Friday, October 17, 2008

BISSETTE // '' Fellini Fear: Toby Dammit

-->> ..'comes to movies in general ..  i'm no Film aficionado and expert. No movie buff or hound or fan except for some very specific franchises. When it comes to horror and such, it's about what i learn from other sources, net, T V ,  friends, or certain legendary minds that are aspired to much things i wish i was on their same level.

Well soemthing has intrigued me and i'm 10 million steps behind all the Horror nerds. So be it..

Lifted from the Master ,  **Mr.Bissette ..  ::

" ..
This one is right up there among the greatest horror films ever made, period, so it’s going to be a tough act to follow — I’d best get it out of the way early, eh?
Spirits 1Back in 1967, the international success of the Roger Corman/Vincent Price/American-International Pictures (AIP) Edgar Allan Poe films — beginning with The House of Usher (1960, aka The Fall of the House of Usher) and The Pit and the Pendulum (1961) — prompted many producers to mount their own Poe films. After all, Poe’s body of work was in the public domain, and the Corman/Price/AIP team didn’t have a legal lock on those stories. Nobody did — it was all up for grabs, and Poe’s body of work provided ample opportunities.
European producers were among those to rally. Given the ‘art film’ credentials linked with Poe going back to the silent era, it seemed a natural to tap the contemporary cream-of-the-crop of 1960s European cinema to create a Poe anthology feature unlike anything the AIP team could (or would) conjure. Two of France’s premiere directors, Roger Vadim (whose sole previous horror film was Blood and Roses, 1961, adapted loosely from Sheridan Le Fanu’s short story “Carmilla”) and Louis Malle (who’d never tapped the genre before), agreed to participate. When Italian cinema maestro Federico Fellini agreed to hop aboard, he capped the trinity and trilogy with style to spare.
Spirits 2 The result was Histoires Extraordinaires (1968), which AIP snapped up for American release as Spirits of the Dead. In an extraordinary synthesis of critical agreement that endures to this day, everyone on all sides of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans in all markets seemed to agree that Fellini’s episode — extrapolated (it was hardly an adaptation) from Poe’s “Never Bet the Devil Your Head” — was easily the highlight of the film.
Vadim was always among the least imaginative directors of his generation; after his late 1950s and earliest 1960s works, his movies grew increasingly jaded and prosaic. His Barbarella (1968), for instance, was a torpid adaptation of Jean-Claude Forest’s seminal early ’60s sf comic, elevated only by its (poorly shot or used) production design and a few sharp comic performances, prominent among them that of Vadim’s then-wife Jane Fonda in the lead role. Jane also starred in Vadim’s “Metzengerstein”, which remains a dull, shallow work satisfied to flirt with Poe’s incestuous thematics (via casting Jane and Peter Fonda in the central sister-and-brother roles), eschewing any affinity for Poe, horror or effective cinema.
I’m fonder of Malle’s adaptation of Poe’s classic doppelganger tale “William Wilson” than anyone else seems to be. Malle and his cast — Alain Delon as Wilson, and Brigitte Bardot — take their material seriously and play it straight. It works well on its own terms, particularly its central card game sequence, though it fails to reward subsequent viewings. That said, Malle manifests nothing that hadn’t already been better done (and with far more veal and vision) in the silent German adaptations of the doppelganger classic The Student of Prague.
The same cannot be said for Fellini’s “Toby Dammit/Never Bet the Devil Your Head” (hereafter referred to by the title Fellini preferred, Toby Dammit), which I’ve never tired of revisiting. Every viewing yields fresh images and wonders, and the whole is among the most intoxicating horror films ever made.
Fellini was channeling a grand tradition. Toby Dammit is an utterly personal interpretation of Poe, as avant-garde and experimental as any ever made, building upon the foundation of those experimental filmmakers who’d previously dabbled with Poe. In 1928, there were two experimental/avant-garde films adapted from Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher”: in America, James Watson, Jr. and Melville Webber made the 12-minute The Fall of the House of Usher (available on DVD on Bruce Posner’s terrific collection Unseen Cinema: Early Avant-Garde Film: 1894-1941 on the 2nd disc, The Devil’s Plaything, from Image, and on Kino’s Avant-Garde 2: Experimental Cinema: 1928-1954; also see Watson and Webber’s 1933 Lot in Sodom on the Image DVD Salome/Lot in Sodom). In France, Jean Epstein and Luis Bunuel co-directed the 66 minute The Fall of the House of Usher (on DVD from AllDay Entertainment), the last of the Epstein/Bunuel collaborations and only one to play theatrically in America. Both versions remain fascinating works, and the most adventurous precursors to Fellini’s Toby Dammit — which brings me at last to Fellini’s film.
