SYRFILM's October Surprise, Pt. 2: Richard Dyer's "star" power

Doing triple duty was Richard Dyer of King's College, London, who delivered the Syracuse Symposium lecture on Thursday night at Newhouse, led a three-hour registration-only seminar on Friday morning at the Humanities Center and then gave a talk that afternoon as part of the Forum sessions at the University Sheraton. Attendance at the five-day Expo/Forum waxed and waned, but Dyer, who always drew a crowd, evidently has a following among students and faculty alike.

Dyer has pioneered commentary in a number of areas: in stardom in cinema with "Stars" (1979) and "Heavenly Bodies: Film Stars and Society" (1986), in queer studies in film with "Now You See it"(1990) and "The Culture of Queers" (2001), in the musical's power to evoke utopia with "Only Entertainment" (1992), in racial representation with "White" (1997). His most recent book is "Pastiche: Knowing Imitation" (2007) and while here he said he'd delivered the final draft of his forthcoming "Ironic Attachment," on the film music of Italian composer Nino Rota, about two weeks before coming to Syracuse.

The Syracuse Symposium lecture Dyer gave -- "Darken Our Lightness: The Italian Horror Film" -- resulted from his particular interest in serial killers in European film, the Syracuse Symposium's theme of "light" and Dyer's previous work on racial representation. He took as his starting point a 1982 film, "Tenebre," which some have called the masterpiece of Italian horror master Dario Argento (we reviewed Argento's "Deep Red" in June when it was screened at the Palace as part of the annual Shaun Luu Horror Fest). "Tenebre" concerns an American novelist promoting his latest murder mystery in Rome who becomes entangled in finding a real serial killer who apparently in copying murders from the book.

Although the film's very name means "darkness," it's a film that's filled with light, even the scenes shot at night, began Dyer, who showed clips of key scenes in the film with its repeated images of light glinting off shards of glass and knife blades and the killer's toying with one victim by turning on and off the light. Dyer used this as a departure to discuss how notions of dark and light as images of evil and good are ethnocentrically-based.

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