Fifth Cord (The) AKA Giornata nera per l'ariete AKA Evil Fingers (Blu-ray) [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - Arrow Films
Review written by and copyright: Paul Lewis (14th February 2019).
The Film

La donna del lago/The Possessed (Luigi Bazzoni, 1965) and Gornata nera per l’Ariete/The Fifth Cord (Luigi Bazzoni, 1971)

The Possessed: Following an unpleasant break-up with his lover, novelist Bernard (Peter Baldwin) decides to spend some time at a lakeside retreat where he holidayed as a child and young man, between the ages of 10 and 17. Bernard takes a room in a hotel where he has stayed many times previously; as it is winter and out of season, the hotel is almost deserted except for the slightly slimy owner, Mr Enrico (Salvo Randone), and his daughter Irma (Valentina Cortese), who works as a maid. Enrico’s son Mario (Philippe Leroy) labours in the slaughterhouse opposite, which Bernard can see from the window of his hotel room.

Bernard hopes to see pretty Tilde (Virni Lisi), who was employed by Enrico. However, she is nowhere to be seen, though Bernard keeps encountering a young woman who is wearing a very similar coat to the distinctive one owned by Tilde. Bernard discovers that this woman is Adriana (Pia Lindstrom), the wife of the recently-married Mario. Eventually, Bernard learns from hunchbacked photographer Francesco (Pier Giovanni Anchisi) that Tilde is dead: her body was found in the lake, and though the official narrative declared her death as a suicide, Francesco tells Bernard that Tilde’s throat was cut. Francesco suggests Enrico and Mario may have killed Tilde.

Francesco’s revelation sparks a memory in Bernard, and he experiences a series of haunting dreams in which he follows Tilde to a room where he sees her making love to either Mario or Enrico (the identity of her lover changes each time Bernard experiences the dream). These dreams seem to have their roots in a half-buried memory. Determined to uncover the nature of the mystery, Bernard digs deeper; but is his belief that Tilde was murdered nothing more than a paranoid fantasy? Has he been led astray by the tales told to him by Francesco?

The Fifth Cord
: Washed-up, hard-drinking reporter Andrea Bild (Franco Nero) is separated from his wife Helene (Silvia Monti) and young son Tony. Bild attends a New Year’s Eve party, where he encounters Helene and various other acquaintances. One of these, an Australian teacher named John Lubbock (Maurizio Bonuglia), is brutally attacked in an underpass, though the crime is interrupted by Walter Auer (Luciano Bartoli) – who is incidentally the brother of Bild’s on-again, off-again lover Lu (Pamela Tiffin) – and Giulia Soavi (Agostina Belli), the young prostitute with whom Walter is engaged in a tryst. Bild is asked by Traversi (Guido Alberti), the sub-editor of the newspaper for which Bild works, to cover the story of Lubbock’s assault. Bild discovers from Helene that the object of Lubbock’s affections, Isabel Lancia (Ira von Furstenberg), has become engaged to Lubbock’s friend Edouard Vermont (Edmund Purdom). Bild worries that this may be the key to the motive for the attack.

The killer strikes again, murdering Sofia Bini (Rossella Palk), the crippled wife of Doctor Riccardo Bini (Renato Romano). This crime is investigated by Detective Haller (Wolfgang Preiss). As further murders take place, with all of the victims being acquaintances of Bild who were in attendance at the same New Year’s Eve part, Haller begins to suspect Bild may be the killer. Meanwhile, Bild increasingly comes to realise the vulnerability of Helene and young Tony.


Critique: I waxed lyrical about the difficulties in labelling or identifying the thrilling all’italiana (or giallo all’italiana/Italian-style thriller) in my recent review of Arrow Video’s recent Blu-ray release of Luciano Ercoli’s Le foto proibite di una signora per bene ( Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion, 1970). There is a strong argument that like film noir, the thrilling all’italiana is a style more than a distinct genre, and that consequently there are inherent problems in, for example, performing a structuralist analysis and attempting to identify the narrative paradigms of the Italian-style thriller, as the Italian thrillers of the 1960s and 1970s are remarkably diverse and anything but a homogenous grouping of pictures.

