Scarlet Diva
Film Movement // Unrated // $31.93 // September 25, 2018
Review by Ian Jane | posted October 9, 2018
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Recommended
E - M A I L
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R E V I E W S
Graphical Version
The Movie:

Anna Battista (played by writer/director/actress Asia Argento) is a twenty-four-year-old actress born in Italy who star is on the rise in the international film scene of the early 2000s. She's got a reputation of promiscuity, self-destructive behavior and nihilism. In an attempt to be taken more seriously as an artist, she decides to write and direct a movie based on her on life entitled Scarlet Diva, a film that she also intends to star in, essentially playing herself.

After completing some work in Rome, she wins an award at a film festival in Milan and then heads to Paris where her friend is involved in an unhealthy and abusive relationship. From here, she winds up in Los Angeles and finds herself in a problematic situation involving a predatory film producer named Mr. Paar (Joe Coleman) who is much higher up on the industry ladder than she. Eventually she falls for a musician named Kirk Vaines (Jean Shepherd, who was dating Argento at the time). They have a torrid love affair but when it ends and he leaves her, she finds herself pregnant and alone, turning to drugs in an attempt to relieve herself from the situation.

Scarlet Diva is an interesting picture, even if it has some obvious flaws. You could easily argue that the film is self-indulgent and that some of the performances, particularly from Asia herself, are a little much. None of this would be incorrect. Still, the film should hold a lot of interest for anyone interested not just in Ms. Argento's admittedly rather wild life but in the dissection of the myth of celebrity and, of course, the #metoo movement. It isn't a secret at this point in time that the Paar character is quite literally based on Harvey Weinstein and that what he put Argento through is pretty much what winds up there on the screen. She was obviously trying to bring awareness to this issue long before all of this was exposed and clearly working through a lot of her own personal demons at the same time. It's also interesting how she has her own mother (actress/writer Daria Nicolodi) play her mother in the picture, adding a layer of honesty to the scenes that they share together in the film, and that she had her father (famed Italian horror director Dario Argento) produce the picture. Diving a bit further into the film and its ties to its creators own live, look carefully for a scene where Asia stomps on a picture of Vincent Gallo, an actor she had a relationship with at one point and who was supposed to play the Vaines role until he priced himself out of the part. As imperfect as it might be, Scarlet Diva is fascinating in how it allows its creator to lay bare much of what she's dealt with and clearly been shaped by over the years.

Stylistically the movie makes a few nods to her father's style. Primary lighting is used liberally in more than a few scenes and you can't help but think this is an homage to his insanely colorful horror pictures like Suspiria. There's also some great camera setups here, highlighted by a scene in which we watch Anna do her makeup only to then completely ruin it when she can't control her tears. Overly dramatic? Maybe, but poignant symbolism in that it shows just how easily the façade can come down around someone so damaged, famous or not.

The film's pacing is erratic and at times the movie is hyper-sexualized, but it works in the context of what we're watching. This won't be a movie for all tastes, it takes things to certain extremes and has a tendency to go over the top rather than play for subtlety. It doesn't always work, but when it does, it's pretty powerful stuff and this happens often enough to make the film worthwhile for those who can appreciate adventurous arthouse filmmaking done on a modest budget.

The Blu-ray

Video:

Scarlet Diva arrives on a 50GB Blu-ray disc in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition presentation framed at 1.85.1 widescreen. As to how good it looks? Well, the movie was shot on Mini-DV back in 2000 when digital cinematography was still a little less than amazing in terms of the quality it could bring to a movie. The original material was shot in standard definition, then blown up to 35mm so the elements that were available here are pretty dicey. It was these 35mm elements that were used for Film Movement's Blu-ray release and it's not surprising to find that the picture quality is all over the place. Is this better than the old Media Blasters DVD release? Absolutely. Is it going to stand up there with the best 35mm sourced high definition transfers? Absolutely not. But the reality of the situation is that we're not likely going to get any better than we get here due to how the film was shot. Detail can't really surpass the movie's origins. It's all watchable, certainly, but it is never mind-blowing while the grain inherent in the source is present throughout. There's some mild print damage here and there and some fluctuations in the film's color timing and black levels. Skin tones are reasonably consistent. Film Movement gets full marks for giving the film a strong bit-rate, helping the transfer to avoid compression artifacts. All in all, this would seem to be the case of ‘doing the best with what there is.' And that's not a bad thing, mind you. This is a better transfer than we've seen before, just keep the limitations in mind when grading the picture quality.

Sound:

The LPCM 2.0 track on the disc is fine. There's some noticeable channel separation in spots, mostly when listening to the music used throughout the film, and everything here is properly balanced. There are stronger stereo efforts out there than this but the sound quality is more than decent and there are no real problems here. The dialogue us spoken in English, Italian and Spanish. We get an option to watch the film with only the foreign language subtitled or an option to watch the film with English SDH available for all of the dialogue in the film.

Extras:

There are two commentary tracks with Asia Argento here, the first of which is new and exclusive to this release and the second of which appeared on the old DVD release. They're fairly different, which won't surprise anyone who has followed her career over the years, while also understandably covering a lot of the same ground. She talks up the casting of the film, her interactions and experiences with some of the other cast members in the movie, having to pull some strings and use some industry connections to get the film made, the shooting process, and more. She also discusses her father's influence on the film, what it was like getting her own mother, Daria Nicolodi, to play her mother in the film, the influence of Abel Ferrara on the film and other interesting topics. You get this in both tracks. What you don't get in the original track and do in the new piece is some understandably vitriol levelled towards Harvey Weinstein (who she isn't afraid to name), some of which is pretty harsh… as it should be. It's also easy to notice here that she's looking back on the movie from a standpoint in life that is very different from where she was when she recorded the original track in 2004. Both are interesting and worth listening to.

There is one new featurette here and two archival pieces that originated on the aforementioned DVD release. The new one is Looking Into The Eye Of The Cyclops With Joel Coleman, an eight-minute interview with the man who played the Weinstein-esque character in the film. He talks about his work as an artist and a tribute that he made to the film from which this featurette takes its name. From there we get an archival interview with Asia Argento that runs seventeen-minutes. Recorded in 2004, she covers some of the same ground here as she does in the commentary tracks but it's interesting to see her answer questions from an off-camera interviewer. The second archival piece is an eight-minute segment called The Making Of Scarlett Diva that includes interviews with Asia, Claudio and Dario Argento as well as Frederic Fasano who served as director of photography on the film. It's not as in-depth as you might want but it's worth watching if you haven't seen it before.

In addition to that we get a trailer for the feature, a trailer for six other Film Movement properties, an ‘about Film Movement' text screen, two different promos for the film, menus and chapter selection. Inside the case is a twenty-page color insert booklet that contains an essay from author Kier-La Janisse who offers her own insight into the film (well worth a read), it's creator and its themes as well as some promotional material for the film and credits.

Final Thoughts:

Go into Scarlet Diva with an open mind and a bit of foresight as to its origins and it makes for an interesting watch. It's occasionally funny, impressive in its audaciousness, and as such able to overcome a few hard to miss flaws. Argento's work both in front of and behind the camera gives the picture a sincerity that is hard to ignore. The Blu-ray release from Film Movement looks about as good as it realistically can, offers fine audio and includes some solid extra features highlighted by the two commentary tracks. Recommended.



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