Hila Shachar styles her favourite dance films. Scroll down to see the look she’s put together for Suspiria.
Dario Argento’s Suspiria (1977) is part horror flick, part dance film. Its plot is encapsulated by the opening voice-over, in which we are told that our heroine, Suzy Banyon, decides to leave New York to study ballet in a renowned German dance school. Suzy soon discovers that her new school is run by a coven of evil witches. But Suspiria has achieved cult status primarily because of its aesthetic rather than its horror plot.
In Suspiria, Argento cleverly combines the menacing undertones of many fairy-tales with a garishly beautiful horror landscape. Suzy takes on many roles, embodying in various scenes the persona of Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Bluebeard’s last wife, and of course, a combination of Sleeping Beauty and Snow White (in the film, a poisonous sleeping potion is administered by an evil doctor). And she becomes an archetypal fairy-tale heroine via the theme of ballet, which often uses such heroines in its own narratives. The music which accompanies the opening voice-over resembles the music found in little girls’ ballerina music boxes. Only here, it has a sinister edge, as the lovely ballerina will not simply be dancing fairy-tale roles, she will also be living them in the most nightmarish of settings.
What makes Suspiria memorable, however, is its use of colour. The film is full of strong primary colours, particularly red, using a process known as Technicolor Imbibition printing, which creates vivid and more stable colours in film. The strong and surreal use of colour throughout the film resembles the Expressionist dance film The Red Shoes (1948). This particular use of colour emphasises the hallucinogenic landscape that Suzy enters, with the strong red often morphing in and out of various shades of vivid pink, creating a visual interplay between the innocently beautiful world of Suzy’s ballet music box and the evil of the horror film genre.
As Suzy parades around in simple dancewear, gauzy white skirts, demure dresses, virginal nightgowns and a Red Riding Hood-ish red coat, the film’s beautiful visual landscape – complete with illustrated art deco walls and eerie stained-glass windows – is reflected on her clothes. Her horror wardrobe is shaped by the film’s impressively constructed interiors, which are a work of art in themselves. One comes away from Argento’s blending of horror, ballet, fairy-tale and Expressionism imagining an opulent, feminine and eclectic style for the film’s dance heroine.