Toby 1With his Toby Dammit, Fellini eschewed the usual gothic trappings of the genre (and the Poe films in particular) to place his Poe story in Fellini’s life and times: it is, if you will, 8 1/2 goes to hell, redirecting its central focus from a filmmaker to a film actor. Having made his fame and fortune to serve as a surrogate and screen for lesser filmmakers, Toby is a husk of an artist scrabbling to escape a lifetime of collusion with an industry founded on illusions.
Terence Stamp is Toby Dammit, a completely unmoored British actor adrift in Rome, waiting for his new gig — the lead role in a religious spaghetti western — to begin. Consumed by boredom and self-loathing, Dammit is an alcoholic lost soul through which Stamp and Fellini channel the real-life culture collisions that fueled the Italian film industry from the late 1950s into the 1970s. For almost two decades, a procession of American and European stars swept through Cinecitta to lend boxoffice cache to a stream of genres — pepla, spy thrillers, gialli, spaghetti westerns, etc. Stamp plays Dammit as a ethereal fusion of Richard Harris and Andy Warhol, a man smothered by a celebrity he is addicted to and dependent upon (he seems incapable of doing anything else) and thus reviles and resents all the more, radiating contempt for all as Fellini surrounds him with a suffocating soup of grotesques, real and irreal.
Like him or not, we’re stuck with Toby in this ocean of fools. Fellini clogs the screen with a seemingly endless maelstrom of sycophants until the viewer is absolutely choking for relief.
Toby 2
En route to a job he gives not a shit about, Dammit literally reels (drunk) through the sea of handlers, producers, schills, hangers-on, acolytes, fans, parasites, performers, actors, models, reporters, paparrazi, stuntmen and stand-ins. Shunted from airport to interview, talk show to awards ceremony, Dammit can’t even find momentary relief.
Fellini splashes the screen with radiant colors, seductive movement (even a furtive toadie incessant patting of sweat from his own brow fuels the relentess stream of visual rhythms) and soul-sucking human vacuums slathered in makeup, manners and madness — but none seem more insane than Toby Dammit himself. The man is a walking breakdown, threatening to unhinge or evaporate any second. He winces in agony and lurches toward wished-for oblivion as every being in his path craves, demands, curries attention he can no longer give, affection he no longer harbors for even himself, favor he reserves for nothing and no one — except, perhaps, that Ferrari he was promised.
That, at least, can get him the fuck outta there. When Dammit finally cuts out on the sportscar he was promised, hoping to escape into the night, we are strapped into the passenger seat alongside him.
Devil 1Per usual, Fellini populates the film with a plethora of startling faces and forms, caricatures of the populace of the Italian film industry Fellini perpetually depicted as a circus.
But the black heart of this masterpiece is the devil Dammit dreads: an impish blonde girl with a white ball in her grasp. She plagues Dammit’s dreams, nightmares and waking hours — he confesses this to an interviewer in the first few minutes — a siren ‘familiar’ mysteriously attached to Toby and his eventual fate.
While the familiar publicity still of the blonde specter played off the disconcerting disconnect between the angelic archetype of a little girl and the classic devil imagery Fellini eschews, her actual presence in the film is far, far more disturbing than the posed publicity still even hints at.
Devil 2
She is an impish demon, giggling, shaking her head to peek mischievously out from her tresses, nuzzling the glowering ball she totes about in search of game souls. She is alluring and yet terrifying, her every appearance punctuated (by Nino Rota’s marvelous score) with a tinkling, teasing theme.
Cinematic vamps date back to the beginning of the 20th Century, and popular aberrations like The Bad Seed (an late ’40s/early ’50s Broadway stage hit and successful film) had codified the child sociopath long before 1967. But Fellini’s blonde imp is something different: she is the golden-haired bridge between the long dark-haired ghosts of the classic Japanese ghost scrolls and tales and the popular 1950s Japanese ghost films (essentially unseen outside of Japan), and the female phantoms of internationally renowned J-horror works like Ringu and the 1990s-to-present wave of Asian and American remakes, revamps and reboots. Fellini’s inspired incarnation of the devil-as-demon-child carries its own unique charge which has dimished not a whit in the ensuring decades.
Bava 1
