Suspiria is getting two revisitations this year: one on screen and one, surprisingly, on stage.
Forty years into the future from Dario Argento’s Italian horror classic about a dance school run by witches, Call Me By Your Name director Luca Guadagnino will take on the film with the help of Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, and Chloe Grace Moretz. He’s also enlisted Thom Yorke to provide the score for the film, marking the Radiohead frontman’s first soundtrack.
Meanwhile, Claudio Simonetti’s Goblin will live-score the original Argento film in its entirety on an expansive U.S. tour. Inside and outside of work with Italian prog-rock trailblazers Goblin, Simonetti has scored dozens of films throughout the decades. He’s taken several of his film scores to the stage in the past, like Deep Red (a.k.a. Profondo Rosso) and Zombie. But now, he and his band will perform Suspiria stateside for the first time.
“This is the biggest tour we’ve done”, Simonetti says, in conversation with Phoenix New Times. “We just arrived yesterday, after playing Tokyo in Japan … They love us and Italian prog music. I think in America it will be the same. Suspiria is Argento’s most famous film in the world.”
Yorke has a high bar to match with his score for the new film. Without hyperbole, Goblin’s work on the original Suspiria is some of the most groundbreaking work in musical and cinematic history. Director Dario Argento brought the band back after working with them on 1975’s Deep Red, and they supplied a sinister, hedonistic batch of songs without equal in the film score world. From Simonetti’s first cry of “Witch!” on the main theme, the listener knows this will be a life-changing, entrancing experience.
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Argento wanted to take a collaborative and experimental approach, shooting scenes for the film with Goblin’s score blasting in the background. Thus, every note plays to the scene, acting alone, but also adding to the motifs of the film. Guitarist Massimo Morante chose the bouzouki, a greek mandolin, to add texture to the film’s main theme, as the mother of the coven, Helena Markos, is of Greek descent. These small but intentional touches allow Goblin’s score to transcend the medium, gaining cinematic life beyond their contemporaries.
Simonetti’s live score for Suspiria is a careful reconstruction. Argento’s classic film would be a husk of itself without Goblin’s integral score, and so with the live re-creation, Simonetti plans to make it as true to form as possible.
“Playing the score live is hard work”, Simonetti says. “The original soundtrack is already there in the film. We had no chance to pull out the dialogues. We play over top of them. I did a lot of hard work of playing all the tracks. There are parts that I’ve created live, but we play the soundtrack exactly in the same parts. We use the same Moogs and bouzouki – all the exact same sounds.”
Simonetti says that the first Suspiria live score tour was six years ago, back when they played Australia, Ireland, and England. Since then, he’s been able to perfect his performance, re-creating the original magic and intensity with unwavering grace. I ask if he’s ever considered reworking it, or perhaps incorporating some of the soundtrack’s fantastic extra tracks like “Blind Concert”. But Simonetti firmly refuses. “When we recorded the LP, there are some songs that were never in the film. But I wouldn’t know where to put them. Sometimes I improvise something – every night I like to put something more. But I think the score is wonderful as it is, and I prefer not to change it.”
Thankfully for Yorke, Guadagnino is taking his Suspiria in a very different direction. Forty years of hindsight allow him to give the 1977 German context more breadth. The events of the German Autumn cast an air of paranoia over the updated location of Berlin, where, under the guise of art, the coven vies for a societal and political foothold in a time of great upheaval.
Yorke has noted that a primary inspiration for his new soundtrack has been Krautrock, the German musical movement of the '70s that would have well under way in 1977 Berlin. That spring, Kraftwerk’s seminal Trans Europe Express would be released, an idealistic and hopeful vision of a country still feeling the ripples of postwar reconstruction. Unsurprisingly, Yorke’s score never reaches for the fanfare and triumph of “Europe Endless”. Instead, it steers towards the brooding “Hall of Mirrors”, wandering the darkened corridors of the Markos Dance Academy, wondering what lies beneath the shimmer and sheer on the surface.
While much of Yorke’s score treads new territory, there are also plenty of callbacks to the original. The main “Suspirium” waltz, is reminiscent of Goblin’s “Death Walzer” in its stripped down piano simplicity, and the melody line is an ascending triplet pattern not unlike the bells of the original Suspiria theme. Elsewhere, Yorke dips into the murky and macabre. The 14-minute “A Choir of One” is a nightmarish collection of cries and moans, similar in effect to Goblin’s terrifying “Sighs”, and the main dance theme “Volk” echoes the murderous intent of Goblin’s “The Witches."
While Suspiria’s two new renditions may coincide in terms of timing, that is where the similarities begin and end. Simonetti had little to say on the new film. “Normally I don’t like remakes”, Simonetti says. “Some I’ve enjoyed recently … but others are really terrible.”
Simonetti raises a good point. Even with all the star power and loving tribute that the new Suspiria has behind it, there is still a chance it will, in some ways, betray the original. “I don’t really know anything about Guadagnino’s Suspiria remake,” Simonetti continues. “But I did see a trailer for the film recently, and I think the mood of the film has changed completely.”
The Suspiria film remake has had a long gestation period, in terms of mood and intent, and many long hours have been spent strategizing an approach for revisiting the classic. “Years ago, when the new project was created, it wasn’t Guadagnino that was directing”, Simonetti says. “We were contacted, but not to write the music – just for the rights to use the main Suspiria theme. We went through the contract several times. But then we never heard another notice about it.”
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Later, Simonetti discovered that Guadagnino was the new director, and that Thom Yorke would be doing the music. The original Goblin theme was no longer planned for use. Simonetti says this was probably for the best. “It is better to change everything and not to imitate”, he says. “It is really bad for a musician to write something that has such a big impact, because it makes it hard [for another musician] to write new music for a remake. Suspiria is a massive piece. For colors, for the music, for everything. But I like Thom Yorke as a musician and so I hope he does a good job.”
This week, Yorke’s score goes to theaters with Simonetti’s best wishes. Meanwhile, Simonetti will enjoy the fruits of his own labor as he takes his score across the country. In either form, the terrifying sighs of Helena Markos will haunt our dreams forever, thanks to Dario Argento and Goblin’s seminal work that will no doubt inspire new stories of witchcraft and black magic for years to come.
Claudio Simonetti’s Goblin perform Suspiria. 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, November 6, at the Marquee Theatre, 730 North Mill Avenue, Tempe; 480-829-0607; marqueetheatreaz.com. Tickets are $25 to $65 via Ticketweb.
Suspiria will be released in movie theaters Friday, November 2. Thom Yorke's album Suspiria: Music for the Luca Guadagnino Film is available on all major music streaming services and on physical formats via XL Recordings.