Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Toby Dammit

The Run(a)way and the Motorway

A haunted-house picture without the house, but with Rome and a Ferrari, Toby Dammit [1968], 43 minutes in its full version (included restored on the Giulietta [sic of "Juliet"] of the Spirits Blu-ray in Criterion's Essential Fellini box) appeared initially as one of three segments in the omnibus film Spirits of the Dead, alongside efforts by Roger Vadim and Louis Malle, adapting a trio of Edgar Allan Poe stories. Fellini's entry realizes "Never Bet the Devil Your Head" [1841], and the director takes this commission as an opportunity to paint: literally so, in the form of, e.g., the fake passengers on the autobus à la Ophuls's three-ring audience in Lola Montès. It marks Fellini's first overt 'ghost story.'

Never bet the devil your head? Terence Stamp's protagonist, Toby Dammit, lives as an inveterate alcoholic movie-star whose head occupies a foggy and hopeless domain; he's one of those actors who can't perform sober. Arrived in Rome to film a Catholic spaghetti western, the Baudelairean Toby brings with him a death-wish, incarnated by a death-angel descended (the devil, probably).

I recently re-read Tag Gallagher's and Jean-Marie Straub's remarks on the "throwing theme" in Ford, particularly in Doctor Bull. In Toby Dammit, a thrown suitcase, a jacket tossed onto the hood of the tell-tale Ferrari, foreshadow the titular-adjacent head. The real-world logistics of the climactic decapitation don't make a great deal of sense to me (quoth Poe: "He was a sad dog, it is true, and a dog's death it was that he died; but he himself was not to blame for his vices."), but the decisive cable echoes the string-lights of the street festival, and I'm reminded of Chris Morris's own "Suicide Journalist" in his legendary radio-show Blue Jam

"'So then, Mr Superstar,' Patty was saying, 'what is the best way to kill yourself?' Clive said that in fact the best way he knew was to buy 200 foot of nylon rope, tie one end around your neck, the other around a lamppost, and get into your car and floor the accelerator. He said that's how his great uncle had done it. He made Clive help; he was just nine years old, and he'd had to ride in the car and stop it crashing when his uncle's head came off. The blood made the pedals very slippery. Clive blinked with smarting eyes. The table fell silent. 'Really?' said Patty, genuinely shocked. — 'Of course not, you moron,' brayed Clive, and went on to explain that we were all idiots; he could say anything and we'd lap it up, just because we thought his pain meant something, how we wouldn't give him a second thought if he wasn't going to kill himself..."


Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Giulietta of the Spirits

Wherefore Art-Vows?

I don't know what to write about this film that was so formative to my early years in cinephilia. The images of course, the colors, the occult intimations whereby the natural world dances with the supernatural — one is a flicker away from the other; an anniversary dinner is substituted with a makeshift séance. Visibility of the interior and the exterior, which the colors serve to underscore. Faces half-cloaked in shadow.

Perhaps though now I understand it as Stuart Heisler subtitled his brilliant 1947 film Smash-Up: "the story of a woman." Giulietta of the Spirits [Giulietta degli spiriti, 1965] (not "Juliet of the Spirits" — a name is a name / a woman is a woman) x-rays sexual anxiety and desirability in middle-age, and explores through the twisted '65 era what it means to be a wife. A marriage happy and unhappy. Ambivalence. A private eye who claims to always go "in disguise," yet always wears the costume? of a priest. There's mocking virginal white. There's a kimono.

Says the Professore: "I'm just another of your inventions — but you are life itself."