Dario Argento, auteur of the most original horror and thriller movies of the last 30 years, was born to create unique imagery - his father, later his producer, worked in the film industry; his mother was a photographer. His childhood reading - Shakespeare, Arabian Nights, Poe - coloured his imagination, as did a long illness and accompanying, febrile dreams. Like the great genre innovators of the previous generation, such as Godard and Chabrol, Argento began his career as a film-critic, and was given his first break by spaghetti western maestro Sergio Leone, who asked him to write the story for his masterpiece, 'Once Upon a Time in the West', with another up-and-coming genius, Bernardo Bertolucci. Two years later, Argento's debut film, 'The Bird with the Crystal Plumage', a giallo thriller (i.e. in the style of a sensational, populist literary crime genre, with the emphasis on lurid, graphic violence) was an immediate critical and commerical success. He went on to develop his epic strain of the horror movie, in masterpieces such as 'Suspiria' and 'Tenebrae', in which narrative is subordinated to visual virtuosity; logic to the nightmarish. These pulsating films are usually termed 'baroque' or 'operatic'. Working predominantly in the crime/thriller/horror genre, and presenting a weekly, prime-time show on Italian TV, Argento is often compared to Hitchcock, but, as contributors to this film point out, his is the complete opposite of the master's obsessively controlled art; his willingness to submit to his unconscious, to unfetter narrative form, leads John Carpenter to compare him to Bunuel.
This conventional documentary, made for the American Classic Movies TV channel, follows Argento's career in biographical and chronological sequence, with contributions from directors (including Carpenter and George A. Romero), collaborators, friends, relatives and critics, as well as from the great man himself, as worryingly gaunt as any creature from the undead. Its construction is sometimes sloppy - for instance, detailed discussion of sequences are often not accompanied by requisite clips. There is no attempt to explain the apparent falling off in Argento's creativity in the last decade, or to situate his work in a wider, non-generic context.
Nevertheless, unlike usual profiles made with the co-operation of the subject, there is some exploration of Argento's darker side - the seeming misogyny of his films, the apparent relish with which (male) killers dispatch their female victims, is 'explained' by the director's lifelong antipathy for his mother, and the deterioration of his relations with his long-time muse and lover, Daria Nicolodi. His happiest creative relationship in recent years has been with his daughter, Asia, and even she suggests it is probably best not to examine its dynamics too closely.
As you would expect, the documentary is larded with clips from Argento's amazing films, but these depend so much on orchestration, accumulation and context, that 'highlights' look a bit silly exposed. There are many claims made here for Argento's genius - and anyone who has seen his best films would testify to that - but the lack of any heavyweight critics or non-generic peers might leave the sceptic unconvinced.