Arrow Video’s Blu-ray releases of two thrillers by the same director, Luigi Bazzoni, show the thrilling all’italiana at two different stages in its evolution. The films represent two of three thrillers made by Bazzoni, a director who only made a handful of narrative features but nevertheless managed with each of these films to demonstrate a strong ability to marry control of narrative with execution of style.

Like film noir, the label giallo – as employed amongst English-language cinephiles, at least – is a notoriously problematic beast. Like film noir before it, it’s a label often applied retrospectively to a group of films, by critics from a context which is alien to the cultural and institutional contexts in which the films were made. Film noir was, of course, coined by French critics in the 1950s, popularised during the 1970s and applied retrospectively to a diverse group of American-made films that encompassed pictures originally regarded as crime films, thrillers or melodramas (and some ‘women’s pictures’); the label was resisted by some filmmakers who regarded it as reductive.

Likewise, the label giallo has been codified by English-language fans and critics and applied to a group of Italian thrillers, made roughly between the early-1960s and the late-1980s, which are in truth remarkably diverse. For Italian audiences, a giallo is simply a thriller – regardless of the country or era of production. Hollywood thrillers of the 1950s (eg, Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train, 1951) are as much gialli as British crime pictures of the 1990s (Danny Boyle’s Shallow Grave, 1994), for example. For Italian audiences, the Italian thrillers of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s are usually labelled as examples of the thrilling all’italiana or giallo all’italiana (Italian-style thriller), after the western all’italiana, comedia all’italiana and poliziesco all’italiana – as thrillers in an Italian style. This again reinforces the similarities between the giallo all’italiana and film noir: both may be considered a style rather than a genre, without a rigidly-defined set of narrative paradigms, for example. And like film noir, the giallo all’italiana has been the subject of structuralist-like attempts to define its narrative parameters or label its various sub-groups; this is a potentially fallacious exercise unless one accepts the arguably flawed proposition that the Italian-style thriller is a ‘pure’ genre – ie, one that possess both an ‘inner form’ (a set of story traits) and an ‘outer form’ (a distinctive aesthetic or iconography). All of which is to say that the Italian-style thriller is difficult to pin down – though certain filmmakers (eg, Mario Bava and Dario Argento, in the most high-profile instance) have a ‘house style’ that is sometimes regarded as representative of the Italian thriller more generally. The bodies of work of other filmmakers who dabbled in the Italian-style thriller act as a metonym for the broader diversity of Italian thrillers made between the 1960s and the 1980s. Luigi Bazzoni is one such filmmaker.

The three examples of the thrilling all’italiana directed by Luigi Bazzoni are remarkably diverse. Produced in the early years of the Italian-style giallo and co-directed by Bazzoni and Franco Rossellini, La donna del lago/The Possessed is a thriller very much in the thrall of Hitchcock – especially Vertigo (1958) – and comparable to other monochrome Euro-thrillers such as Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Les diaboliques (1955). Giornata nera per l’Ariete/The Fifth Cord is very much in the mould of other Italian thrillers of the early-1970s, sitting alongside pictures such as Dario Argento’s L’uccello dalle piume di cristallo (The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, 1970), with its Agatha Christie-style whodunit plot and tortured amateur sleuth whose memory of an event (in this case, a New Year’s Eve party) may provide the solution to a series of killings which have been committed by a mysterious gloved assassin. The Fifth Cord arguably has a more stereotypical Italian ‘flavour’ than Bazzoni’s first giallo all’italiana. Bazzoni’s final thriller, Le orme (Footprints, 1975) is a paranoid and ambiguous thriller, about a woman (Florinda Bolkan) haunted by strange dreams and at the centre of a bizarre plot, which invites comparison with paranoid American thrillers such as Alan J Pakula’s Klute (1971) and The Parallax View (1974). Bazzoni directed two other narrative features: the western all’italiana L’uomo, l’orgoglio, la vendetta (Man, Pride & Vengeance, 1967), which retold the story of Prosper Merimee’s 1845 novella Carmen (the source for Bizet’s opera of the same title) within the framework of an Italian Western; and another Western, Blu Gang e vissero per sempre felici e ammazzati (The Short and Happy Life of the Brothers Blue, 1973). Following Le orme, Bazzoni wouldn’t direct another fictional narrative feature but made several documentaries during the 1990s.

