Asia Argento’s directorial debut, SCARLET DIVA (2000), finally hits DVD courtesy of MIA Video. The film, apparently made as a direct response to the image of Asia depicted by the media as sexual provocateur and femme fatale (in fact, only 5 of her 30 appearances have been for the horror genre), is an exorcism of several negative experiences concerning the seedier side of the star manufacturing process involving exploitation, manipulation, typecasting, fandom, sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll.
Anna Battista (Argento) is an emotionally fragile survivor of the money machine, seemingly with the world at her feet, but she craves love. Her brother was killed in a car accident whilst Anna was very young, and her divorced, drug-addict mother (Daria Nicolodi) has little time for her. Flashbacks involving men invariably lead to a negative experience: fashion photographers ply her with Special-K in order to get her to relax, her best friend Veronica (Vera Gemma) has an abusive boyfriend that beats her-up and forces her into bondage sessions, a film producer (Joe Coleman) asks for a massage before demanding a blow-job, and she is hounded by male admirers who want a kisses and a date. As a result, and suffering from the usual Catholic repression, Anna seeks escape from stardom, and wants a partner whom she sees as pure and Christ-like. In a drug-induced haze she watches a Velvet Underground style rock band, fronted by Kirk Vaines (Jean Shepherd), accentuated by halo-like neon lights, “This illusion is forever” he intones. And she immediately is besotted. Back at his hotel, Anna disrobes, and is told “Look at you, you’re an angel”, not realising that Kirk is only admiring the tattoo between her thighs. Anna kneels before her 'Christ', Magdalene-like. “I’m a whore,” she murmurs, whilst making love, enforcing the links between Christ and Mary Magdalene, the “Scarlet Woman”. The next morning, Kirk tries to slip away unnoticed, but Anna awakes. Kirk leaves a parting momento of his silver stage pants and a photo of his “father” a crumpled photo of a 50s Elvis Presley (often regarded as a God-like messiah by a 20th Century legion of fans, and whom Asia has revealed is her male “idol”).
Having fallen pregnant, Anna finds herself in increasingly bizarre situations. A busty woman (Italian porn star Luce Caponegro Selen), whom Anna fails to recognise, turns up at Anna’s flat unexpectedly “Remember how you licked my pussy last time?” the busty woman whispers, before ravishing her. In London, she almost drowns, during a drugged-up photo-shoot, and is nearly raped by a former film director high on heroin.
Anna finally makes it back to Paris to discover that Kirk’s band is once more performing, and the stage is set for further pain, and symbolic revelation.
SCARLET DIVA is an undoubtedly self-indulgent and excessive lobservation of the vortex of chaos that surrounds super-stardom, offering several alarming insights into the Argento family's private world. You have to admire Asia’s candid autobiographical revelations: Whilst freely admitting, in an interview with Alan Jones, that “I don’t want people for one second to think Anna’s story is my own disguised”, the film contains parallels with Asia’s past. 'Anna' is a veiled representation of Asia's step-sister who also died young. Anna would encourage Asia’s to keep writing poetry in order to become famous (Anna’s brother says “Well done sis, I’m going to make a writer of you one day”, and also meets an untimely end), and Anna’s mom is played by Asia’s real life mother, Daria Nicolodi. Asia cast friends and past associates in various roles: performance artist Joe Coleman is superb as sleazy producer, Barry Parr. Vera Gemma, who acted alongside Asia in THE STENDHAL SYNDROME plays Anna’s best friend. And the abysmal Hollywood director remaking CLEOPATRA is played by David Brandon, who played a very similar role in Michele Soavi’s STAGEFRIGHT (1987). Asia had also wanted Vincent Gallo to play Kirk Vaines, but Gallo insisted on a ridiculous fee, and the two fell out.
Filmed, scored, and edited entirely on digital, the film capitalises on the production savings to enable dizzy visits to a number of colourful cities, Amsterdam, LA, London, Milan, Naples, New York, Paris, and Rome. Despite rolling along at breakneck speed, and in spite of its excesses, SCARLET DIVA is an engaging feature. Asia certainly isn’t camera-shy: she takes her clothes off for several full-frontal sex scenes. Another sequence shows her standing naked in front of a mirror and shaving her underarms. Her co-stars have an equally difficult time keeping their clothes on; Joe Coleman runs naked through hotel corridors, Vera Gemma rarely has a stitch on, and porn-star Selen reveals her plastic DD avengers. A mention must also go to the fascinating closing credits, as a split screen reveals candid excerpts from Asia’s autobiographical novel “I Love You Kirk” (1998).
Extras include a no-holds barred interview with Asia in which she ridicules hollywood-hack Gus Van Sant, and the studio system, and describes in detail her relationship with her father. Destined for cult movie status, SCARLET DIVA is undoubtedly VALLEY OF THE DOLLS for the slacker generation.
Carl T. Ford
Directed by Asia Argento
Italian and English with optional English subtitles
SPECIAL DVD FEATURES
An M.I.A. DVD release
Region 2 Widescreen 14:9 / Dolby Digital Stereo 5.1