario Argento
Starring: Asia Argento, Thomas Kretschmann
Related Movies: The Stendhal Syndrome
Anna is hot on the trail of a serial killer/rapist. Her search brings her to Uffizi Gallery, where she is stricken with a case of Stendhal Syndrome, a rare affliction that causes sufferers to faint when overcome with works of art. She awakens with temporary memory loss and is assisted by a kindly stranger who recognizes her symptoms. When it turns out that the kindly stranger was actually her target, Anna is in for a series of terrible attacks and depressing humiliations.
The Stendhal Syndrome is a rarity in the Argento cannon, and in some ways his most challenging film. Though some might argue that the non-sequential nightmares of
Inferno, or even the impractical absurdity of Phenomena (Creepers) are ultimately more challenging for the average viewer in that they run on disjointed narratives, I think that the slow motion meditation in The Stendhal Syndrome ultimately alienates even more. Even Argento fans, accustomed to the daffy logic of the director's more baroque work will often find themselves bored while watching this particular film. When dealing with a director like Argento, whose work is all-in-all similar and very self referential, it's hard to think of each piece as a standalone composition.
The majority of the film is comparable to Hitchcock's more cerebral work, such as Vertigo or Marnie. The hallucinations Anna experiences while being affected by the title affliction seem to have fallen out of the shallowest Felinni film. The fact that Argento aspires to something new, at this relatively late point in his career is admirable, but is also what causes the film come up short in the end. The simple fact of the matter is that no matter how hard he tries, Argento is no Hitchcock, or Felinni, and his style works better when he allows himself to be meaningless. Argento is the poster boy for form over content.
Another possible comparison to be drawn to Vertigo is that The Stendhal Syndrome is really two films in one. Like in Hitchcock's coup de grace, a major tragedy toggles a psychopathic switch in the main character's mind. The second half of both films is devoted to the obsession triggered at the end of the first, though Anna is trying to forget the event, whereas Scottie is doing his best to remember. I suppose in a way the two films could be seen as equal opposites.
The film's middle section—where Anna is trapped and repeatedly raped and beaten—is the heart of the film both in a narrative and structural sense. Though very hard to watch, it is possibly the finest work Argento has done in a decade, and at the rate he's declining, maybe ever again. The only more memorable sequence in the film is that of a bullet entering and exiting a woman's cheek in super-slow motion. The man works best when exploring the ‘beauty’ of violence; a strange, oxymoronic concept that eludes proper criticism. The how's and why's of the violence, as proven in his best work, is immaterial, and better approached by artists with more interest in those aspects of life. Argento hasn't failed here, but I'm not sure I'd call the film a success.
The incorporation of digital effects is awkward. The Stendhal Syndrome was made in 1996 when the Italian film industry was just barely dipping their toes in the digital revolution pool. The fact that the industry was dying at the time didn't help. Factually this is the first major Italian production to utilize the technology. The crudity of the digital work can be forgiven in the same way we forgive the crudity of early blue screen or stop motion effects, the poor execution within the film cannot. The idea of watching a character walk into a painting is a lovely one, and perhaps Argento should've been more hesitant than he was. The first time Anna loses her self in a painting the effect is done entirely though editing, and I for one think it works better. At least Dario saw fit to not computer animate the human-faced fish Anna kisses during her plunge, which would've just been silly. Yes, that was sarcasm.
Acting, to the contrary, whilst occasionally wooden, is very solid for an Argento film. Asia Argento is ‘interesting’ as Anna, a definite improvement over her first adult role in her father's previous film, the Americanized Giallo called Trauma. There is something very unnatural about her performance, her mind seems to be focused on everything but the film at any given time, but her work (accidental or not) is very fitting to the role and film. The fact that she's brutally and repeatedly raped in her own father's film has been covered in better essays before, so I'll glaze over that bit of reverse-oedipal abuse.
The Stendhal Syndrome is, despite its many quirks and shortcomings, probably the best Argento film since Opera, and probably the closest we'll ever see the director get to a dramatic character study. The picture is thoughtful beyond its images, unfortunately revealing perhaps too much about the director's personal understanding of other human beings (Argento is a notorious ostrocisor of loved ones). As a fan I appreciate this film more than I like it, but admit it improves with every viewing. The actual psychiatric study is strictly pre-med, if you will, but the actions somehow make sense in the strange world the director has thrust these characters into. Unless those rumours of a return to baroque form come to actual fruition and Argento finally develops the final film in his Three Mothers Trilogy (which was fronted by Suspiria and Inferno), The Stendhal Syndrome may prove to be the dying breath of a brilliant career.
Edit: Thanks to my friend and co-writer Peter Martin, I have included some screen caps from the Arrow R2 U.K. release.
This is the part of my comparison review where I really let the screen caps speak for themselves. The US R0 release comes from Troma, a company synonymous with the exploits of The Toxic Avenger, Surf Nazis, Redneck Zombies, and the graduating class of Nuke 'em High. How the leader in modern schlock entertainment got their hands on Argento's most subdued and languished work is a mystery in itself. In the past, Troma has had no use for such things as ‘clean prints’ and ‘watchable transfers’, so their sub par release of The Stendhal Syndrome should come as no surprise.