The original Italian title of The Possessed, La donna del lago (‘The Lady of the Lake’), alludes to Gioachino Rossini’s opera of 1819, which was based on Sir Walter Scott’s 1810 poem ‘The Lady of the Lake’. It also references Raymond Chandler’s hardboiled Philip Marlowe thriller The Lady in the Lake (1943), which was published in Italy as La donna del lago; like Chandler’s novel, Bazzoni’s film focuses on a mystery surrounding the discovery of a woman’s body in a lake – shattering the romantic associations of the phrase (‘The Lady in/of the Lake’) through its prior associations with Arthurian legend and the many variations thereof (Rossini’s opera, Scott’s poem and other works by writers such as Tennyson). These two allusions alone underscore the very notion of the thrilling all’italiana or ‘Italian-style thriller’, which is often seen as marrying the conventions of the noir-ish thriller with an Italian ‘flavour’ – an operatic sense.

The Italian title of The Fifth Cord, Giornata nera per l’Ariete (‘Black Day for the Ram’), is slightly more obscure and has its roots in the narrative: ‘Giornata nera’ (literally ‘black day’ but perhaps more accurately translated as ‘tough day’) is a throwaway line of dialogue delivered to Bild by one of his colleagues in the newspaper office, early in the picture, in reference to the fact that Bild will most certainly be ‘chewed out’ by the paper’s sub-editor. Towards the end of the film, Bild realises that the superstitious killer has been committing the murders on Tuesdays, which is the day of the week associated with the astrological sign Aries – represented through the symbol of the ram.

The Possessed has some presumably intentional echoes of Hitchcock’s Vertigo, in Bernard’s erotic fixation on Tilde, her coat and her blonde hair – which echoes Scotty’s (James Stewart) obsession with Madeline/Judy (Kim Novak) in the Hitchcock picture. Bazzoni grafts onto this plot a hardboiled voiceover by Bernard which guides us through his paranoid, potentially unreliable perception of the events that take place by the lake. Does Bernard see a conspiracy, involving Mario and Enrico, that isn’t really there? Is he deluded? Francesco’s testimony regarding the death of Tilde is so vague as to be unreliable. Because Bernard swallows Francesco’s story and each time he revisits his memory of Tilde’s tryst with her lover, the identity of Tilde’s lover is different, the film suggests that Bernard may be unreliable too, and we even begin to question the reliability of the visual information with which we are being presented – akin to the famous ‘lying flashback’ in Hitchcock’s Stage Fright (1950).

For much of its running time, The Possessed offers an intellectual, modernist thriller filled with ambiguities, comparable to the work of Alain Robbe-Grillet or, later, Paul Auster. Perhaps frustratingly, however, the film suggests something ambiguous and profound but in its final moments reaches a denouement with a classic whodunit resolution that is mostly predictable – though there is a final narrative parry in terms of the identity of the culprit which may have influenced the epiphanic revelations during the climaxes of several later examples of the thrilling all’italiana, including Dario Argento’s Profondo rosso (Deep Red, 1974). As in many later examples of the thrilling all’italiana, The Possessed also features a Freudian ‘primal scene’ (Bernard’s memories of seeing Tilde with her lover, like those of a child who has witnessed his parents in coitus) which, for the film’s protagonist, carries such a strong sense of punctum that he revisits it over and over again, believing that this memory contains the key to the mystery which presents itself to him.