Among genre fans, much has been made over the past two decades about Fellini’s blonde devil’s similarity to the now-iconic blonde, ball-toting girl ghost central to Mario Bava’s 1966 Operazione Paura aka Kill, Baby… Kill! and Curse of the Living Dead, once hard to see but presently widely available on DVD in a variety of venues. The two are most definitely linked.
By his own accounts, Fellini himself initially refused the producers’ invite to join the Histoiries Extraordinaires project, insisting that Mario Bava was the man for the job. The version of events given in 1970 in the marvelous published film diary and script for Fellini Satyricon touched upon this, discussing Toby Dammit as a reference point and springboard for Satyricon. Tim Lucas illuminates this association between Bava and Fellini further in his definitive biography Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark: the bond between Bava’s film and Fellini’s Toby Dammit was indeed genuine, an affectionate nod from the world-renowned Fellini to then-ignored (even reviled) countryman and fellow artist Bava. Read Tim’s analysis of this issue; it’s the last word on this curious and resonate link between Operazione Paura and Toby Dammit.
Bava 2That said, these two spectral figures function quite differently in their respective films, though both are predators, and both directors make optimum use of the toys they carry. Bava’s ghostly girl in Operazione Paura is a literal harbinger of death, prompting suicide with her every appearance — but she is hardly a personalized figure. For Toby Dammit, part of the horror of his constant visitor clutching the white ball is that he alone sees her, and no one else acknowledges her presence (a device and dynamic Bava used masterfully in other films, from Il Frusta e il Corpo/The Whip and the Body/What to Shock/Beyond the Door II).
In Operazione Paura, Bava’s blonde waif dooms all who see her, and enjoys a sometimes physical interaction with her environment. She presses her hands against window panes, leaving handprints, and rather aggressively interacts with the cursed villagers: at one point, when an outsized cabinet door is opened, there she is, eyes wide and enigmatic grin affixed, clutching a death certificate (!) to her chest to prompt another victim to another self-inflicted demise.
Furthermore, Fellini’s devil-as-little-girl is a sexually charged waif, an inversion of the gigantic Anita Ekberg that stalked the protagonist of Fellini’s satiric episode of Boccaccio ‘70 (1961). Bava’s has its own uncanny sexual persona — Bava cast an (unhappy) boy as his girl ghost, lending her an uneasy androgyny — but there’s nothing androgynous about Fellini’s and Dammit’s li’l demon. Fellini’s playful anima twitches her nose and shakes her shaggy hair like a self-knowing Lolita, the embodiment of forbidden desire sparking Dammit’s personal apocalypse.
Few have noted the male companion demon Fellini spices the film with: there is a hideous, positively Boschian grinning male face that Fellini peppers the landscape with, stem to stern. Once seen, it is almost cartoonishly self-apparent, and all the more ghastly for it. The grinning ghoul is first glimpsed in the opening shots in the airport, leering at Toby (and us, if we see him). The same masklike visage later bobs up and down from the opening of a tent when Dammit pauses amid his midnight tear through the outskirts of Rome, en route to his fate. On subsequent viewings, this lolling (LOL!) gargoyle is even more subtly distressing than the blonde demoness who at last finds her game soul in the film’s lyrical, lovely and genuinely chilling final sequence.
Toby Dammit is a genuinely apocalyptic whirlwind of a movie. As his name asserts, Dammit is damned and in search of repose, respite and rest — but there’s none to be found in Fellini’s dizzying metropolitan inferno, as nightmarish as any ever burned into celluloid. From the clutter of claustrophobic studio spaces which are either overlit or draped in chintz, to the spare, fogbound twilight realms of the fateful, seemingly aimless final journey, Fellini is a brilliant cartographer of civilization on the brink of utter collapse. It is, in fact, a maze that Toby the King Rat spirals through, taking us with him every step of the way.
In the end, wheeling in and out of blind alleys, searching for nothing more or less than a way out, Dammit is Everyman who longs for escape route — a way down or up or out — an emaciated stray soul seeking release, any release, from a no longer bearable hell-on-earth. However complicit he was or is in his self-destruction ceases to matter in the end: we’ve all been there, one time or another, or known a loved one on that merry ride. Fellini had, too, and lived to tell this tale. This, along with the sheer audacity and imaginative beauty of Fellini’s mini-masterpiece, is what makes Toby Dammit such a resonate horror film. .. " 

No comments:

** !! me AM, tOkKa - - { the dead archival } // tOkKa's former blogg :: 2002-2008 ..** // ** ♥ ♥ !! **