THE STENDAHL SYNDROME ( aka La sindrome di Stendhal )1996 Limited Edition 3 disc set (1 Blu Ray,2 DVDs) (BLUE UNDERGROUND) 120 min.Unrated. Color.released Jul 25, 2017 $39.98 https://www.amazon.com/Stendhal-Syndrome-3-Disc-Limited-Blu-ray/dp/B071LFWMMV/
The symptom “Stendhal Syndrome” was named after Marie-Henri Beyle (1783–1842), better known by his pen-name Stendhal.Though considered psychosomatic by mental health experts,the staff at Florence’s Santa Maria Nuova hospital are accustomed to dealing with tourists suffering from dizzy spells and disorientation after experiencing the beautiful creations on display within the city.
Dario Argento & frequent collaborator Franco Ferrini found the basis for this 1996 release in the scientific study La Sindrome di Stendahl,Firenze(Milan ,1989) by Doctor Graziella Maghaerini. She had interviewed several patients who suffered from fainting ,etc when viewing great pieces of Art ,and while she worked at the Santa maria Nuova Hospital coined the phrase “Stendahl Syndrome”.
In Argento’s film ,after viewing some of the exhibits at the Uffizi Museum , a young woman (Asia Argento, one of the director’s daughters ,and now a director in her own right as well as actress) suffers a fugue state (also called dissociative fugue )wherein the sufferer develops reversible amnesia ,including loss of personal identity and memory . Slowly her memory returns in surreal flashes that have her at times enter into the artwork as she discovers who she is and what she was doing in the city.
What she discovers connects her with a sadistic rapist serial killer ,as well as having her take on another personality .
I wanted to try to not give away too much on this film ,as its mazes and turns are worth discovering on one’s own. At times , it harkens to Hitchcock (VERTIGO,Paramount, 1958)by way of the more extreme violent giallo .
This was Argento’s return to Italian cinema ,after his two American efforts (TWO EVIL EYES(Taurus,1990) and TRAUMA(Overseas Film Group,1993) were victims of indifferent distribution , harsh critical reviews and indifferent audiences. This film HAD been planned to be shot in the U.S. starring Bridget Fonda ,but terms could not be worked out and so the director returned to his home country.
The film is also notable as the first Italian film to use computer-generated imagery (C.G.I.).As such, much of it has a somewhat cartoonish effect ,though at times it also adds to the hallucinogenic feel of the film and the sense of disassociation . There are also the physical live action effects by Sergio Stivaletti ,that includes a fish that Asia Argento kisses!
(Ever been jealous of a fish before?)
The photography by Giuseppe Rotunno is a return to the color and style which we associate with Argento . Sadly, Rotunno would retire the following year after making a documentary .Ennio Morricone provides his first Argento film score since FOUR FLIES ON GRAY VELVET (Paramount ,1971) ,building it on childlike melody that runs through the movie.
Some may have a difficult time watching the film due to its barrage of violent rapes ,though Argento was not trying to use them for mere titillation as many films of the period did, but an extension of the dehumanizing attack by the stalker, often ending in murder. That said, it is somewhat disturbing to think that the man behind the camera is the father of the lead actress.
The film ,though successful in it’s native Italy (and one Argento’s most expensive productions up to that time) the project languished with American distributor Miramax for nearly two years before getting a token release (more like escape). Troma released the film to VHS and DVD in a somewhat muddy muted color print.
Blue Underground in 2007 released a DVD with much richer color and sharper image than the previous version followed by a Blu Ray in 2008. All these releases were the Uncut English language print.
Now in 2017 ,BLUE UNDERGROUND has gone super deluxe in its release of this neglected film by the horror maestro . They have released a THREE DISC LIMITED EDITION of the title ,that consists of one BLU RAY and two DVDs. (The title is also available as a separate Blu Ray from 2008,with some noticeable differences ) .
I recall that as I opened the blu ray to watch it I thought this was really the last Argento film that many would consider “great” ,so I chuckled as I heard Troy Howarth make almost the same observation shortly into his new audio commentary (more about the commentary shortly). Troy’s commentary is just one of the many extras and special care that makes this such a highly recommended release.
Blue Underground has released the film in 1:85:1 aspect ratio after discovering previous versions were made with certain imagery pushed to 1:66:1. It has had a major cleanup and a 1080p scan shows the fantastic photography to its fullest extent ,at times its colors rivaling I feel those of SUSPIRIA (Fox,1977).
The sound is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1,Dolby Digital 5.1Ex and DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 (the Italian track is only in D.D. 5.1 Ex).The sound and music is clear, with some room shaking surprises that made me jump to lower the volume to spare my neighbors !
The subtitles are clear and quite easy to read (English, English SDH, French, Spanish).
As to the extras:
The audio commentary that I mentioned by Troy Howarth (author of the must have book “SO DEADLY, SO PERVERSE :50 YEARS OF ITALIAN GIALLO FILMS” ; Midnight Marquee Press, 2015) is a clear easy to listen to yet quite informative running exposition. A scholarly track by someone who is also a fan, and both sides come across during the film’s running time. Indeed, it is one of the most listenable discourses that I have heard on a blu ray .
SHARP AS A RAZOR is an interview with fx makeup man Franco Casagni.
THREE SHADES OF ASIA is an interview with Asia Argento who discusses her experiences on the making of the film ,and what a difficult shoot it appears to have been though how she states she learned a lot working with her father.
PRISONER OF ART has co-scriptwriter Ferrini discuss the genesis of the project, expanding on ideas from Graziella Magherini’s book into a workable screenplay ,working with Argento, and a different ending idea.
The English Language trailer, and a still gallery finish the extras on both the Blu Ray and the first DVD in this set.
Another DVD is a bunch of extras from the 2007 DVD release from Blue Underground.
On this extras only DVD disc :
Dr Graziella Magherini talks about working in Florence and certain pieces of artwork that seem to provoke such strong reactions ,and how the cases are treated.
Dario Argento is interviewed at length on how he came across a review of the non fiction book while he was in the U.S. to create TRAUMA ,and the development of the story as well as filming with his daughter (there are some clips from a behind the scenes doc shot during production).
Sergio Stivaletti, perhaps the greatest effects artists to work in Italian fantasy films since the 1980s ,is interviewed about his history of work with Argento and how he taught himself how to do C.G.I.,and the problems of using an animatronic fish in actual ocean rather than a studio tank.
Luigi Cozzi (perhaps best known for his personal project STARCRASH,New World,1978) worked for and with Argento since FOUR FLIES ON GRAY VELVET. He discusses the various projects as well as his work on STENDAHL.
A background in painting made the project a joy for Production Designer Massimo Antonello Gelling ,bridging the live action footage to the C.G.I. by special sets, as well as creating a lot of the massive art pieces seen in the film.
Finally ,an informative 14 page booklet written by Troy Howarth is included within the Blu Ray/DVD case. The case’s slipcover artwork is reversible.
This is a must have if you are a fan of Argento or Giallo films. Argento has experienced a bit of a slump in recent years, but with his involvement working on the screenplay for the 2017remake of SUSPIRIA (Amazon Studios)as well his post production on his next project THE SANDMAN (funded through Indiegogo! http://www.thesandmanfilm.com) it is wonderful that we can revisit the writer/ director’s previous works and re evaluate him.
-Kevin G Shinnick-