Based on a 1967 novel by D M Devine, The Fifth Cord was also released in English-speaking territories under the alternate title Evil Fingers. Devine’s source novel features passages written in the style of a diary kept by the killer; Bazzoni’s film attempts something similar, opening with a tight close-up of a reel-to-reel audio recorder on which the killer records his motivations for the crimes committed subsequently in the film’s narrative. In this audio journal, the killer asserts that ‘I’ve chosen all my victims from people for whom death could only be a liberation’, suggesting that he has rationalised the murders he plans to commit as killings committed out of pity. After he kills Sofia Bini, we hear another of the killer’s audio recordings: ‘Killing that poor, unhappy woman lived up to my expectations [….] There is something profoundly divine in being able to transform one moment a suffering being into inanimate matter for eternity’. The grandiose language of these recordings (in the Italian version, at least) signifies the level of deviance and self-deception in the killer’s motive and method: ‘I’m a man or a woman’, the recording continues, ‘Why have I decided to diarise my actions? [….] So I can study my moves; so I don’t make any errors’.

The protagonist, meanwhile, is a cynical, sozzled journalist comparable to the protagonists of numerous films noir. ‘When I drink, I forget a lot of things’, Bild tells Helene when, near the start of the film, she asks if they have forgotten their arrangement (presumably to stay away from one another). Like Bernard in The Possessed, Bild becomes obsessed with a primal scene which he believes will help him solve the murders taking place around him; in the case of Bild, this primal scene is a New Year’s Eve party, depicted in the film’s opening sequence, at which most of the key players in the story – aside from Lu – were present. Bild revisits this primal scene regularly, through flashbacks, trying to decode the relationships between the various characters in hope of solving the puzzle. But his memories are filtered through a drunken haze. Bild’s ex-wife Helene becomes the foil for his theories about the case, allowing him to vocalise them for the audience.

Through the incredible photography by Vittorio Storaro, The Fifth Cord makes Rome look like a futuristic city, using architecture to suggest the ultramodern in a manner similar to Raoul Coutard’s photography for Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville (1965) or Luciano Tovoli’s work on Dario Argento’s later Tenebre (1982). Storaro’s photography on The Fifth Cord also makes frequent use of Venetian blinds as a visual motif within the story, perhaps alluding to Robbe-Grillet’s 1957 novel La Jalousie, but certainly acting as a metaphor for the partially-obscured view/understanding of the mystery that Bild possesses.

The narrative of The Fifth Cord is utterly conventional, strongly reminiscent of the narrative tropes of the traditional Agatha Christie-esque whodunit. However, it is punctuated by some strong setpieces in which Bazzoni shows mastery of the mechanics of the thriller. During the sequence which depicts the murder of Sofia Bini, for instance, Bazzoni depicts Riccardo leaving his bed-ridden wife alone and suggesting the length of time for which Sofia is left in her bed by elliptically showing the journey from day to night. Baroque organ music can b heard on the soundtrack as Bazzoni juxtaposes long shots of the room with extreme close-ups of Sofia to generate a sense of visual unease. Time passes; ambient light within the room slips away as day becomes night. The telephone rings in another room; Sofia tries to get out of bed to answer it but falls to the floor and, using her arms, drags herself across it, from one room to the other. When she reaches the next room, she hears the telephone ring again: it has moved, or been moved, further away. Again, Sofia drags herself towards the sound of the ringing telephone. At the top of the stairs, she shouts for Riccardo but there is no answer. Finally, the killer grabs her from behind and throws her down the stairs. In this sequence and others, Bazzoni develops an almost Hitchcockian rhythm in the building of suspense, juxtaposing tight close-ups with long shots and emphasising the crossing of thresholds (Sofia’s laboured movement from one room to the next).

