Tuesday, July 1, 2008

A Tribute To Mimsy Farmer in Argento's Four Flies on Grey Velvet

This is part of my Four Flies on Grey Velvet Tribute Week at Harry Moseby Confidential.

***A few of the quotes below contain some spoilers***
Mimsy Farmer
The films of Dario Argento are not usually noted for the quality of their actor's performances but it is this very thing that keeps me returning to Four Flies On Grey Velvet even though finally it is perhaps not among his greatest works.
I find Mimsy Farmer's beautifully bruised performance to be one of the best the Italian genre cinema ever offered up...a surprisingly moving and powerful turn from an actress who has always been undervalued as one of the best of her generation. Farmer's performance is totally captivating and unforgettable, specifically in the last two scenes of the film that rank along the best of any Argento ever shot.
Here is a photographic tribute to Mimsy in Four Flies on Grey Velvet along with some quotes by Mimsy herself (taken from the out of print Spaghetti Nightmares by Luca M. Palmerini and Gaetano Mistretta) and from Dario and co-star Michael Brandon as well (taken from the essential Profoundo Argento by Alan Jones). I am also including a couple of quotes from both Roger Ebert and Tim Lucas on Mimsy's performance.
"Argento must have seen More and decided that I was good at playing the part of the neurotic woman." (Farmer)
"Mimsy Farmer had made a strong impression on me in Barbet Schroeder's More." (Argento)
"I had a great time...Argento invented the Italian thriller, so in a way he did for suspense films what Sergio Leone did for Westerns, in that he neglected the characters, the psychological aspects and the story in order to focus on the effects..." (Farmer)
"The movie is Four Flies on Grey Velvet, an Italian suspense film that has very little going for it except for Mimsy Farmer. She's the slight, blond girl who starred in More, a sex-drugs-violence movie shot with a certain hypnotic effectiveness in Morocco. She also starred in a few cheapo motorcycle movies about five years ago. She looks a little like Jean Seberg, has a marvelously sculptured face and deserves to get some of those Mia Farrow roles." (Roger Ebert)
"Argento made us work hard, even 14 hours a day." (Farmer)
"There is, however, the interesting Mimsy Farmer, who has the best mouth since Joey Heatherton." (Ebert)
"As for Dario, I rather liked him, except that the way he wanted to come across as neurotic all the time seemed ridiculous to me. Perhaps he was a little neurotic-all of us are to some extent-but certainly not as much as he wanted people to believe." (Farmer)
"Working with Mimsy Farmer is not of my clearest memories. I think she purposely withdrew from me because her Nina character turned out to be the killer and she wanted to keep it real and method." (Brandon)
"I didn't establish much of a relationship with him (Argento), although we spent several hours of the day together. We weren't alone, the crew was there too, and we only talked about work." (Farmer)
"Away from the film we didn't hang out or socialize. That's what she wanted." (Brandon)
""I think he overdid it slightly with his neurosis...but basically I think he was perfectly aware of what needed to be done in order to make the film a success." (Farmer)
"How else can you put a psychotic killer across on a thematic level unless you make their actions disturbing for those watching?" (Argento)
"I remember that this (the final monologue) was another scene we shot very late at night, around 3:00am. It didn't take long to do it because Dario used three cameras to shoot the master, the American plan and the close-up simultaneously. I think that on the whole we repeated the scene two or three times at the most." (Farmer)
"As always, the sharper the picture, the more attentive we can be to matters of performance and Mimsy Farmer gives one of her most interesting and brittle performances here." (Tim Lucas at Video Watchblog, from his post on the newer German DVD release.)
"My face was made up to look very pale and my lips, by contrast, quite red." (Farmer)
"Mimsy Farmer plays Brandon's wife with the brand of porcelain calm and bared electric wiring that is her trademark; when she is revealed as the puppet-master behind her husband's carefully engineered torment (I'm not revealing anything here that wasn't revealed in the movie's stills set), she's as convincing a psychopath as Argento ever showcased. McDonagh's book reveals that FOUR FLIES was the only one of Argento's films in which the director did not stand in for his killer; she surmises that this is because Brandon's resemblance to the director satisfied his narcissistic needs, but I can well imagine the white-coiffed Ms. Farmer flashing her clenched teeth at Argento the moment he got too near her black gloves and sending him cowering to the nearest corner." (Tim Lucas again at Video Watchblog, this time in his original look at the film.)
"Argento's idea was good, he wanted the character to shoot at the other person without aiming, as though it were a mechanical gesture rather than mediatated. It's an interesting idea. I shot without looking, carried away by the memories; I talked about my past and shot randomly, without hate." (Farmer)
"Four Flies on Grey Velvet wasn't bad...the effects were good, but it's a film I don't particularly care for...I think the film did well, though, and I believe Argento achieved what he had set out to do." (Farmer)
For my older tribute to Mimsy, focusing on her entire career, please visit here.


Dave S said...

jeremey - i recently got to see both 'the perfume of the lady in black' and 'four flies on grey velvet' on dvd-r (and before that, 'autopsy' on a terrific blue underground disc), and i am so glad i did. though the quality of the'perfume' dvd-r that i watched was terrible, it's now become one of my favourite films. surprisingly, the 'four flies' dvd-r was in much better shape... this is a movie i've read about for years as a lesser argento, and while it may not be up to the standard of, say, 'deep red', it's still very much a worthwhile flick with lots about it to recommend, including farmer's performance. i also saw fulci's 'the black cat' a couple of months ago, and, while reasonably entertaining, it's really farmer who stood out.

Steve Langton said...

Really nice post with some great clips and quotes. Farmer does some excellent work on both Four Flies and Perfume. My last viewing of Flies was at a film fest several years ago so time for me to invest in the DVD after following your coverage

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks Dave,
PERFUME OF A LASY IN BLACK is a real favorite of mine. I got teh Italian Import DVD of it a year or so and it is just gorgeous...you can get it from Xploited if you want to check it and have an all regio player. It also includes an interview with the director...haven't seen AUTOPSY in years, I need to give that one another look and I have always liked THE BLACK CAT. Thanks for the nice comments...

Thanks Steve,
Man, that is amazing you got see FOUR FLIES at a screening. How was the print you saw of it? The newer import DVD while far from perect is the best I have ever seen this film look...I wish Paramount would get their act together and get this released in the States!

Thanks to you both...

Mr. Peel said...

I should mention that the American Cinematheque will be showing FOUR FLIES at the Egyptian in Hollywood on July 12th on a triple bill, followed by BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE and Alberto Negrin's RED RINGS OF FEAR. Naturally, everyone reading this is required to attend.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks Mr. Peel,
I wish I could make it! I hope you get out to it and give us another excellent write up...

Argentofan said...

I've had a burning crush on Mimsy Farmer ever since the theatrical releases of Four Flies on Grey Velvet and The Road to Salina. If only the latter film would get the splendid release 4 Flies has just received! I liked the German DVD of 4 Flies but the NEW release is as good as the original in clarity ... you can actually SEE what's going on in those night scenes and ALL the dialogue in the "explanation" is finally there (although a bit is in Italian). I'd seen the movie at an American air base overseas when it was new and was so shocked by the revelation (and the way Argento showed you what the 4 flies were) that the "confession" scene remained vividly in my memory ever since. Farmer was a great actress and should be better known.