The Experience of the Beautiful in Luca Guadagnino’s 2018 Suspiriaa video essay by Aaron Kerner
While Luca Guadagnino’s 2018 film Suspiria (a “remake” of Argento’s film) sits comfortably in the horror genre (or somewhere adjacent to the giallo), Guadagnino’s film somehow opens onto the experience of the beautiful. And this is not to suggest that it is “agreeable,” or “pleasing,” but rather in the true Kantian sense of being affecting—eliciting visceral pleasure. How does Guadagnino achieve this? How, even in the co-presence of the abject, does Guadagnino invite the experience of the beautiful? What are the audio and visual strategies that elicit the sensation of the beautiful? Just as with the (neo-)giallo, as Lindsay Hallam argues, Guadagnino emphasizes the affective experience. The affecting charge, and this dovetails with Hallam’s observations, rests not in narrative content per se, but in the stylistic choices that Guadagnino makes—from cinematography and composition to audio-design and scoring. Through the use of extreme close-ups, low-key lighting, and camera movement, human forms in particular become undone. Through camera angles, the absence of perspectival markers, and superimposition of shots the exact geography of the body is somewhat obscured. The various shots, unfolding in slow-motion, traces of the images remaining from frame-to-frame—blur. The clarity of the pictorial image in contemporary cinema is privileged in most mainstream narrative films. When the image surrenders the imperative to be “communicative” or “directly representational,” this is both a stylistic and aesthetic choice, and there is often a conscious effort to elicit a sensorial response from the spectator. Even as new technologies promise unparalleled clarity, as Erika Balsom observes, contemporary filmmakers, in certain instances, will consciously throw the image out of focus, or to create “dirtier” images. And these stylistic choices are loaded with affective potential. In the climactic moments of the film, Susie, the protagonist, having assumed control of the Black Mass, exclaims, “Yes, dance. Dance. Keep dancing. It’s beautiful. It’s beautiful. It’s beautiful.” And indeed—even despite the abject dread that has transpired—it is beautiful. This scene is set to a haunting score. Guadagnino commissioned Thom Yorke, of Radiohead fame, to do the soundtrack. And a good deal of the affecting experience is owed to Yorke’s melodic and piercing score. Altogether, the audio-visual strategies that Guadagnino employs invites moments of the beautiful.
Aaron Kerner has taught in the School of Cinema at SFSU since 2003. In 2011, he published Film and the Holocaust (Continuum). His book Torture Porn in the Wake of 9/11 was published in 2015 (Rutgers UP). Along with Jonathan Knapp, he published Extreme Cinema (Edinburgh UP, 2016). His book Theorizing Stupid Media: De-naturalizing Story Structures in the Cinematic, Televisual, and Videogame, co-authored with Julian Hoxter, was published by Palgrave MacMillian in 2019. Kerner is currently working on a manuscript entitled Abject Pleasures, contracted with Edinburgh UP.