Troma's DVD is framed at about 1.66:1 and presented non-anamorphically. It should be noted, to Troma's credit, that this is the original aspect ratio. Though this was the ratio the film was recorded in, some of the compositions look more cinematic when framed at the tighter 1.78:1, and because of the lack of anamorphic enhancement, this is what the film looks like when zoomed on a widescreen set anyway.
The image is dark. It's so dark that some scenes, especially those taking place in the serial killer's perverted holding cell, are incomprehensible. Sometimes objects and backgrounds are obscured if not harshly lit, losing a great deal of the film's otherworldly impact. Colours are muted and darkened, especially the bright reds of the paintings Anna endures and the blood she spills when defending herself against her attacker. It's nearly impossible to tell what she uses to stab her attacker, or to the extent in which he's bleeding during the centre section climax.
This darkness also bleeds, causing black haired character's heads to swell into the background. The few highlights available on the transfer cause both commit tales and some sharp edge enhancement. Blacks, whites, greys are never pure, and always dance with multi-coloured pixels, mostly suffering a decidedly red tint. There is no question as to the inferiority of Troma's transfer.
Italian distributor Medusa's discs are not head and shoulders above average, but a revelation when compared to Troma's slap dash work. The image is much lighter, allowing the viewer to actually make out the carnage in the darker scenes. Detail is increased exponentially, and colours are vibrant. The brightening may have been taken too far in a few sequences, and the increased detail makes for increased artificiality in some of the questionable digital effects. I also noticed a few instances of cross-colouration and edge enhancement.
Medusa's transfer is cropped slightly at about 1.78:1, which does cause some loss of real estate. This is most obvious when Argento places titles at the bottom of the frame. When Anna makes her way back home at after her first ordeal with the rapist the text lets the viewer know that she is in fact, back in Rome. The Medusa transfer cuts this word in half. However, if you look carefully at my screen caps, you will notice that Medusa's release contains a bit more information on the right and left of the frame. It's not much, but it leads one to wonder what Argento's intended framing really was.
Troma has matched the poor video performance with an equally poor audio performance. Audio is presented into what's referred to on most retail websites as Dolby Digital 2.0 (Troma's noisy box art simply carries the Dolby Digital logo with no further explanation), but really it might as well be monoraul because it lacks any dynamic range. Ironically enough, the menu system has better sound than the film itself. Music is slightly distorted and audio is muddy.
The biggest problem, however, has nothing to do with Troma's efforts, but whoever dubbed the English language track, which is the only one available on this DVD. Most Argento films, and in turn most Italian films, are filmed in multiple languages with multi-ethnic casts. Dubbing is nothing new, and often entirely unavoidable. Asia Argento seems to have been dubbed by an animated chipmunk, and her performance is all but lost, as is any degree of menace to her character. It is truly a bummer to listen to this particular Argento film in English.
The Medusa disc has the right idea by supplying both the English and Italian dubs, but for some reason it decides to waste space by putting each dub on a different disc. For this comparison, I pretty much ignored the English dub because it accompanied the shorter American release of the film. The Italian disc offers the choice of a Dolby Surround and Dolby Digital 5.1 track. Normally, one would assume that the 5.1 track would be better, but in this case one might prefer the surround track. The 5.1 track is one of the most artificial sounding post-theatrical mixes I've ever heard. For the most part the surround channels are utilized only to create an echo chamber for the centre channel. The effect is pretty grating.
The surround track is also a bit on the artificial side, and surprisingly even though presented in Asia's actual voice, the lip sync is still constantly off. Despite these issues, the track stands decidedly ahead of the competition. The fidelity allows for some more range in the dialogue, and some of the surround effects work. The big draw is the treatment given to Ennio Moricone's score, which isn't one of his best, but then mediocre Morricone is like mediocre hot-chocolate syrup—it still helps any Sundae taste a bit sweeter. Excruciating similes aside, both Medusa's tracks are lacking, but blow away Troma's efforts.
Well, I suppose in a matter of quantity over quantity, Troma's release wins this battle. Medusa's disc has a few fleeting interviews with the Argento's (Asia and Dario) and an on set featurette, but really its only worthwhile 'extra' is the extra minute of film on the Italian version. Fans will be hard pressed to tell the difference between the 113 and 114 minute versions of the film, but that bonus minute is there, trust me.
Troma's disc is has two interviews with Dario (one is an Easter egg), neither of which add any insight into this particular production. Basically he's asked the usual fan questions, and gives his usual recessive responses. The only other extra given that has any relation to the film is a brief interview with special effects maestro Sergio Stivaletti. For some reason an interview with Cannibal Holocaust director Ruggero Deodato. I suppose he is Italian, and has possibly met Argento at a convention or something. The rest of the disc is flooded with the usual stockpile of Troma Team promotional garbage that can be found on all their releases. Only the Troma Intelligence Test (I'll let you figure out the acronym for yourself) offers any real entertainment.
There is no question what version of Argento's foray into abstract drama fans should purchase. The Troma release is all around inferior to Medusa's, which though lacking in the A/V arena, is at least DVD quality. The film is definitely not for everyone, even fans of the director and star, but those still interested need only look at my screen caps to see the startling difference.
You can purchase the Medusa release from Xploitedcinema.com.
Editorial by Gabriel Powers
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