Video

Both The Possessed and The Fifth Cord are presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. Both discs provide the viewer with the option of choosing ‘Italian version’ or ‘English version’ before playing the film; selecting one or the other of these options determines the language of the onscreen text inserts used in the picture (and the titles).

Taking up 21.8Gb of space on its Blu-ray disc, The Possessed is presented uncut, with a running time of 85:06 mins. The presentation retains the film’s intended aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The 35mm monochrome photography looks incredible on this Blu-ray release. The film’s photography, by Leonida Barboni, is very interesting, making strong use of compositions in depth. The dream/fantasy/memory sequences are presented in expressionistic high contrast monochrome, with intentionally blown out highlights and crushed shadows.

The presentation of The Possessed displays a rich level of detail throughout, the presentation articulating fine detail superbly, offering a rich texture to the image (for example, in the scenes featuring light dappling on the surface of the lake). Contrast levels are very pleasing, with richly-defined midtones and subtle gradation into the toe alongside evenly balanced highlights. (The intentionally high contrast dream/memory sequences are, naturally, an exception to this.) Finally, a pleasing encode to disc ensures the presentation has a natural and organic structure, remaining very filmlike throughout.

Filling 25Gb of space on its disc, The Fifth Cord retains the film’s intended aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is uncut, with a runtime of 92:42 mins. Both The Fifth Cord and Bazzoni’s later Le orme were photographed on 35mm colour stock by Vittorio Storaro. In The Fifth Cord, Storaro lights and frames shots with incredible attention to detail, like a stills photographer. In the film’s opening sequence, he uses a fisheye lens with extreme vignetting – creating an iris-like effect – to convey the killer’s point-of-view as he walks through the New Year’s Eve party; the visual distortion in this and other similar shots acts as a visual metaphor for the mental aberrations of the film’s killer. It’s an aesthetic of cool modernism comparable to Storaro’s rightly-celebrated work for Bertolucci’s Il conformista (1970). The presentation of the film on Arrow’s disc has a rich level of fine detail, the photography being communicated with depth and clarity. There is a strange jump cut at approximately 70 minutes into the picture, when Andrea lunges towards Walter, which I’m not sure is in previous home video versions of this film. (It may or may not be intentional.) Colours are rich and consistent with lots of contrasting colour – steely blues and fiery reds and oranges, for example. Contrast levels are good, with midtones having a strong sense of definition and a good range of tones on display, especially in scenes shot using chiaroscuro lighting schemes. In some places, there is a sharp drop-off into the toe with deep blacks. A strong encode to disc ensures the presentation retains the structure of 35mm film.

The Possessed


The Fifth Cord


Full-sized screen grabs are included at the bottom of this review. Please click to enlarge them.

Audio

The Possessed is presented with the option of viewing the film with an Italian LPCM 1.0 track (with accompanying optional English subtitles) or an English LPCM 1.0 track (with optional English subtitles for the Hard of Hearing). Both tracks display good range and depth. The English dub is clunky and stilted, and the Italian audio is more resonant.

The Fifth Cord contains the same audio options: an Italian LPCM 1.0 track (with accompanying optional English subtitles) and an English LPCM 1.0 track (with optional English subtitles for the Hard of Hearing). In this instance, the Italin track is more rounded and has a greater sense of depth, with the English track sounding a little ‘thin’. There area also some substantial differences in the dialogue between the English and Italian-language versions of The Fifth Cord, in particular. During the film’s opening sequence, in the English version the killer states in his audio recording that ‘I am going to commit murder. I’m going to kill another human being’. In the Italian version, the recording states: ‘December 31st. I’m not a murderer. Not yet. Or rather, it’s just my intention. And intention, according to the law, only constitutes a crime when it’s put into effect. My motive is rational, compatible with the magnificence of my purpose’. Aside from the differences in terms of content of the dialogue, in the ltalian-language version of the picture, this audio recording exhibits more intentional distortion, making it seem much more sinister than the killer’s audio diary in the English-language version of the picture.

