I AM Suspiria: Luca Guadagnino
Luca Guadagnino’s highly anticipated interpretation of the iconic horror film Suspiria (1977) by Italian horror legend Dario Argento was written by David Kajganich and features an ensemble cast, including; Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth, Lutz Ebersdorf, Jessica Harper, and Chloë Grace Moretz.
Guadagnino is best known for his Oscar-nominated film, Call Me By Your Name and is attached to a just-announced sequel to the film which will see Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalmet reprise their roles.
The new Suspiria-homage is set in the 70’s in Berlin was scored by Radiohead Singer Thom Yorke with choreography by Damien Jalet, who has previously won a Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Dance Production.
Luca Guadagnino, Director: After I saw Suspiria (1977), of course, I started to see all the other films and I was 15 or something like that, maybe younger.
I remember I was in Palermo and somebody called my mum and said, “There is Dario Argento in a restaurant some place in town. Tell this to your son.” And I went alone and I stayed on the window of the restaurant like this (both hands pressed against the glass staring in from the outside) and he was very worried because Dario is a very kind person and I think it was paranoia. Who is this young man looking through the window? I was. It was me.
Why did you choose Germany in the 70’s as the context for the movie?
Luca Guadagnino, Director: ‘77 was a very important period of time for the feminist revolt, particularly in Europe for the Northern Europeans. In Italy, in particular, the feminism at the time was not like in America—about finding a place of equality—but difference infused those theories at the time. And we were really interested in that given the subject of the film, and also, and lastly—it is the decade of the (original) great film and we wanted to go back there.
David Kajganich, Screenwriter: I think our first thought was that there was a lot in the political context around the era of the original, that had gone somewhat unplumbed in Dario’s film. So, our first conversation was, “How do we take some of that and actualise it?” Rather than try to modernise the film; to just simply deepen what our concerns and our passions about the original were.
And so, that brought us to Germany in the 70’s. Also, we wanted to take on some of the more political subtext of the time more directly. So, setting it in Berlin seemed to be the easiest way to do that.
Can you describe the concepts behind the distinct production design of the film?
Luca Guadagnino, Director: I am very specific when it comes to production design. I am a bit of a pain in the arse to my production designers. But I found the right antagonist in Inbal (Weinberg) because we were really fierce and passionate. And Inbal is Israelian. So, it was a match made in heaven. I was impressed with how she came with her collection of images, after we met for the first time, because we wanted to root this movie in German Modernism and try to seek some sort of foundation of the 30’s, that remained in the 70’s. We both strive for perfection.
We shot the movie in an abandoned hotel at the top of the mountain in Varese, which I found, which was built at the end of the 19th Century. So, it was in the style of Art Nouveau and it was beautiful because it was so wide and tall. I could see how you put these characters going up and down without having a sense of suffocation, actually. It was a world.
But, what we had to do was wipe off the Art Nouveau and bring back the Art Deco and that was tremendous with Inbal. We really found things that were so forgotten; very remote places in Germany to make this world be alive.
Tell us about the soundtrack. It must have been a challenge considering the infamy of the original
Suspiria (2018) Soundtrack Sample
Thom Yorke, Composer: I referred to the original Suspiria (1977) film. It was an odd process. When Luca first came to see me with Producers, I thought they were mad because I had never done a soundtrack before and Suspiria (1977) was one of those legendary soundtracks. So, it took a few months to sort of contemplate the idea. But, it was one of those moments in your life where you kind of want to run away, but—you’ll regret it if you do.
Obviously, Goblin and Dario worked really closely when they did it together. But it was of its time and there’s no way I could reference it in any way at all. There was no point other than, what I found interesting was they used repetition of motifs again and again and again and again; where part of your mind is saying, “Please, please. I don’t want to hear this anymore,” and that was really great because there’s a way of repeating music, which can hypnotise. I kept thinking to myself; it was a form of making spells.
It was a freedom I haven’t had before. I’m not working in the format of a song or arrangement. I’m just exploring. I was immediately focusing on Krautrock and all the music of that period, and previous to that, that I really loved.
What was the thought process behind the dance choreography?