Extras

The Possessed includes the following extras:
- An audio commentary with Tim Lucas. Lucas provides a typically densely-packed and closely-scripted commentary. He reflects on the film’s various titles and discusses, and he reflects on the picture’s position within the career of its director, Luigi Bazzoni. Lucas discusses some of the symbolism within the picture and reflects on some of the elements of performance within the key roles. It’s a thorough and breathless track.

- ‘Richard Dyer on The Possessed’ (25:12). Dyer discusses his first encounter with The Possessed and talks about its relationship with art cinema, considering some of the picture’s narrative ambiguities and comparing the picture with the likes of Resnais and Bergman. He reflects on the film’s literary origins, in Giovanni Comisso’s source novel. Dyer’s comments are thoughtful and informed by an astute awareness of the film’s contexts.

- ‘Lipstick Marks’ (11:52). Gianetto De Rossi, who provided the film’s makeup effects, speaks about his early work in cinema and provides some humorous anecdotes about his experiences. He also reflects on the qualities of Italian cinema. De Rossi speaks in Italian, with optional English subtitles provided.

- ‘Youth Memories’ (16:20)
. Assistant art director Dante Ferretti discusses his relationship with the cinema and talks about how he came to be involved in set design and art direction. He talks about how he came to be involved in the production of The Possessed and considers his subsequent career. Ferretti speaks in Italian, with optional English subtitles provided.

- ‘The Legacy of the Bazzoni Brothers’ (30:36)
. Francesco Barilli, a friend of Bazzoni and his brother Camillio Bazzoni, reflects on the work of these two siblings, discussing their work together on Bertolucci’s Prima della revoluzione (1964), on which Vittorio Storaro also worked. Barilli suggests that what defined Italian cinema at that time was a passion for filmmaking, and this can be seen in the films themselves. It’s a fascinating interview that offers a rich understanding of Italian cinema of the 1960s. Barilli speaks in Italian, with optional English subtitles provided.

- Italian Trailer (2:12)
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- English Trailer (2:12)
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The Fifth Cord contains:
- An audio commentary with Travis Crawford. Crawford reflects on the construction of The Fifth Cord, considering the film’s relationship with other Italian thrillers of the 1970s. He suggests that the picture might be frustrating for casual viewers of Italian thrillers because it ‘tends to lack the murder setpieces’ of its contemporaries.

- ‘Lines & Shadows’ (17:49). Blogger Rachael Nisbet narrates a video essay which considers elements of production design within The Fifth Cord. Nisbet links the film’s aesthetic to the concept of modernity, which is foregrounded in the picture through the ultramodern home of Helene and various objects in the mise-en-scène (eg, the opening extreme close-up of the reel-to-reel audio recorder) and connecting this to the sense of paranoia engendered in the narrative. This is certainly something which has corollaries in, for example, Mike Hodges’ Get Carter (1972) and Alan J Pakula’s American thrillers (eg, The Parallax View, 1974). She draws parallels with Bazzoni and Storaro’s work on Le orme. It’s a thoughtful video essay though Nisbet’s delivery is very quick towards the start of the piece (as someone who has been interviewed on television and radio a number of times and each time has been reminded that one must… speak… in… a… way… that… feels… unnaturally… slow, I can fully sympathise).

- ‘Whisky Giallore’ (28:22). Michael Mackenzie discusses the Italian thrillers of the 1970s and how the thrilling all’italiana evolved during this period. He makes some interesting points about the significance of The Fifth Cord, and I share his enthusiasm for the picture (though not his repeated attempts to foreground the significance of Argento’s work within the context of a discussion of Bazzoni’s picture – which is perhaps a matter of personal preference). He reflects on the film’s relationship with the source novel by D M Devine. Though he seems to work from the premise that the giallo all’italiana is a ‘pure’ genre with some clearly-defined paradigms (which is something that I’d personally disagree with for the reasons outlined above, though certainly there are different perspectives about this issue), Mackenzie makes a convincing argument that The Fifth Cord might be considered to be iconic of the early-1970s thrilling all’italiana.