David Kajganich, Screenwriter: When I was researching dance for the film, I came across a curious quote from (Joseph) Goebbels, he said: “Dance must be beautiful and cheerful and in no way philosophical,” and this is in some way thematically what this film is about.
And so, I went back to Pina Bausch, I went back to Martha Graham, I went back to Mary Wigman. I tried to look for performances I could find from those choreographers for things that were neither cheerful nor beautiful—as a starting place—in terms of what the movement of this film could look like.
Pina Bausch Tanztheater Wuppertal - Excerpts
And so, Pina Bausch was an influence for how the scenes got blocked and in talking with Damien (Jalet) about these choreographers that were kind of coded into the script. From my point of view, you know, it was useful for him to pick up some of that coding and then evolve it into what you see in the film. We both decided that was a great way to collaborate from writer and choreographer, which isn’t often the kind of collaboration a film has.
As actors, what was it like working with Luca?
Dakota Johnson (as Susie Bannion)
This was my second time working with Luca. So, I felt I sort of had a foundation of ease and safety. We know each other very well at this point and I feel like I’m able to do anything when I’m in his hands and because the film is about things that I loved so much and still love so much. It’s about, you know, the obvious things—like dancers, witches, and magic.
And I grew up just loving these things and being fascinated by groups of women and feeling like they were mysterious and magical. And to have this sort of inside look with this person that I love so much, that I love working with so much, into something that has been so mystical to me, was perfect. Truly, a dream come true.
Tilda Swinton (as Madame Blanc)
Well, I’ve known Luca for a very, very, very long time and he’s one of my closest friends. We’re pretty much blood-related, I mean, very much blood-related now, as one would say. You know, working with him, living alongside him is home for me. And it’s a great, great, piece of luck as a filmmaker to find other filmmakers to work with this kind of—as Dakota says—with this kind of ease.
Filmmaking is entirely collaborative and we need to be close together. And when you know that the person standing next to you has got as low a boredom threshold as you do and is going to be as uninterested in something they’ve seen before as you are, then, you’re really safe, because you can keep amusing each other and pushing each other. So, for me, it’s not even a question of work. It’s a question of life working alongside Luca. It’s my piece of luck.
Chloe Moretz (as Patricia Hingle)
It was incredible working with Luca. I have a small part in the film. But it was an incredible opportunity to not have anything be off the table no matter what ideas I brought to Luca. It was never “No, maybe we should try this.” It was “Yes and more.” And he allowed you to overcome your fears as an actor, which, you know, I think some directors tend to take your word for it if you don’t want to go to certain areas of your soul and find the torment. But, I think we explored that in this. It was just a wonderful opportunity.
Jessica Harper (as Anke)
I personally loved working with Lutz Ebersdorf. I found him to be an incredible acting partner, in large part because we were guided by Luca, who, as you know from many of his films; has an incredible gift for evoking great emotion in intimate moments in film. He really does that extremely well. And so, that’s how I knew it would go down for me and Lutz…and it did.
Lutz Ebersdorf (as Dr. Josef Klemperer)
To quote Dr. Klemperer: “The illusion that is the handwork of my colleagues is not mine.” When Luca first proposed to me to take this part, I asked him “Why, when he could have so many more suitable people, he would choose me?” He told me “The audience will enjoy to see a new face,” I thought, “Why not? It will be fun,” and it was. Though, I strongly suspect Suspiria will be the only film I ever appear in, I like the work and I do not mind getting up very early. It was an especial privilege to work alongside the beautiful Jessica Harper, whose graciousness I have long admired, and whose kindness I will never forget.
There cannot have been, in recent history, a more pressing time to remind ourselves the dangers of delusion, the perils of falling into a group-mind untethered from ethical foundations, and what can easily become the reactive hysteria of separatism.
I am myself retired from my life’s work as a psycho-analyst now. But I would urge any of you disturbed by this film to seek a good therapist. Self-reflection is never a wasted enterprise. With my best wishes to you, Lutz Ebersdorf - Berlin, August 2018.
Suspiria (2018) is an Amazon Studios production and will be released in select cinemas on November 2. To follow the film's updates visit the official movie website.