- ‘Black Day for Nero’ (23:33). Franco Nero comments on his role in this picture, singing the praises of the film as ‘a great classic of the thriller’. He talks about Bazzoni and Storaro, with whom Nero had a long-standing friendship. Nero discusses how he came to act in The Fifth Cord, an experience that led him to be reunited with the friends of his youth. Nero offers some excellent anecdotes about the production, including some stories relating to the use of product placement within his 1970s pictures.

- ‘The Rhythm Section’ (21:27). Eugenio Alabiso, the film’s editor, reflects on changing attitudes towards the 1970s pictures on which he worked. Specifically in relation to The Fifth Cord, he suggests that the film was made according to a precise ‘rhythm’ which facilitated audience involvement in the story – particularly the murder scenes. He praises Storaro’s photography and Morricone’s score. Alabiso speaks in Italian, with optional English subtitles provided.

- Deleted Sequence (2:37). A fragment of footage, found with the film elements for the picture but apparently never included in a finished edit of The Fifth Cord, is presented. It’s an enigmatic montage which juxtaposes Helene and Tony playing in their garden, Bild and Lu walking separately through the city streets, Lubbock teaching his students in a neck brace, and minor moments featuring some of the film’s other characters.

- Italian Trailer (3:03)
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- English Trailer (3:03)
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- Gallery (3:20)
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Overall

These two examples of the thrilling all’italiana, The Possessed and The Fifth Cord, are presented superbly on Arrow Video’s new Blu-ray releases. The Possessed is for most of its running time a haunting, ambiguous thriller analogous to the nouveau roman of Robbe-Grillet, in particular; Bernard’s story is punctuated by strange dream sequences (point-of-view shots of Bernard walking along corridors, shot in high contrast, which culminate in Bernard witnessing a haunting ‘primal scene’) which may have influenced some later examples of the thrilling (the focus on the ‘primal scene’ in Dario Argento’s thrillers; the point-of-view dream inserts in pictures like Argento’s Phenomena, 1985, and Opera, 1987). The Possessed is disturbingly strange and beautifully photographed: It’s a film shot in gorgeous monochrome, and Arrow’s presentation is crisp and fresh.

The Fifth Cord
is an equally impactful picture, though very different in both presentation and plotting. I haven’t seen The Fifth Cord in perhaps 25 years, since its VHS release by Redemption, but it lingers in the memory. So much so that 20 years ago, at a time when I was frequently writing short fiction and finding some small success in getting short stories published, I stretched my writing skills by assembling a novel (which, thankfully, remains unpublished) that, in retrospect, is strikingly similar to The Fifth Cord. Though this wasn’t a conscious influence, elements of the narrative must have worked their way into my subconscious mind, which is somewhat fitting given the subtle Freudian nature of the picture. Certainly, there are some haunting moments: the opening of the film, in which we are presented with a tight close-up of a reel-to-reel recorder as the disembodied voice of the killer outlines his plans, is haunting in a similar way to which opening moments of Pupi Avati’s La casa dalle finestre che ridono (The House with Laughing Windows, 1974) employs a combination of a manipulated/distorted audio recording of a human voice with unusual visuals. What stands out the most, however, is Storaro’s ultramodern photography, making strong use of lines (horizontal, vertical and diagonal) and long lenses to flatten perspective, resulting in a somewhat painterly quality to the compositions. (Bazzoni and Storaro’s later collaboration on Le orme is equally impressive.) As with The Possessed, The Fifth Cord is presented very handsomely on Arrow’s new Blu-ray release.

Both films are accompanied by a very strong range of contextual material looking at different aspects of the films in relation to Italian cinema of the 1960s and 1970s.


Please click to enlarge:
The Possessed

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The Fifth Cord
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